Governor Works to Resolve Road Issue

Governor Works to Resolve Road Issue

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Jed Boal reporting At the center of the dispute with the federal government-- what is a road?

The state and its counties have fought with the federal government over this issue for more than 30 years. The conflict arose over roads that pass through federal land, and local rights to maintain them.

The Governor says it has been too devisive and costly.

A Civil War era law gave counties rights-of-way claims across federal land. In other words, if settlers needed to build roads across federal land, they could.

Counties want to assert those claims, and nearly three years ago the state threatened to sue the federal government. Since then the state has spend $8-million and 100,000 person hours preparing for a legal fight.

"We need to resolve it," Governor Mike Leavitt says. "It is a dispute that has gone on too long. We've spent millions of dollars on litigation. It's just time."

Environmentalists fear many claims will undermine existing and future wilderness areas. The governor says that won't happen.

"I'm asking the federal government to join us to resolve those that are nearly indisputable, probably 80-85 percent of the roads," the governor says.

Utah Roads Touchstones:

-Existed before 1976 -Must demonstrate use -Not in a National Park -Not in a Wilderness Area -Not in a Wilderness Study Area -Not in a Fish and Wildlife Refuge -No expansions - "as is, where is"

He says the state's criteria for determining a road is reasonable: -The road had to exist before 1976, and it must be used and maintained.

-The road cannot be in a National Park, a Wilderness Area, a Wilderness Study Area, or a Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

-These roads are not under discussion for expansion.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says that criteria is an improvement over the state's previous position.

"We need to know more about the details, though," says Heidi McIntosh, the SUWA conservation director. "There are some court cases that more specifically define it. We need to know if he's going to abide by those governing court cases."

SUWA remains skeptical and fears there might be enough gray area to put land at risk.

"Our purpose isn't to prejudice any future actions on anyone's part. We simply want to resolve those that can be resolved and do it quickly," the governor insists.

The Governor contends this is not just a Utah issue, but a regional issue and national issue. He hopes to come to the table with the federal government soon, extablish a framework for negotiations and eventually open up the process to the public.

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