A federal judge handed a landmark victory to Kane County and the state of Utah on Wednesday in a years-long dispute with the federal government over whether some rural routes should remain in use as roads, or if they should be closed to the public.
In two decisions, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups found he had jurisdiction to hear Kane County’s claim, gave parameters for “reasonable” right-of-way widths on some routes and determined that 12 of 15 routes in dispute were roads and therefore accessible by the public.
The distinction hinged on an 1866 law through which Congress sought to encourage development by allowing local jurisdictions to manage routes across public lands; the law was repealed in 1976 by Revised Statute 2477.
With the revision, Congress retained most remaining public lands and created the Bureau of Land Management. Pre-existing claims, however, were grandfathered in and considered valid as long as entities moved to claim them within a 12-year time frame. Waddoups determined that Kane County did so.
Kane County Commission Chairman Doug Heaton said Thursday the ruling vindicates the county in its fight to continue to travel what he described as historic thoroughfares.
“We’re confident the judge took great pains to get it right,” he said. “We’re excited the court has ruled in our favor.”