Judge rejects SUWA motion in public lands case

With a scathing rebuke, a federal judge rejected a motion by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) to become a full-party participant in a landmark public lands case.

Judge Clark Waddoups ruled on September 5 that SUWA could participate in a massive case regarding RS-2477 road rights-of-way on public land in Kane County, but only as a “limited permissive intervenor.”

Kane County is a consolidated case that rolled together the claims by more than 20 counties of 12,000 separate RS-2477 claims on public lands. The case has been slowly rolling through the court system for more than ten years. 

Instead of focusing on the thousands of roads in the western United States, the case is focused on 15 individual road claims in Kane County.

It is anticipated that the decision on the case will have far-reaching implications in San Juan County and beyond. It could potentially settle many of the public road issues that have been simmering in western states since the Federal Lands Policy Management Act (FLPMA) was signed in 1976.

Thousands of roads are claimed by rural counties in the western United States, claims that have been challenged by environmental advocacy groups, including SUWA.

This landmark case will move forward, but with a significantly limited role for SUWA after Waddoups wrote, “SUWA has no legal right to be in this case.”

“It was clear SUWA had the intent to take a lead role in this litigation – a lead to which it had no right to take,” Waddoups writes. “A lead that could well harm the actual parties who do have a right to be before the court.”

SUWA had previously been given an increased role in the case, but Waddoups suggested that the wilderness advocacy organization may have overstepped its role.  

The judge stated that SUWA filed actions that delayed progress on the case. In fact, it was SUWA’s role in delaying the case that may have triggered Judge Waddoup’s ire.

The judge writes of one particular instance, “For over two years, Plaintiffs’s time and resources were taxed as they addressed SUWA’s defense before the Utah Supreme Court on an argument that ultimately was struck down as absurd.”

Waddoups adds, “The harm arising from the delay is real, and it has occurred because SUWA thwarted the court’s order and insisted on taking a dominant role.”

After outlining other actions by SUWA on the case, Waddoups added, “The end runs around the conditions set by the court are unacceptable. They show a disregard for the court’s rulings, and they continue to multiply the proceedings by an intervenor who was only supposed to have a limited role.”

The case is set to go to trial in February 2020, a timeframe Judge Waddoups seems determined to follow.

In the ruling, Judge Waddoups repeated a statement from an attorney in a previous hearing, “I know the court is committed to that (a timely trial)…the State of Utah is committed to that, Kane County is committed to that, the United States is committed to that. My question is is SUWA really committed to that?”

A full version of the ruling can be found at the San Juan Record website, at www.sjrnews.com.

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