The Department of the Interior has delayed for a third time its deadline for resolving a dispute over an outdated law known as R.S. 2477. In 1866, it granted rights-of-way to rural counties for roadbuilding across public lands in the West. When it was repealed in 1976, pre-existing claims were grandfathered in, creating a flurry of claimstaking around the West. The original closing date for comments was Sept. 30, 1994, but controversy surrounding the issue led to two extensions (HCN, 12/26/94). Department of Interior spokesperson Stephanie Hanna said the latest delay is a response to several new members of Congress who wanted more time to become acquainted with the issue. In addition, she says, an appeals case pending in Alaska has implications for the rights-of-way debate in the Southwest. A group based in Salt Lake City, the Coalition to Protect Public Access Rights, hailed the latest delay as a victory. But environmentalists, including Terri Martin of the National Parks and Conservation Association, say the issue is not about access to public lands. "What these folks want is to take control of our national parks and public lands by claiming unqualified ownership of virtually every vehicle track that crosses them," Martin says. To comment - again - write Director, BLM, Room 5555, Main Interior Building, 1849 C St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240.
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