TORRINGTON – Last month, 42 residents in the southern most part of the county filed a petition with the Goshen County Commissioners to establish parts of County Road 4, a side road off of Four Corners Road as a legitimate county road. However, landowner Steve Hays, who has ranched in the area for 17 years, is not convinced that is such a good idea.
The controversy began several months ago when it was discovered that part of CR 4 had never been legally described or filed as a county road, even though the county had, for decades, been maintaining the entire road, including snow removal in the winter. The Goshen County Attorney’s Office advised the county commissioners and the Road and Bridge Department they should cease maintaining the part of the road not described as county road for liability reasons.
Once the decision was shared with people along the road, a petition was drawn up, signatures were gathered and the petition to make the entire road a county road was presented to the commissioners May 2 by Alan Kirkbride, another property owner and rancher in the Four Corners area.
“That road is used a lot,” Kirkbride told the commissioners during the May meeting. “We want to make sure that access can be properly maintained because there are a few place where it will drift four feet or more during a storm. Fire, ambulance, UPS, FedEx and the mail service all need to be able to access that road.”
Included in the petition’s signatures were those of the fire district captains for Hawk Springs, LaGrange, Meridan and Midway, the departments that would most likely respond first to any emergency in the area.
Hays, However, has a different take on the situation. Rather than just declaring the current stretch of road a county road, he feels there are several considerations that need to be made.
“I’m not trying to shut down this road,” Hayes said. “But the petition is to make about two miles a county road and all but a quarter mile is on us.
“This road was never supposed to be county road,” he said. “No one has an easement on it, but its been used as a public road since we’ve been up here.”
Rather than establishing a road that runs mostly through his property, which he estimates will take 13 acres of his pasture ground, Hays believes the county should develop a county road that straddles the property boundaries.
“Some people think I should just donate that land,” he said. “But I bought that ground and pay property taxes on it. Why shouldn’t that cost be shared by everyone who benefits from it? The other owners would love to have it where it is because they don’t have to give up any land.”
The other concern Hays has with regard to the establishment of a county road is the way in which the county’s Road and Bridge Department maintains the roads. He believes the department doesn’t follow state guidelines when it comes to reclaiming disturbed land.
“They tear up more of my land,” he said. “They take my topsoil to build up the road, and push dirt around and then, when they leave, they don’t do anything to reclaim the borrow ditch and then I’m left to fight the weeds and erosion that is left behind.”
When he has confronted county representatives about the reclamation issue, Hays said, “Jerry (Hort, county Road and Bridge Supervisor) says they don’t have any rules about reclamation, the commissioners say they don’t know and Bob (Taylor, the county surveyor) says yes there are rules and the county needs to reclaim those ditches.”
Federal road projects are required to reclaim the land alongside highways, as does the state, Hays said. So, why wouldn’t the county?
Like many government projects, Taylor said whether the county is required to reclaim disturbed ground or not depends on the project.
“(Reclamation) is, in some instances, required by the Department of Environmental Quality,” he said. “Gravel pits and mining require it, as do water and sewer projects.
“But they also vary quite a bit from project to project,” Taylor said. “The county is not required to get a DEQ permit to build or maintain roads.”
Taylor also said the process for making a road a county road is a long one and that filing the petition was just the first step.
“The first thing we have to do now is some boundary survey work,” he said. “You’ve got to have that foundation to build from and get documents recorded correctly.
“Not a lot has gone on down there that has needed surveying in the 100 years, so I anticipate it will be difficult, if not outright impossible, to locate monuments,” Taylor said. “There’s a pretty good chance they (road and property boundaries) are not where they are recorded.
“I plan on starting the survey this month but I need to talk to landowners again before I do that to gather some information and history.”
After the survey is done, Taylor and his crew will work on options and best alternatives for the road, and then present those to the county commissioners.
Once the county commissioners receive Taylor’s recommendation, they can decide to do nothing, leave the road where it is and make it a county road or relocate part or all of it before declaring it a county road.
Once the commissioners make a determination on the fate of the road, should any of the nearby landowners object to that determination, the whole matter goes before district court, where things will probably get expensive.
“It is in everybody’s best interest to resolve this before it goes to court,” said County Commission Chairman Carl Rupp. “We’ve had a few discussions regarding where the center of the road might be, but we are planning to have more discussion with all the party’s involved and try to resolve this before it goes to court.”
“But, first things first,” Rupp said. “We have to have the survey done to even know where we are beginning from. And then, hopefully, we’ll get this resolved in a way that can