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Cache County in Dispute with U.S. Forest Service over Roads

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LOGAN, Utah (AP) -- Cache County is fighting with the U.S. Forest Service over whether it can claim to own nearly every mile of road on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

The county council has passed two resolutions in six months declaring it owns 197 miles of roads in the national forest and it intends to claim another 150 miles of road in the future. The county wants to own the roads so it can maintain them.

"We as a county are stepping up and saying . . . these are our roads," said Cory Yeates, a council member who has heard numerous complaints that forest roads are often blocked or in poor condition.

"By law, they are (now) county roads," says Yeates.

The Forest Service disagrees.

"The Forest Service and other federal agencies don't really have the right to grant that to them," said Kay Shurtz, engineer for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

A court would have to determine whether the county's claims to the roads are valid, he said.

A Civil War-era mining law allowed counties and cities to use routes across federal land. That law was repealed three decades ago, but existing rights of way were grandfathered in.

Confusion now exists on what constituted an existing right of way.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a southern Utah case two years ago that state laws dictate the meaning. In Utah, the law says that "existing" roads are those that had 10 years of continuous use before 1976.

Yeates said Cache County has documented 10 years of use to back up its claims to the roads.

"We have histories going back to the 1870s. Most of these were built with county funds," said Yeates.

The county doesn't intend to take the Forest Service to court to prove its claims, but will if it finds its rights infringed, he said.

But the Salt Lake City-based environmental group Save Our Canyons doubts Cache County will be able to prove the roads were highways maintained by the county, as required by law.

It also worries about the Forest Service's ability to control land uses if it loses control of the roads.

"These roads that lie within the Forest Service are best managed by the Forest Service -- by the agency that manages the land," said Carl Fisher, issues coordinator for Save Our Canyons.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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