Kane County UT Uses State Law to Reclaim Roads from national monument
In southern Utah, Kane County officials went quietly about their jobs of protecting and securing their citizens’ roads in accordance with Utah State laws. The response from the Federal agency that’s been steadily pushing for control over those roads was one of threats and intimidation, including criminal prosecution.
On Aug. 13, Kane County Sheriff Lamont Smith and Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw drove 19 county roads within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) and removed 31 signs put up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM, the agency that oversees the GSENM).
Habbeshaw said in an Aug. 24 telephone interview, “Only BLM restrictive signs [ones that limit vehicle use and public access] were taken down. We delivered them, intact and undamaged, to GSENM headquarters in Kanab with notice of State law to remove any others on county roads.”
At issue is the longstanding battle for control of the RS 2477 roads since the dark-of-night GSENM land grab by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1996. The roads are still maintained by Kane and Garfield Counties (the two counties that make up the monument), but are now claimed by the GSENM as their very own.
“One of the roads has been deemed a valid RS 2477 right-of-way by both the BLM and U.S. District Court. In spite of that recognition Hunsaker [current GSENM manager Dave Hunsaker] insists on keeping restrictions on the county road. He’s also placed a “Road End” sign on a county road where he wanted to end the road at a monument hiking trailhead. Hunsaker attempted to close the county road without consultation with the county,” says a recent Kane County press release.
Habbeshaw said that the unresolved road issue is now affecting area businesses and the county’s economy, “People have let us know that they wanted to come here on vacation, but didn’t because of the road issue. They’re going to other counties instead.”
Kane County’s press release says they attempted to resolve the restrictive signs and management issue with the GSENM, but that “Hunsaker, instead, created a dead end to any resolution other than legal action.”
Finally, in March 2003, the county sent a letter to Hunsaker requesting removal of the restrictive signs, citing complaints from Kane and Garfield county residents of increased harassment by BLM employees on Kane County roads vs. ones in Garfield County.
The difference between BLM’s control in the two adjacent counties goes back to 2000 when each made their independent decisions regarding Federal signage on their roads.
In a letter dated Oct. 9, 2000, to Kate Cannon, former GSENM manager, Garfield County Commissioners determined “that it is not in the interest of the traveling public or the residents of Garfield County at this time to authorize or agree with the Monument’s numbering system for Garfield county roads.” This vote stopped BLM from installing similar restrictive signs in Garfield County.
Current Garfield County Commissioner Clare Ramsay also served as a commissioner in 2000 when the no vote was handed to BLM. He said in an Aug. 25 telephone interview, “We let it be known at the beginning of the sign process that we didn’t want any BLM signs on Garfield County roads. Kane County, at that time, let them do it.”
“With the county’s lawsuit pending over the legality of the creation of the Monument itself, ” said Ramsay, “we would have been admitting that they owned the roads if we’d let them put Monument signs up.”
A Garfield County News report on March 8, 2001, quotes former GSENM manager Cannon in a public meeting with the Garfield County commissioners, where she confirmed that BLM restrictive signs would be removed from county roads, “We can take those off. Those are purely at your wish.” The Garfield County signs were subsequently removed.
Ramsay voiced adamant approval for the current enforcement action, “We support what Kane County did 100%. They’re asserting their rights, and they’re not standing alone on this one. We’re willing to go with them all of the way.”
When asked if he thought Kane County’s actions were “provocative” as labeled by the Salt Lake Tribune in their coverage of the event, Ramsay noted, “This is not a sagebrush rebellion. If anyone’s been operating outside the law, it’s the Monument management and staff. They’ve been doing it from the 'get go', since the Monument was first set up.”
According to the Tribune article by Brent Israelsen, BLM’s immediate reaction was to initiate “a criminal investigation of two elected Kane County leaders” allegedly because “removing or destroying federal signs on federal lands is a crime.”
“There was quite a bit of effort on the part of Kane County to work with the Monument office to resolve these road issues, but it didn’t come to fruition. Hunsaker pretty well ignored them. The county did great work and research to show BLM actions were contrary to State law,” State Rep. Mike Noel (R) said in a telephone interview on Aug. 26.
Noel went on, “Rather than a criminal investigation, BLM’s going to put together an independent group to review and investigate the events that led up to the county’s actions. Marty Ott, formerly from Tropic and the current State Director for Montana BLM, is coming down to mediate the issue and look into it.”
Kane County said they requested a meeting with the GSENM over their actions “to amicably resolve the issue” and expressed their disappointment that Hunsaker, instead, “not only elevated the issue to one of public controversy, but also included threats of criminal prosecution.”
Hunsaker is quoted by the Tribune as saying, “Just because they claim it, doesn’t mean it is so.” He seems to have forgotten that his "words of wisdom" to the counties also apply to his own Federal agency’s actions.
UT: County Claims BLM “Taking” Roads without Due Process
Kane County officials recently removed restrictive Bureau of Land Management signs from county roads and returned them to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The county asked for a meeting to amicably resolve the issue, advising the monument management that the county would not make this a public issue. The county is disappointed that monument manager, Dave Hunsaker, not only elevated the issue to one of public controversy but also included threats of criminal prosecution.
Hunsaker publicly claimed that he was “working to address the county’s concerns” regarding federal restrictions on county roads. The county contends that Hunsaker, instead, created a dead end to any resolution other than legal action.
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