Salazar Lays Groundwork for Utah Pilot Project to Resolve Old Road Claims on Public Land

Also Issues Memo Clarifying U.S. Old Road Claims Policy

Last edited 09/29/2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of the Interior has offered to join the State of Utah, county officials and other stakeholders in a pilot negotiation project to resolve claims on rural roads under an 1866 law granting rights-of-way for the construction of highways over federal lands that are not reserved for public use. The validity of many R.S. 2477 rights-of-way (known by the section of mining law authorizing them) has been uncertain and controversial since their enabling statute was repealed in 1976.

“R.S. 2477 claims have long been a source of contention in the West, but with the right approach, openness on all sides, and Governor Herbert's leadership, we have a good chance in Utah to establish a model for consensus-building and problem solving,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who has discussed the issue and alternative approaches with Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert. “If we can set the right parameters for the talks, I believe that a pilot project with Iron County, Utah would be a good first step that can demonstrate how consensus is attainable on specific claims—to the benefit of all,” Salazar said.

Salazar today also announced that he has issued a memo to Interior agencies clarifying that a road claims policy issued in 2006 by the previous administration is not binding on the federal government and created unnecessary confusion in the government's old road claims process. In his memo, Salazar says that the Department should be able to make all appropriate arguments under applicable law to defend the United States' interests in R.S. 2477 claims litigation.

Salazar will be in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, August 3, to host an America's Great Outdoors listening session and address representatives of the recreation and outdoor industries.

R.S. 2477 was originally intended to promote settlement of the American West in the 19th century and was self-executing – i.e., there was no federal or state government approval or public recording of title required to establish rights-of-way, many of which were intended to provide access to mineral deposits on federal lands. This lack of governmental involvement often created uncertainty regarding whether particular rights-of-way had in fact been established. Though Congress repealed R.S. 2477 with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, the new law did not terminate valid rights-of-way established prior to repeal.

The uncertainty surrounding R.S. 2477 rights-of-way continues today and has implications for a wide range of entities, including Interior and other federal agencies as well as state and local governments who assert title to R.S. 2477 rights-of-way, and those who favor or oppose continued use of these rights-of-way. The pilot negotiation project with Iron County will address only R.S. 2477 claims that all involved agree should be a part of the process, with a goal of facilitating recognition of valid R.S. 2477 rights-of-way.

BLM Director Bob Abbey welcomed the proposal to engage in this pilot project “that is open and transparent to all, addresses all interests, and is grounded in a reasonable consensus on all important issues,” in a July 30 letter to Governor Herbert, his representatives in the ongoing discussions, Utah's congressional delegation and a number of environmental and outdoor recreational groups that have a stake in the outcome.

The letter also explains that Interior officials believe the pilot project must have the support of governmental constituencies throughout Utah, including the state's Congressional delegation and other federal and state agencies. The Department and its Bureau of Land Management believe a successful pilot project would need to be based on substantial consensus among all of the major stakeholder constituencies.

The full text of the letter is online here.

The full text of the memo is online here.


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