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Judge to ride UTVs through land closed to motorized vehicles

October 5, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A judge will tour 15 disputed Utah routes crossing public land to help determine whether to surrender these federal rights of way to Kane County.

But The Salt Lake Tribune reported Thursday that details of that tour, set for this fall, will remain under wraps in an apparent effort to ensure the safety of visitors.

Lawyers for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other environmental groups argued Thursday in Salt Lake City’s federal court that some of the routes are closed to motorized use, so the entourage of UTVs could wind up violating federal land-use rules regarding the Paria River.

The groups said U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups’ site visits won’t serve a valid purpose, while Kane County and state lawyers insist they would help the judge understand the geographical context of the disputed routes.

Kane County argued that the monument plan’s road closures don’t apply to vehicles on official business.

Waddoups agreed and rejected all of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s objections, clearing the way for the site visits.

“It’s contrary to the monument plan, and we believe the court does not have the authority to order it,” Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance legal director Steve Bloch said. “We are not going to participate in that part of the site visit. It is regrettable that the court would order that parties be permitted to drive streambeds that have been closed for 20 years.”

Kane and at least 20 other counties are suing the federal government, seeking title to some 30,000 miles (48,000 kilometers) of routes under a repealed statute. Kane has taken the lead in this fight, and taxpayers are covering much of the county’s legal costs.

The litigants selected the 15 routes as “bellwethers” to stand in for similarly situated routes during a 10-day bench trial to start Feb. 4.

Much is at stake because the outcome will guide settlement talks on the other 14,000 disputed routes outlined in nearly two dozen lawsuits, one for each of the counties involved in the protracted legal battle.

To prevail on the claim, the county must demonstrate the route was open to unfettered public use for 10 years before the frontier-era law’s repeal in 1976.

Environmentalists argue that the routes’ current look and usage have no bearing in proving a RS2477 claim and are more likely to produce prejudicial information than probative evidence.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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