Kane County and the state of Utah have regained ownership of several back-country roads that cross federal land. A federal judge granted the state and county title to 12 of 15 roads being contested in a legal dispute with the Interior department and Bureau of Land Management.
Utah Attorney General John Swallow says the decision proves the state of Utah and 22 of 29 Utah counties involved in the lawsuit are not just barking in the wind.
“We are truly concerned about the right of Utahns to use these roads that have been historically used for many, many years and decades in the past," Swallow says. "The federal government can’t come in and say arbitrarily, we’re not going to let you maintain these roads and we’re not going to let you use these roads.”
A 19th century federal law granted states the right to develop roads in the American West. The law known as R.S. 2477 was repealed in the 1970’s, but Congress granted states and counties rights-of-way to existing roads.
The federal government and environmental groups like Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance or SUWA argue the trails in dispute are nothing but faded tracks and stream bottoms.
Steve Bloch is the Energy Program Director for SUWA. He says the decision allows local governments to develop the properties as they wish.
“Bring in road equipment, widen the road, construct culverts and ditches and take what is right now a faint track in the desert and change it into something that is radically different," Bloch says.
Bloch says he expects the federal government will appeal the decision.