The Montezuma County commissioners are continuing their effort to assert management rights of historic trails and roads on federal lands, and are also considering raising the budget to pave more county roads.
The county claims numerous historic routes on the San Juan National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land have county jurisdiction.
A countywide map identifying historic roads is being created as part of a planned resolution asserting county level jurisdiction.
Commissioners cite Revised Statute 2477, a federal law passed in 1866 to encourage settlement of the Western U.S. by granting public right of way for construction of roads across public lands.
When the statute was repealed in 1976 under the Federal Land Management and Policy Act, it put road management under the control of the federal government.
But many counties, including Montezuma, claim any routes established before the repeal date of RS2477 should retain their historic existing uses and rights-of-way.
In September, county planners were instructed to document all the historic roads and create a map. Work has begun and is expected to be completed in about a month, said county public lands coordinator James Dietrich.
The map will then be rolled into a resolution adopting the historic roads into the county road system.
“To build the map we need to review each road. The resolution needs to be something we can back up with historic data,” Dietrich said.
County resolutions claiming jurisdiction of U.S. roads and trails are not recognized at the federal level, and are more of a position statement.
One premise of the jurisdictional position is for the county to have the option of establishing motorized access on specific routes where that activity is currently prohibited by federal land agencies.
For example, the commissioners and motorcycle groups want motorized access to Lower Bear Creek Trail, which was recently closed to that use under a 2018 travel management plan currently being challenged in court by motorized groups.
The county also wants to obtain jurisdiction of the Dolores-Norwood Road (Forest Road 526), in part to drop commercial fees levied by the National Forest on loggers and builders who travel the roadway with loads.
Historic roads on the BLM Canyons of the Ancients National Monument that are closed to motorized also have potential for RS2477 claims, county officials said.
In June, 2018, the commissioners passed a resolution claiming 17 roads and trails in the San Juan National Forest as county-controlled right of ways because they were established and mapped before the creation of the national forest in 1905.
The routes listed that commissioners claim should have control by the counties pass through Montezuma and Dolores counties, and partly into San Miguel and La Plata counties.
The U.S. National Forest requires an adjudication process for a county to claim a RS2477 route. Under the process, a county would file a lawsuit claiming jurisdiction on a specific federal road or trail and present historic evidence of the route and its use. A judge would make a final decision.
The county has not filed legal claims for any RS2477 routes, and have argued it should be the federal land agencies that have to prove the routes are not within county jurisdiction.
More paved roadsMontezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla is also advocating that an additional $5 million be put toward paving more county roads in 2020. He says the county’s $28 million reserve is too large, and that some should be allocated toward road upgrades.
“We are not a bank, it is the taxpayers money, and it should be used to benefit them,” he said. “We would still have more than adequate reserves left.”
Commissioner Keenan Ertel suggested that the $3 million to $4 million the county predicts Kinder Morgan owes in back taxes as a result of a favorable 2017 Colorado Supreme Court decision could be earmarked for road paving projects.