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Special report:

Catron County RS 2477 road dispute with USFS

By Hugh B. McKeen, Commissioner, Catron County NM

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 their arrival.

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 areas.

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 stage?)

In a letter dated August 17, Catron County informed Gila Forest Supervisor Kelly M. Russell of the resumed road maintenance.

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.

 


         
 

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