OURAY COUNTY – Despite an eleventh hour interjection from the U.S. Forest Service, the Ouray County Commissioners made history this week, unanimously voting to adopt a new county road map that brings it into the 21st century.
The last time an official county road map was prepared in Ouray County was in 1961.
Proposed revisions to this 1961 iteration of the map took place over the past five years, first through the work of the collaborative, multi-jurisdictional Public Access Group and later through two years of intensive work by Ouray County IT/GIS Manager Jeff Bockes, who integrated modern computerized mapping techniques (including GoogleEarth) and historical information on public roads going all the way back into the 1800s.
The process of adopting the revised map turned out to be quite lengthy. Commissioners first held a public hearing on June 25 to consider its adoption. This hearing was continued to July 1 on the request of Commissioner Don Batchelder to receive legal advice as to what kind of legal exposure the county may face upon map adoption.
The hearing continuation was again continued to Tuesday, July 22, this time to reopen public comment pertaining to specific, documented requests for additions or deletions of roads included in the map.
Ouray District Ranger Tammy Randall-Parker of the U.S. Forest Service took advantage of the reopened public comment period to weigh in with a number of concerns pertaining to the map. These concerns primarily had to do with the correct identification of the ownership of Forest Service roads included on it.
Such underlying ownership is not depicted on the new map; an accompanying resolution asserts that the roads and trails depicted on the map are open to the public (and shall not be closed unless formally vacated by the county), and that all numbered, primary roads on the map are under county jurisdiction.
Randall-Parker took exception to this, asserting in a letter dated July 18 that “all the roads within Ouray County and within the Uncompahgre National Forest are National Forest System Roads, not Ouray County roads.”
She pointed out that the county went through the proper Forest Service process to obtain a Forest Roads and Trails easement in 1999 for a portion of the Dave Wood Road, and suggested the county should pursue the same process for other roads on Forest Service land in the county, in order to properly transfer jurisdiction, should it wish to do so.
She also requested that the county remove all National Forest System trails from the map.
Through a follow-up e-mail exchange with Randall-Parker, County Attorney Marti Whitmore came up with language to fold into the final draft of the resolution pertaining to the revised map, addressing the USFS concerns while also protecting the county’s interests.
“Their concern was that on Forest Service lands, they did not want there to be an implication that trail groups or citizens have right to construct new trails, maintain existing trails or alter them, break gates the Forest Service has put up, or in any other way interfere with the USFS travel plan on Forest Service lands,” Whitmore said.
She recommended adding a clause to the resolution that the adoption of the map “does not authorize or otherwise sanction construction, alteration or maintenance on roads and trails, or the creation of signage on roads and trails within the National Forest without authorization by the USFS.”
The commissioners agreed to make the addition.
In the past, the county and Forest Service have “agreed to disagree” on the point of road ownership, and Whitmore suggested that beyond the conciliatory clause added into the new county road map resolution, this question of ownership should continue to be deferred for the time being so as not to further hold up the adoption of the map.
Ultimately, Whitmore said, the issue “needs to be resolved outside of the road map deliberations.”
The commissioners agreed. They authorized Whitmore to write a letter to the Forest Service pointing to the section of the county road map resolution that allows changes if there are errors.
“I don’t want to put us in a position where we will be in conflict. To the extent that the issues are resolvable, I would like a path to resolution,” Batchelder said. With that, he made a motion to adopt the map as amended with the new language pertaining to the Forest Service issue.
The motion passed unanimously, and the small audience of 20 or so citizens attending the hearing burst into a round of quiet applause.
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