Western Property Owners Beware: Right to Build Roads on Government Property in Jeopardy!

July 17, 2003

Defenders of Property Rights has learned that on Thursday, July 17th, the U.S. Congress is set to vote on an amendment attached to the new Department of Interior appropriations bill that will affect thousands of homeowners, ranchers, farmers, businesses, and outdoor enthusiasts in Utah and other Western States.

Colorado Democratic Congressman, Mark Udall, plans to offer an amendment to the U.S. House Department of Interior Appropriations Bill that blocks states, local communities, and individuals from their legal title right to build and maintain a road on federally owned land.

The amendment is sought after Interior Secretary Gale Norton issued in January of 2003, a regulation allowing the federal government to abandon the legal title to rights of way claimed by counties under the former mining access law known as R.S. 2477. R.S. 2477 was a pre-Civil War law that allowed individuals, states, and counties to build roads on federally owned land. The law was phased out in 1976 but it still allowed individuals, states and counties to build roads if they held their titles before 1976.

A leading environmental group known as Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has lobbied Congress over the past few weeks urging members to pass Rep. Udall's amendment thus destroying these historic property rights. SUWA has also been very active in the courts trying to block Secretary Norton's regulation, which was issued in January 2003.

Defenders strongly believes these historic roads that have been relied on by landowners and local communities must be preserved.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, "The Senate has already passed its version of the Interior spending report, and the two versions of the department's 2004 appropriations will be resolved in a joint conference committee. If the Udall amendment gains wide support from the GOP majority in the House, its chances of surviving in the final conference report are considered good."

Time for debate on this particular issue is running short. We disagree strongly with Rep. Udall and believe that private property owners stand to be severely harmed if his amendment were to pass. If you also disagree with Rep. Udall please contact his office at 202-225-2161 by telephone and tell him why. You can also contact your local representative to discuss this amendment by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or log on to http://www.house.gov to find out additional contact information.

To find out more about R.S. 2477 please visit our website at http://www.yourpropertyrights.org

Brian J. Rogers
Director of Policy and Development
Defenders of Property Rights
1350 Connecticut Ave., NW Ste. 410
Washington, DC 20036


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