« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Right-of-way or give-away?

  When Congress reconvenes after Labor Day, the House is expected to mark up a new bill that could allow states and counties to bulldoze roads across national parks and wilderness areas.

The legislation, introduced July 20 by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, attempts to preserve rural rights-of-way that might not be recognized under recently proposed Interior Department regulations. Hansen says Interior's proposal would threaten local control of existing roads and "close up access in the rural West." Under the "Revised Statutes 2477 Rights-of-Way Settlement Act" (H.R. 2081), almost any visible road or path could be considered eligible for right-of-way designation and expansion - even footpaths or dogsled routes.

"The result will be a web of expanded, paved and unneeded roads permanently scarring landscapes across our national parks and public lands and creating a management nightmare," says Elizabeth Fayad, Counsel for the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA). Hansen's bill would apply to "pre-existing" claims granted under an 1866 statute and would supercede an environmental review process mandated by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (HCN, 3/21/94). According to NPCA, Utah alone has more than 5,000 potential right-of-way claims across public land.

*Diane Kelly