County working with BLM to ensure needed roads stay open
By Steve Acquafresca, John Justman and Rose Pugliese
Our Mesa County Board of Commissioners, county staff and many of our community partners are engaging the Bureau of Land Management’s Resource Management Plan for our part of Colorado.
The plan proposal has stirred up our county board and local residents alike. In particular, we are concerned that the plan could result in roads that we need being closed on public lands in our area.
We are all actively involved in the Resource Management Plan process, and we are working closely with the BLM to ensure that the public roadways we need are kept open.
In the ongoing discussion, there seems to be some confusion about what role the county government can legally play in the plan’s process. We would like to clarify how the county is — and will continue to be — deeply engaged in this process to maintain use of public roads on federal lands.
Mesa County is recognized as a “cooperating agency” and has been working on the BLM’s Resource Management Plan for a considerable time.
As part of this process, the county prepared an exhaustive inventory of public roadways in the county, which has been submitted to the BLM for use in the plan’s process. The BLM has included almost all of the roads from Mesa County’s inventory in the draft of the plan, and it has recognized that these roads should remain open in some fashion in all four of the alternatives considered in the plan.
A handful of public road sections is still being reviewed with the BLM as part of the resource management plan review process. Mesa County asserts that these roads should also remain open.
In addition, we would like to clear up some misinformation circulating in our community regarding an 1866 federal law referred to as R.S. 2477.
Simply stated, the law gives the public a right-of-way on roads built across federal land. But of course, legal issues are rarely simple, and it is important to note that R.S. 2477 only applies under certain circumstances.
There are three requirements that must all be met for a road to fall under the provisions of R.S. 2477:
1) It must have been in use before 1976.
2) It must be public domain.
3) There must be a destination for the road.
In any given case, if all three of the above conditions are not met, then R.S. 2477 does not apply, and the law cannot be used to keep a road open.
As much as some of us might like it to be, R.S. 2477 is not a cure-all or a magic wand that can be used to protect rights-of-way on all roadways and routes that cross public land.
In addition, the BLM requires that all R.S. 2477 claims be filed in federal court. This is a very difficult and expensive process that may not yield the desired result.
This method should only be used as a last resort, after all other alternatives have been exhausted. And we will use it appropriately if need be.
As an alternative, the BLM may make informal, administrative decisions with the county through the plan’s process — which is the most important and effective avenue we have to influence the outcome of this planning process.
Mesa County has put a lot of time and effort into the plan’s process. Over the years, the county has been very successful in working with the BLM on various planning processes. As county commissioners, we have seen how this type of investment yields positive results for our community.
Along with our partners, Mesa County will continue to play a significant role by providing local input and guidance as the BLM moves forward.
We pledge to keep working on this plan in order to ensure access to the public roads that we need on federal land in Mesa County.
On Feb. 20, the Mesa County Board of Commissioners asked the Bureau of Land Management to extend its public comment period on the draft of the plan. The BLM agreed to allow the public an additional 60 days to submit feedback, and the deadline to submit comments is now June 24.
Steve Acquafresca is chairman of the Mesa County Board of Commissioners. John Justman and Rose Pugliese are the other two members of the board.