of the Secretary
|Contact: John Wright
| For Immediate
Release: April 9, 2003
WASHINGTON -- The Interior
Department and the state of Utah signed a landmark agreement today aimed
at resolving the uncertainty about existing rights-of-way claims on
federal land. The agreement establishes a process to resolve many of
the long-standing disputes over Revised Statute 2477
The memorandum of understanding was announced during a signing ceremony with Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Gov. Mike Leavitt. "We listened and applied a practical approach to decision- making," Secretary Norton said. "It's time to move forward and, by working collaboratively with the state of Utah, we are able to resolve a long-disputed issue that may otherwise have lead to costly and lengthy litigation."
Recognizing the special nature of national parks, refuges and wilderness, the MOU acknowledgment process does not apply to these areas. The state of Utah has also agreed to work cooperatively with the Interior Department to minimize trespass situations on roads outside the scope of the MOU. It establishes a process to acknowledge existing roads that were and continue to be publicly traveled and regularly maintained. For example, if a road currently disturbs the ground to a width of 20 feet, Interior will acknowledge that width. If a road is currently a gravel road, Interior will acknowledge it as a gravel road. A dirt road could not be transformed into a wider paved highway under the terms of the agreement without additional review by the Interior Department.
The Interior Department will use the recordable disclaimer of interest process to acknowledge asserted rights under the agreement. This process, which includes an opportunity for full public participation, provides a mechanism for acknowledging claims when requirements of applicable statutes, regulations and the terms of the MOU have been satisfied.
Federal, state, local land managers and environmental advocacy organizations have all demonstrated a desire to put disputes surrounding R.S. 2477 to rest and to move toward an approach to land management that emphasizes cooperation. The MOU between Interior and the state of Utah exemplifies a cooperative approach that acknowledges current uses of federal lands.
The R.S. 2477 was enacted as part of the Mining Law of 1866, during a time when the federal governments focus was on encouraging settlement and development of the West. Congress passed R.S. 2477 to ensure miners' routes to their claims and cattlemen's trails for their herds by granting rights-of-way over any federal land not otherwise set aside. Although Congress repealed the statute in 1976 with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, it did not terminate rights-of-way in existence at that time. As part of the new law in 1976, Congress recognized all valid existing claims to these rights-of-way as of that date.
On July 16, 2002, the National Association of Counties adopted a resolution urging the Department of the Interior to adopt a policy approach to R.S. 2477 rights-of-way that would allow counties to "maintain historical rights of way across federally managed lands."
The interim policy on R.S. 2477, issued in 1997, will continue to apply to all other requests for a rights-of-way acknowledgment. States and counties that are interested in an acknowledgment may submit proposed memoranda of agreement to DOI for consideration. The proposed memoranda of agreement must be generally consistent with the principles of the department's MOU with Utah.