Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Utah Supreme Court weighs dispute over roads in federal lands

Against the background of increasing tensions over public lands, the Utah Supreme Court is weighing the state’s push to claim the right to use about 12,000 rural roads that run over federal land. Utah is suing the federal government to guarantee access to the roads that run though large swathes of the state. Environmental groups are pushing back, saying the state is trying to claim every faint track in the desert as a local right of way. The case that came before the Utah Supreme Court on Monday deals with a series of nearly two dozen lawsuits filed by the state before the public lands debate began making national headlines. The legal arguments are rooted in a Civil War-era law known as R.S. 2477 that allows states or localities to claim ownership over historic routes crossing public lands. Congress repealed such right of ways in 1976, but it recognized those roads that were established on lands before national forests were formed or the land was placed into a federal reserve. State attorneys say they’re pressing the issue to make sure that the federal government doesn’t close the roads to locals. Attorneys for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance argued before the Utah Supreme Court that the state’s move to stake their claim came decades too late. They say the lawsuits should have been filed within seven years after the repeal in 1976. State lawyers contend they filed in plenty of time about five years ago because the legal deadline is actually a 12-year window triggered by an event worth suing over. It isn’t clear when the Utah Supreme Court will rule in the case. If the justices side with the environmentalists and the federal government, Bloch said it could put an end the state’s effort to lay claim to the right of way. Rampton disagreed with that assessment, saying there would still be questions to work out. If the high court rules in the state’s favor, the lawsuits filed by the state would continue to play out in federal court...more

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