The federal government has agreed to open up public access to three disputed roads in Juab County’s Deep Creek Mountains. With a judge’s approval, the state of Utah and Juab County can now claim ownership of Trout Creek, Deep Creek and Granite Canyon Roads, which had for years been off limits to motorists because they crossed federally protected lands.
The agreement was signed by attorneys representing the federal government, the state of Utah, Juab County and environmental groups. It opens the routes to traffic, although motorized vehicle access will be limited to June through November. ATV access will be limited as well. Juab County authorities will enforce the laws.
The state and county can now repair the roads but they’re not allowed to widen or pave them.
Harry Souvall is chief of the Utah Attorney General’s Office public lands section. He says if all parties were able to settle this particular claim, they should be able to agree on a lot more.
“This is a road agreement that transcends a sensitive environmental area, so it should be more difficult to do than roads crossing miles of sagebrush,” Souvall says. “To me this seems like a tougher settlement to reach than the vast majority of road claims in the state.”
Last year the state of Utah filed lawsuits on behalf of 22 Utah counties, hoping to gain access to thousands of civil war-era routes like these.
Steve Bloch is the legal director for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The organization works to protect public lands. Bloch says the settlement indicates the possibility for rational people to come to an agreement but it’s still unclear if that’s going to translate on a broader scale.
“It’s really important to note that of the 14,000 plus claims totaling more than 36,000 miles, they are in national parks, they are in the Grand Staircase and other national monuments in the state,” Bloch says. “They are in designated wilderness and other wilderness caliber landscapes in the state.”
Bloch maintains the overwhelming majority of routes the state and counties are claiming rights of way are meritless.