County turns down request to vacate road

Roads from Spanish Valley to Dennehotso were discussed at the October 6 San Juan County Commission meeting. The commission started with discussion regarding a request to close a road inside Area BFE located in northern San Juan County.

Area BFE is a 320-acre park with 15 trails for off-highway vehicles such as jeeps and rock crawlers to recreate on. The recreation area is located a little less than three miles off Highway 191 on the top of Blue Hill at the south end of Spanish Valley.

A few public “class D” roads run through the recreation area and are maintained by San Juan County. Maintenance on class D roads only requires that the roads be passable by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The property owner Robert Lucero requested that the county vacate portions of the road, including the popular Strike Ravine road, to give the private property full control.

The commission voted unanimously to turn down Lucero’s request to vacate the roads.

At the meeting Lucero told the commission that as experienced and prepared jeepers have wandered off the Strike Ravine road looking for rocks and challenges to climb over, they’ve created a series of side roads throughout the area.

Lucero says those side roads have created a liability for his recreation area as some wander off the public road and become stuck. That liability has made insuring the area difficult.

Additionally, Lucero says the area’s goals to create cabins and other on-site amenities are being held up by not having control of the county roads.

Clark Hawkins of the San Juan County Road Department says while it is true that some benefits could come from economic activity in the area, there may be some litigation issues if the county closed the road.

In the early 2000s another private property owner used litigation in an attempt to restrict public access on the Strike Ravine road. The courts ruled in favor of San Juan County which fought to keep the road open.

Hawkins explains that if the county wanted to reverse the decision, it could become quite expensive in legal fees.

At the meeting, Moab-area club Red Rock 4-Wheelers requested the class D roads remain open.

Mike Kelso, president of the club said they had attempted to work with Area BFE to resolve their complaint.

“We said we’ll put up signage to help direct people and that was not good enough for him,” said Kelso. “We even said we’d put up fences for him because the people on Strike Ravine should not get into his rock crawling area.”

Kelso said they were refused on both offers. Fellow Red Rock 4-Wheelers club member John Marsh said the reason the area has so many trails was a result of the owners.

“They promoted it; they had events out there,” stated Marsh. “The fact that they want to stop is perfectly fine, but they need to take any renovation of the property on themselves because of the damage caused by having a buggy park in the first place.”

Additionally, a host of residents and groups sent letters or spoke out at the meeting against the request to close the roads, including the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Ride with Respect Club, Expedition Utah, Utah Four-Wheel Drive Association, Utah Public Access Coalition, Blue Ribbon Coalition, SPEAR, and State Representative Phil Lyman.

The commission unanimously denied the request and also encouraged the parties to work together on resolving the issue.

Also at the meeting, the commission approved a resolution recommending and encouraging the Navajo Nation to allow San Juan County to maintain all “B” class roads in the San Juan portion of the Navajo Nation.

At the moment the county can maintain roads that are part of the San Juan School District bus routes.

San Juan County Chief Administrative Officer Mack McDonald says the agreement is similar to other agreements in other counties and states located inside the Navajo Nation. In some of those agreements the Nation provides up to $400,000 to help maintain the roads.

The county is requesting the same thing. The resolution was also endorsed by Dennehotso Chapter House President Larry Tuni.

“There’s a big difference on these roads,” said Dennehotso. “Both of these roads were maintained. The bus goes out there every morning and travels on the one good road that’s maintained by San Juan County, and I’m really thankful for the past year that you were maintaining that road down there.”

Dennehotso Chapter manager Matthew Austin also shared his thoughts in favor of the resolution. He spoke about his grandmother who has to travel for dialysis treatment.

“They keep getting stuck along the road and sometimes we have to drive up there to get them unstuck,” said Austin. “We have high risk patients that live along the road along comb ridge, and right now it’s so sandy I honestly don’t know how to address it.”

The commission voted to support the resolution. Commissioner Willie Grayeyes also asked that the county request the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation to transfer the road systems that include bus routes within San Juan County.

“Since this is being approved under this consideration and amendment, that needs to be done between the original agreement and the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation,” said Grayeyes.

At the meeting the commission also approved plans to fight appeals made to the State of Utah Tax Commission. Three local agencies are requesting their taxable value be reduced by the Tax Commission.

Elk Petroleum is requesting an $18 million reduction in value, Delhi Trading a $483,000 reduction, and Holliday Construction a $225,413 reduction.

County Attorney Kendall Laws explains the cross-appeal from San Juan County gives the government agency a say in the matter.

“The largest of the three is Elk Petroleum,” explained Laws. “Their valuation at $18 million at a 1.2 percent tax rate – we’d be looking at a potential refund that the county would have to give back to Elk Petroleum, if they prevail, of $216,000.

“[That] is significant by any standard but certainly in the situation where the county is at financially.

“The others ones are obviously going to be significantly lower than that in value, but those are the three we’re dealing with currently.”

The commission approved the cross-appeal for all three.

The commission authorized McDonald to apply on behalf of the Historical Commission for $35,000 of funding from the Utah Navajo Trust Fund-Non-Chapter Funding for the replacement of the existing roof structure of the Historic Oljato Trading Post.

The one-hundred-year-old trading post needs a new roof, which is estimated to cost $50,000. With $5,000 earmarked from a state historical preservation organization and $10,000 from a national organization, the remaining $35,000 would come from the Utah Navajo Trust Fund. The project has support from the Oljato Chapter House.

Commissioner Grayeyes and Adams voted to support the authorization for request, but Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy voted against.

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