Environmentalists claimed on Thursday that they won major points in the Burr Trail suit, but a federal lawyer says their victory was minor.
The latest legal battle over the controversial 66-mile route focused on whether lawyers for the plaintiffs were entitled to legal fees, and if so, how much. Under the law, all or part of the plaintiffs' legal fees can be awarded, if they win the case or prove a substantial point.At the end of the hour and a half hearing, U.S. District Senior Judge Aldon J. Anderson said he would consider the matter and rule later.
"This is a great case in the sense of an opportunity to deal with important issues," Anderson said.
Wayne Petty, representing the four conservation groups that filed to prevent the road project, conceded they lost on their argument that Garfield County had no right of way that could allow it to improve the road.
But, Petty said, they won on an important point by forcing the preparation of an environmental review about the impacts on two wilderness study areas.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Anderson, representing the federal government, said, "On major issues in the case, they did not prevail."
The conservation groups approached the matter in a shotgun fashion, he said. They tried several approaches with the same basic goal: to halt all road work.
Conservationists contended that they won on the issue of writing an environmental assessment. But Joseph Anderson said the BLM intended to review road work as it proceeded, even though it didn't intend to write a formal environmental assessment before the work began.
A draft environmental assessment has been prepared on the project, following the review of the U.S. 10th Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, Garfield County is prevented from doing any road work that might affect two wilderness study areas. But it is free to proceed with the rest of the project.
The road extends from Boulder, Garfield County, to near Bullfrog, Kane County, crossing Capitol Reef National Park.