San Juan County officials recently removed
federal "road closed" signs on three dirt roads they claim in the
Grand Gulch area of southeastern Utah. The action could provoke a
lawsuit to test who owns these roads - San Juan County or the
Bureau of Land Management (HCN, 10/28/96: Utah counties bulldoze
the BLM, Park Service).
San Juan County officials
say an 1866 federal law gives them control over hundreds of miles
of dirt roads that run through BLM-controlled land. Federal
officials dispute many of these claims, arguing some of these
routes are not even roads.
The outcome could have
major consequences for Utah's long-running wilderness debate.
County officials argue that many of the wilderness areas proposed
by BLM and environmental groups are ineligible for wilderness
designation because they are crisscrossed by county-owned roads. If
the counties prevail, Utah would have much less land eligible for
A recent check of BLM records
revealed that the agency had not completed the formal process
needed to close roads in San Juan County. The BLM now is beginning
that process, which is expected to take a few months. Then the
"closed" signs on those roads will be replaced. Instead of taking
legal action against the county, BLM's Kent Walter said his agency
simply will replace the "road closed" sign on a route into Collins
Says Walter, "We'll see how many times
I've got to put it back."