A lawsuit filed by a West Summit Lake resident against Montezuma County has been dismissed by the District Court for lack of legal standing.
In September, county commissioners changed the road status in the rural subdivision from private red-signed to green-signed, officially establishing it as open to the public and under county jurisdiction.
But Cheryl McMillan sued the county, claiming that it was responsible for more adequate maintenance and improvements because their decision would increase traffic.
The green-signed roads include Roads 35.6, 35.9, 36.6 and N. Residents have been maintaining and plowing the rough dirt roads for decades at their cost. They now have green-sign “graded” status with the county, meaning they will be graded at least once per year, but won’t be plowed.
In the dismissal, District Judge Douglas Walker wrote that while he had “sympathy” for McMillan’s concerns, she did not have legal standing to sue because how county roads are managed is beyond the purview of the courts.
“Whether the county does or does not maintain the roads is a county political and budgetary decision,” Walker wrote in a Dec. 28 ruling.
He adds that residents served by a public road does not give rise to any property right in the road.
Walker’s ruling cites case precedent strikingly similar to McMillan’s lawsuit.
In the 2016 Wibby v. Boulder County Commissioners case, the court also ruled a neighborhood did not have legal standing to sue the county as a way to force additional road maintenance. If it did, then the courts would be intruding on a county’s budgetary discretion and would cause endless litigation, the court said.
In Wibby, the Court of Appeals wrote that “it is expected that many citizens disagree with how a county allocates its budget. That alone does not create a private judicial remedy.”
Walker wrote that there is no requirement in the law that the county maintain any particular road, and that while it seemed unfair, it did not give rise to court action.
“Wisely, the Founding Fathers did not see fit to equip each judge with the powers to cure each instance of what that judge thought personally to be unfair,” Walker wrote. “If the Plaintiff has a remedy, it lies at the ballot box not in the Courts.”
The issue may be moot, at least for now.
The original intention for the county to establish the green-signed road jurisdiction at the subdivision was to provide more established public access to an isolated piece of Bureau of Land Management land.
But it was revealed in October that there is a very narrow strip of private land between the edge of a 60-foot road easement and BLM boundary where an access point was being considered.
County and BLM officials said they would need to negotiate public access with the landowner to put in an access point, but nothing has been announced.
On green-signed roads, residents may get free gravel from the county, if available, for the public road. Residents must haul and spread the gravel, and the West Summit Lake residents have taken advantage of the county deal, said road superintendent Rob Englehart.