From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 13 - June 27, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Road viewer: No condemnation of Blatt's land

by Cat Urbigkit

Brad Clingman, the Sublette County Commission-appointed road viewer, has recommended against the county using condemnation proceedings against John Blatt in order to keep access open on the New Fork/Willow Creek Road to the guard station in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Clingman reported that in his view, "it is the responsibility of the United States Forest Service to provide and maintain access to our National Forest lands. I do not believe that it is the responsibility of our county government."

Clingman's report was released at Monday's Sublette County Commission meeting. The issue will now be scheduled for a public hearing on Aug. 6. After hearing public testimony, the commission is expected to issue its decision in the matter.

The action is the result of William Belveal's presenting the commission with a petition to extend the Willow Creek County Road through property belonging to Blatt, the State of Wyoming and the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Although the road already physically exists, Blatt has notified federal officials that he intends to close access through his property near the end of the year.

Clingman noted that he personally viewed the area at issue and received both written and oral comments from people involved in both sides of the issue.

"The number of comments for the road equals the number against its existence," Clingman reported, "though the response for the road are two-thirds for a road to Little Flat Top and one-third to the ranger station."

Clingman reported that he drove on an existing trail or road from the New Fork Boy Scout Camp to the Willow Creek Ranger Station without ever leaving national forest land.

"Granted, the road is not an improved one, but it was passable with a two-wheel-drive vehicle on May 31, 2002," Clingman wrote.

Clingman's report noted that he had found a 1982 agreement between the Sublette County Commissioners and John Welborn, owner of the ranch prior to Blatt.

"This agreement basically states that Mr. Welborn will give the board the right-of-way for the Willow Creek Road to the state land," Clingman reported. "In exchange, the county would not pursue any action for access to the national forest."

Clingman wrote that in his opinion, for the county to obtain an easement to this route would require condemnation proceedings, several years and several hundred thousand dollars in attorney's fees and court proceedings.

"It also has come to my attention that two pieces of property owned by Patricia Looney and the Josephine Binning estate do not have legal access," Clingman wrote. "I believe any attempts to gain access to the national forest should also include these properties.

"Considering all of the previous mentioned facts, it is my opinion that an improved access should be provided to the Little Flat Top and Willow Creek Ranger Station, but I do not believe that it is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Sublette County to provide this access by (condemnation proceedings) for a county road," Clingman wrote. "I believe it would be a better use of taxpayer money to obtain access through an improved road on Forest Service land or obtain a right-of-way from the Binning estate and Patricia Looney and construct a road on their property."

Clingman continued: "I understand that to improve the road on national forest land will take time to obtain the required clearances to construct the road. But I believe an agreement can be obtained from Blattland Investments to keep the existing easement open for a limited time as long as the parties agree to provide the needed easements and improvements.

"I also believe that either option would not require the county to establish a county road," Clingman added. "The county would only act as a facilitator."

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