Volume 2, Number 24 - September 12, 2002
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Court upholds road ruling, but sends back damage determination
The Wyoming Supreme Court recently ruled that the Sublette County Commission acted properly when it established a 30-foot-wide private road over land belonging to H.R. and Evelyn Wagstaff. But the court also reversed the portion of the decision in which the commission proposed that the Wagstaffs be compensated only $10,000 for establishment of the road.
The high court decision came after years of legal wrangling involving the Wagstaffs and Grindstone Cattle Company, which had petitioned for the private road across the Wagstaff land under Wyoming's private road statute. The statute reads, "Any person whose land has no outlet to, nor connection with a public road, may apply in writing to the board of county commissioners of his county for a private road leading from his premises to some convenient public road."
The decision, written by Justice Larry Lehman, provides background on the issue, noting that Grindstone Cattle Company owns a parcel of land called the Scott place, and the Wagstaffs own adjacent property. While the Scott place had no legal access, for more than 50 years Grindstone and its predecessors had permissive use of a mile-long roadway traversing Wagstaff's land to access the Scott place from State Highway 354.
In June 1998, Grindstone filed a petition with the county commission seeking to establish a 30-foot-wide private road along the existing road on the Wagstaff property. After commission-appointed road viewers examined the road, they recommended the private road be established in that location, while assessing damages of $50,000, although the viewers didn't base their figure on a "before and after" analysis. At a public hearing on the report, a contractor estimated it would cost the Wagstaffs an additional $20,000 to maintain an existing irrigation ditch adjacent to and encroaching into the roadway. At that same hearing, an appraiser assessed a $16,682 damage estimate related to the devaluation of Wagstafff's property and the loss of land under the easement.
Although the state's highest court determined that the county commission acted properly in establishing the road, it noted that the commission did not provide its reasoning for determining the damage amount of $10,000, when testimony and expert recommendations discussed much higher amounts.
The court noted, "Since review of the record before us makes it apparent that the appropriate review as to the issue of damages using the required 'before and after' analysis was not conducted, we remand this matter back to the district court with directions that the district court remand this matter to the board (of county commissioners) and the board reassemble the viewers and appraisers or, if necessary, a different body of viewers and appraisers, and those viewers and appraisers assess those damages incurred by the Wagstaffs, if any, using the necessary prescribed 'before-after" analysis."
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