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Golden area access remains disputed

ELK CITY – As revealed in the Forest Service’s April 30 response, the federal and local governments are in agreement on one point in a lawsuit over Golden-area road closures: the Forest Service does not recognize “Idaho County’s claim to control and ownership of the Buckhorn Creek Road System.”

Buckhorn Creek Road System?

That’s a term used in the original complaint – referring to Forest Road 212, Forest Road 212B, Forest Trail 854, Forest Road 1894 and associated rights-of-way – which was filed in United States District Court in October 2013 by plaintiffs including Idaho County, the Idaho County Commissioners and a half-dozen private parties. The county – and the private parties, many of whom claim mineral rights in the Golden area – asked the court to clarify the ownership and public use of these routes through quiet title.

The plaintiffs argued that local government ownership of the routes predates federal land management, because the roads were constructed years before the federal government established the Bitter Root Reserve in 1897. The Forest Service’s response flat-out denies plaintiffs’ claim that “the Buckhorn Creek Road System was constructed and used by the public” before the creation of the Bitter Root Reserve (which preceded the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests). The response does not contain the Forest Service’s account of when or how the roads came to be. Establishing those dates is the plaintiffs’ burden, said attorneys for the plaintiffs – David Claiborne of Sawtooth Law Offices and Wes Hoyt, former deputy prosecutor for the county during the early 1990s – on Monday, May 12.

In its response, the Forest Service states the routes “appear to lie on land owned and managed by the United States” and notes that the roads were closed to motor vehicles under an order issued more than a decade ago. The parties disagree about the exact date of the closure: Plaintiffs’ complaint marks the closure date after an appeal was concluded in October 2001, while the Forest Service marks the date a 1998 decision was “terminated” in November 2000.

The Forest Service’s response to the complaint includes a range of defenses: it “fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted;” it is barred by “the statute of limitations” and “the doctrine of laches” (respectively, these phrases mean that so much time has passed – or that circumstances have changed so much – that the appropriate time to file a complaint has already passed); that plaintiffs lack standing; that the complaint lacks jurisdiction; and that the complaint does not meet Quiet Title Act requirements for suing the federal government.

According to Claiborne and Hoyt, the case hinges on evidence to be gleaned from “collateral documents” such as voting and postal records that date to the mid-1800s through the early 1890s.

“A lot of that will be found in mining records,” Claiborne said Monday, May 12.

Hoyt suggested anyone who has documents that establish the roads were in public use during the early 1890s may phone him at 983-0212 or e-mail him at hoytlaw@hotmail.com.

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