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Editorial: State trapped on faux roads and hoax highways

Published April 29, 2014 5:02 pm

Utah should give up road claims.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The devotion of the state of Utah and some of its local governments to the cause of having every cowpath, creek bottom and wheel rut in the state declared a public highway is not only an embarrassment but an expense that the taxpayers of this state should no longer be burdened with.

The most recent in what promises to be a series of judicial defeats, unless someone in Utah government wakes up and gives up, came late Friday. That's when judges of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a long hog wallow within Canyonlands National Park is not, as the state and San Juan County claimed, the kind of public right of way that the National Park Service should not be allowed to close.

The Park Service, quite rightly and legally, did close the 12-mile path to Angel Arch way back in 1998, and state and county officials have been pitching a childish fit ever since. A fit that state and county taxpayers — even those with the eyes to see that a creek bed is not a highway — have forked over millions of dollars to support.

It would be time to say, one down, 13,999 to go — that being the rough number of faux roads and hoax highways the state is claiming. Or it would be, if Utah officials would read the writing on this wall and give up this entire absurd crusade altogether. Which they aren't, as officials plan to appeal this adverse ruling, adding insult to injury for the state's wild lands and its taxpayers alike.

The claims are being made under the color of a long-repealed federal law called R.S. 2477. That statute was aimed at encouraging the development of the arid and sparsely populated West by granting practically unlimited recognition to the creation on any road that might be built across federal land.

In 1976, when Congress thought better of the matter and repealed R.S. 2477, roads then in existence were supposed to be grandfathered in — if, that is, they really were roads.

Thus efforts by state and local officials to claim so many such rights of way, mostly for the purpose of making it easier for those public lands to be developed, despoiled and robbed of their worthiness for wilderness designation.

If our elected officials stick with this delusional campaign, it threatens to make their other losing legal pursuits — e.g., their defense of the state's Amendment 3, banning same-sex marriage in Utah — look small and cheap in comparison.

But, because such anti-federal windmill-tilting goes over so well with the Republican base, there seems to be no end to this muddy road.