A federal judge is granting the state of Utah and Kane County title to 12 of 15 roads involved in a legal dispute with the federal government and an environmental group. On March 20, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups also denied a motion to dismiss the case which is based on an 1866 law used to recognize and validate a system of highways and roads in the West. The law known as R.S. 2477 was repealed in 1976, but Congress grandfathered the states’ and counties’ rights-of-way to roads that already existed.
“These rulings clearly show these historic public roads have and will continue to belong to the people of Utah,” says Attorney General John Swallow. “This is the first of many anticipated legal victories that will confirm that the federal government’s refusal to recognize these roads as state and county roads is not legally justified. The federal government’s refusal has damaged the economy and put motorists at risk because the state and counties were unable to conduct routine maintenance to repair their own roads.”
Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert is hopeful the decision will lead to cooperation between the state and federal government. “This victory clearly demonstrates that Utah’s historic public roads belong to the people of Utah. We now hope this ruling motivates all stakeholders to work together to resolve our other public road cases,” says Governor Herbert.
In 2010, the Attorney General’s Office joined a lawsuit filed by Kane County to obtain title to 15 roads in Kane County. Judge Waddoups ruled all but three roads are historic public roads, even though he applied the higher “clear and convincing” legal standard to the state and county’s burden of proof.
The decision grants title to 89 of 95 miles of road sought in the litigation. He also rejected claims made by the federal government and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance that he did not have jurisdiction over the matter because of a lack of controversy and the statute of limitations.
“We are grateful Judge Waddoups took the time to weigh the evidence, listen to the witnesses and actually visit the roads before making this important decision,” says Assistant Attorney General Harry Souvall. “This is an important first step in setting legal precedent that will provide clarity on issues facing all the parties in the recently filed statewide litigation.”
The Attorney General’s Office has filed 22 other lawsuits in 2012 over nearly 12,000 R.S. 2477 roads in 22 counties. The state was represented by Assistant Attorneys General Harry H. Souvall and Anthony L. Rampton at trial.