Kane-BLM feud still simmers; some flexibility emerges
KANAB - The contentious argument between Kane County and the federal government over ownership of roads that spider web across Bureau of Land Management land took on some new signs of trouble and some of flexibility Monday.
Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw said during a County Commission meeting that he and county work crews have voluntarily removed 52 signs erected by the county from the BLM-administered Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
He also said someone has been covering county stickers encouraging ATV use that are posted on road markers with stickers prohibiting ATVs on those roads. The new stickers resemble official BLM stickers.
Eight other county signs have been pulled up on the monument.
"Some were hidden in bushes and one had been shredded with an ax or a pick," said Habbeshaw. "Someone tried to get another one out of the ground and made it unusable."
The county also has been systematically putting signs encouraging ATV use on BLM land outside the monument, but those signs have not been damaged or stolen. Habbeshaw said he has asked the county sheriff's office to investigate who vandalized the signs.
Whether the county has the right to erect the signs on the 96-million-acre monument or on the other BLM lands outside the monument is at the center of a battle between the agency and the county.
In 2003, county officials including Habbeshaw and Sheriff Lamont Smith removed BLM signs banning ATVs from monument roads, claiming the roads belonged to the county. The incident is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The office is also investigating whether to prosecute the county for putting up signs on BLM roads outside the monument.
Commissioners on Monday vented their frustrations over the ongoing dispute.
BLM spokesman Don Banks said Monday the Lieutenant Governor's Office is trying to coordinate a meeting with the BLM, Kane County and the state before any legal action is taken.
"We're working with the solicitor to see what the next option is and how to put the steps into place," said Banks. "But obviously, there have been expressions on all sides, so maybe the best thing to do is to sit down and talk. Obviously, we'd welcome that opportunity."
Habbeshaw does not believe talking is the solution and would like to plead the county's case before a judge.
"We want our day in court," said Habbeshaw.
But in what appears to be a conciliatory gesture, Habbeshaw said the county has been removing signs since May 18, mostly from lesser roads, including one that looked like a livestock trail.
He said all disputed roads should be evaluated under criteria that the county has used to officially document historic roads. If the roads are deemed to further the multi-use philosophy of the BLM, then they should be open to the public, Habbeshaw said.
Commissioners Daniel Hulet and Ray Spencer also expressed frustration over the issue, condemning the federal government for usurping what they claim is their right to control roads in the county.
Spencer said overtures to the BLM to work through the issue go unanswered, with the commission getting input or learning of new issues usually through the news media.
The meeting ended with the commission going into executive session to discuss possible future litigation over the roads issue and their response to a letter from state BLM Director Sally Wisely, asking the commission to remove the signs on agency land outside the monument. The commission's response was addressed to BLM Director Kathleen Clarke.
Tribune reporter Joe Baird contributed to this story.