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Utah, 3 counties file another lawsuit over access to roads

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15 2011 5:59 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY  — A flurry of lawsuits have been filed in the contentious battle pitting counties and the state against the federal government over access to roads.

For Kane County, the latest filing against the Bureau of Land Management is an attempt to settle the protracted issue once and for all.

"We're trying to bring an end to this public roads dispute in Kane County," said Shawn Welch on Tuesday. Welch has been a key litigator defending or asserting the rural county's right to RS2477 roads — some of which date back to the Civil War era and were early routes for transportation of people and goods.

The fight over who has ultimate control over the destiny of these roads has expanded to include Carbon County, which filed a lawsuit Monday. Gov. Gary Herbert's office and the Utah Attorney General's Office announced this week that lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Garfield County, which is seeking title to 94 disputed road segments within its boundaries and Kane County, which filed Nov. 10 over 710 disputed road segments.

"We have tried for years to resolve these issues without litigation, but these two lawsuits represent the failure of the federal government to recognize roads built and used by Utahns for decades," said Utah Attorney General's Chief Deputy John Swallow.

The cases involves rights of way access granted by the federal government in 1866 for the development of transportation systems. The congressional act establishing those rights was later withdrawn in 1976 with the passage of a new federal land planning act, but those roadway access rights were supposed to be grandfathered in.

Access — through such action like granting title — has turned into a politically polarizing fight because some of the roads in Kane County traverse wilderness areas or are within the geographical boundaries of the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Critics of the counties' claims to roads say getting access is just an excuse to open up more lands to natural resource development.

Earlier this summer, a lengthy trial played out in federal court involving Kane County seeking quiet title to 12 roads — five of which it has been granted access to, but questions over the scope of the rights of way remain.

Closing arguments are expected early next year.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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