For years mostly poor rural western counties have fought the federal government to keep public roads open. In response, western U.S. representatives Paul Gosar, Ann Kirkpatrick, Paul Cook (R-CA), Chris Stewart (R-UT), and Scott Tipton (R-CO) responded to their needs last week when they introduced bipartisan legislation, the Historic Routes Preservation Act, which allows local counties to resolve public lands right-of-way disputes without going to court.
Congressman Gosar and Cook spent several months crafting this legislation, H.R. 4313.
“This bipartisan bill provides a useful tool for cleaning up maps in western states and allows confirmation of rights-of-way on public lands through an administrative process, as opposed to the current expensive judicial process. Counties throughout the West shouldn’t have to spend precious resources on litigation in order to keep public roads open, especially when counties have been paying to maintain these roads for decades. This bill provides a commonsense solution that will maintain public access and prevent government bureaucrats from arbitrarily closing historic routes,” stated Rep. Gosar.
Congressman Paul Cook (R-CA) stated, “This bill empowers local counties and gives the Bureau of Land Management clear administrative responsibility when it comes to confirming rights-of-ways on our public lands. Right now, it’s an expensive and time consuming task for counties to assert existing rights-of-way on roads across federal land. Many small counties can’t afford to go to court to keep public roads open, leading to a loss of public access to public land. This bill changes the way things were done and forces the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to deal with these claims administratively,” stated Rep. Cook.
As stated in the dear colleague for the bill, “The rights-of-ways [addressed by the bill] were authorized and created “as constructed” under the Mining Law of 1866, and continue to exist, but are not confirmed by documentation or recording on the official land records maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Currently the only means a county has to confirm such a right-of-way is to file a quiet title action in Federal District Court, an expensive and time-consuming process. Sadly, after 39 years, many county records have been lost, old maps have been thrown away, and witnesses to the road’s presence and use prior to 1976 are passing on. The Historic Routes Preservation Act applies only to existing travel routes and creates no new roads on public lands, nor would it allow upgrade or realignment without appropriate environmental consideration. Further, it will not apply to Department of Defense installations.”
Arizona State Representative Mark Finchem stated, “Rep. Gosar has kept his eye on the ball for a long time. This goes hand in glove with HB2175 from last session, the protection of RS42477 rights-of-way. It is interesting to note that the Sierra Club opposed the AZ bill when we worked to keep the wilderness areas open for all Americans to enjoy recreational activities in. I am glad to see this from Rep. Gosar since the overwhelming economic driver in counties like Apache and Mohave is outdoors activities and recreation.”