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Catron County RS 2477 road dispute with USFS
By Hugh B. McKeen, Commissioner, Catron
There are 4 parcels of unimproved, uninhabited
tracts of land located on the San Francisco River that are
surrounded by national forest lands. The road servicing these
tracts is an old historic road (RS 2477) connecting Glenwood
with Reserve. This 17-mile stretch of road has not been maintained
by the county for many years. However travelers and landowners
have continually gone up the river anyway.
The Gila Forest wishes to purchase this property
and has had it appraised. Our county land plan calls for no
net loss of private land. Private land is our tax base and
provides a nucleus for any future economic benefits.
One of the landowners would not consent to sell.
This land owner received a letter from Gila Forest Supervisor
Kelly M. Russell stating that the area had been designated
as the Devils Park Road-less area.
He was informed that his only access was by foot
or horseback. He could be granted a vehicle permit if he consented
to pay the forest service to do a full blown NEPA study.
Nobody else, to our knowledge was informed of
this road-less designation including Catron County. One of
the strongest rights in the U.S. is to have full access to
ones private land. It is an illegal act, if I as a landowner
restrict another person access to their property. (How is it
that government agencies can intimidate and do illicit things
and never be held accountable?)
Catron County has the road on its schedule and
decided to maintain the road again, bolstered by the request
from 3 of the landowners. The original route was impassable
in many places; travelers had been crashing over the banks
and driving in the stream bed directly in the water. Our maintenance
put the road back on its historic route and out of the river
except for crossings. All material was pushed away from the
water at the crossings; no material was deposited in the water.
One road crew started at one end and another
at the other end and we met in the middle. Working from August
9th through the 11th, the 17 miles of road was put back on
its historic route. This is such a scenic drive; people can
now enjoy the history and beauty of the area.
On August 18th our great government agencies
planned a secret trip to the area. The County Commission or
the landowners were never notified. We in Catron County are
leery and weary of those government agencies that want to exclude
us from important management decisions and further control
and dictate every facet of our lives. There was a leak and
we found out about this secret adventure just hours before
I and four area residents met the entourage at
the starting point. The agency people: 4 Forest Service, 3
USF&W, 1 NM Environment Dept., 1 Corps of Engineers showed
up in 4 pickups and trailers full of off-road vehicles. Two
other Forest Service employees came down the river in another
off road vehicle. It was a mind boggling experience to observe
this display of government activity for so little purpose.
As a business owner and taxpayer it frustrates
me and downright makes me mad to observe a display of 11 bureaucratic
employees seemingly on a junket. One person could have taken
pictures for all to see. It's no wonder our country is buried
in debt, this one day trip at a minimum cost taxpayers $8,000+
and another $700 for travel expenses.
One of our party checked the river out and returned
to inform us that it was flooding. Despite the flood, the entourage
decided to go the 17 miles and 25-30 river crossings and then
take pictures on the way back. One of our persons decided to
go home and not challenge the flood. Three of us followed the
entourage on our 4-wheelers.
Most crossings were narrow and deep and required
4 wheel drive to negotiate. We had to go swiftly in the crossings
to avoid being stuck. The churning of the river bottom made
the crossings even deeper and more difficult for the next person
to cross. The swiftness of the vehicle would then carry a wave
of water up the opposite dirt bank a good 10 ft. and cause
erosion of the road on the down flow into the river.
The three of us had enough of getting wet and
jeopardizing our machines, so we decided to return to our vehicles
and go home. My analysis of this trip:
As a County Commissioner I find it portends an
ominous act meant to further destroy any authority or rights
the county might have.
In conclusion, when we maintained the river crossings
we took great care at all crossings. Returning the road to
its original route will discourage travel in the live stream
up and down the river. We made every effort to retain the overall
beauty of the road with its many trees and overhead shaded
It is further reprehensible: (How be it that
this group of government people is supposed to be looking after
our environment to knowingly traverse a river during flood
In a letter dated August 17, Catron County informed
Gila Forest Supervisor Kelly M. Russell of the resumed road
Russell in a letter dated August 25 gave a response.
She says that Catron County has never established its claim
to RS 2477 right-of-way for NSFR 32 or any other National Forest
System Road in Catron County.
It is her position that we do not presently have
jurisdiction over this road and no authorization for maintenance.
A court of competent jurisdiction must determine the existence
of RS 2477 right-of-way across federal land.
The county is required to abide by federal regulations
such as NEPA, ESA, National Historical Preservation Act, Archeology
Resources Protection Act, Native Graves Protection, Repatriation
Act, Clean Water Act and obtain the required permits. Russell
also claims we did damage to National Forests Road, trees were
pushed or cut and some trees were skinned up.
Based on the investigation, Russell will take
appropriate action to hold Catron County accountable for damages
or violations of law.
(What an amazing set of circumstances - Catron
County and the Forest Service both know indisputably that this
is an RS 2477 road. Under this presumptuous display of federal
authority, the Forest Service can close any road any where
at any time and deny anybody access to their property.
This is exactly what is wrong with our country.
The federal elitist has no conscience when it comes to our
constitutional rights and freedoms.
Catron County would appreciate your support,
thoughts and any course of action you deem appropriate.