Road closure issue continues to draw attention
by Anna Thayn
Mar 21, 2012 | 1922 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“As elected officials of San Juan County, I feel like our responsibility is first and foremost to safeguard and protect the rights of the citizens of the county,” said San Juan County Commission Phil Lyman on March 19. “And I don’t think the county can do any less than hold the BLM accountable when they overstep.”

The issue of an apparent road closure in the Indian Creek area by the Bureau of Land Management was again at the forefront of the weekly meeting of the Commission.

County resident Marilyn Boynton brought the issue back to the commission based on her concern that a March 14 article in the San Juan Record made it seem as though everyone was accusing Tom Heinlein, BLM Field Office Manager in Monticello, of lying to the Commission.

Boynton said she had researched the issue and was told that the berms in the area were created mainly by dirt excavated during the construction of a restroom facility. She said an EA was not necessary because they were just dumping dirt on the ground to create the berms. Boynton said that she did not believe the BLM was being untruthful regarding the apparent closure of the route.

Commissioner Bruce Adams expressed concern over the March 12 meeting when the BLM drew a small blue line where the GPS indicated was the site of the road.

“The problem is this: when the county GPS’d the road they weren’t trying to GPS for exactness of where that road was, but generally where the route took you,” said Adams.

He said that holding the county to exact GPS coordinates causes concern because there is an intention by the county to preserve the route and not specifically an exact point.

County Surveyor David Bronson said the GPS was done in 1999.  Resident Monte Wells said anyone who claims that the GPS on the road is exactly where the blue line is “is an idiot... It can’t be done. It’s impossible.”

Wells said that map-grade GPS technology can pinpoint an area but not an exact location, which would require survey grade equipment.

Adams said there had been a washout in the area at some point, and people were no longer able to take the original route. He is unsure if the county was ever aware that a washout had occurred.

Adams said the BLM was trying to force people to go into the washout area by putting up berms rather than contacting the county to take their trail cat and fix the original route.  

BLM employee Maxine Deeter said that at some point in the past, a puddle in the route grew so large that the pro-wilderness “Great Old Broads” requested it be designated as a lake.

Deeter said it was huge at one time, but added that you could drive through the washout area now.

Lyman said the BLM had overstepped and made an obvious heavy-handed maneuver for which they should apologize. Lyman said the BLM wants a joint statement that the County made a mistake, with which he disagrees.  

“I think the citizens of San Juan County have a right to go out and enjoy the countryside,” said Lyman. “When it comes to the roads, those belong to the county and we can manage them.”

Lyman expressed frustration that if a person comes upon a washout and takes a shovel and fixes the problem as a good citizen, “the BLM says that’s illegal. You’re not allowed to move a rock or touch a stick, and to me that’s the part that’s unacceptable. ...Individual citizens of San Juan County no longer have a right to think and act for themselves.”

Wells was the area resident who originally reported the closure. He said that he reported the problem to the BLM as soon as it was found, at which time they stated a mistake had been made. Then they went out and opened the road by removing the berms.

“They didn’t open up the road next to it that had been washed out for years that didn’t have any traffic on it. They opened up the berm that they had closed and put the sign on,” said Wells. “If anybody else in this county . . . would have done the same thing they would be in jail or facing fines like we have seen. Instead we have an agency that has covered up their mistake, making accusations that are totally unfounded.”

Boynton suggested the county request that citizens report roads that are washed out or impassible, so they can be fixed and these types of problems avoided.

Deeter and Adams both said the BLM and the county do receive tips and work together to repair them as quickly as possible.  Boynton said she was told that “the BLM is going to be totally hardnosed that if there is a route, you are supposed to stay on the route.”

In other business, Shawnmarie Powell and Jennifer Dobula requested the county form a committee to see what can be done to support afterschool programs. Powell discussed the need for afterschool programming in local schools and the benefit it provides for students in need.

Powell reported that an afterschool program is offered at Bluff Elementary. The program is funded by a Workforce Services Grant, which will expire this year. Powell said they will apply for an “Aspire” grant with permission from San Juan School District.  The $31,000 grant requires a $3,100 cash match, which Powell reports has already been raised.

Commissioner Adams asked if the school district was approached regarding the grant. Powell said the district chose not to apply for the Aspire grant. Powell suggested the county could be the agency to receive and allocate grant funding to the afterschool program in Bluff.

Commissioner Lyman said he is concerned that the request is an attempt to make a “deliberate end run around the school district.” 

Powell said the District gave them permission to seek the grant, but did not want to administer the grant.  Lyman said that it would make more sense for the school district to be the agent since it is their facility, and they are responsible for the students.

The commission expressed appreciation for the work but are hesitant to step in without the blessing of the San Juan School District. They asked Powell to seek a letter of support from the school district before they move forward on the issue.
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