Volume 2, Number 27 - October 3, 2002
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Erramouspe Road lawsuit looming
The Sublette County Commission is preparing to file a lawsuit in federal court to assert its jurisdiction of the Erramouspe Road and to force the Bureau of Land Management to acknowledge the county's jurisdiction under the 1866 Mining Act or RS-2477.
The road, located in the Big Sandy country, leads across BLM land for five miles from Highway 191 to the Erramouspe family ranch. The BLM claims jurisdiction for the road, but in June 2001, the commission passed a resolution declaring it a county road pursuant to RS-2477. This self-executing law, enacted in the 1866 Mining Act, declared, "The right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public use, is hereby granted."
Although RS-2477 was repealed with the 1976 enactment of the Federal Land Policy Management Act, it did not invalidate existing rights.
The road has been used to access the John Erramouspe ranch for more than 70 years, but after the BLM caught the family maintaining the road in 1997, the agency pressed the Erramouspes to obtain (apply for and pay for) a BLM right-of-way. Since the family and the general public have used the road since before the BLM was created, the Erramouspes balked and went to the county for help.
Karen Budd-Falen of the Budd-Falen law firm in Cheyenne has drafted a complaint for the federal court and each of the three county commissioners are to review the complaint and give their nod of approval for it to be filed and litigation to begin. The John Erramouspe family will be listed as plaintiffs in the case along with the county.
It appears the lawsuit may be filed as soon as within the next 10 days. When commissioners informed Budd-Falen during a Tuesday afternoon telephone conference call that the BLM had recently granted an oil company permission to make improvements to the road, Budd-Falen responded: "The issue really is management and ownership. The BLM has no jurisdiction to tell an oil company to do anything on the road."
She said if an oil company wanted to work on the road, "they should be talking to you, not to the BLM."
Budd-Falen said the BLM's action could help the county in its argument that under the federal quiet title act, "the federal government has to take an interest that is adverse to yours." While the BLM could have claimed that it didn't agree with the county's RS-2477 claim, the federal agency hadn't actually taken an action of adverse interest to the county - that is, until it asserted jurisdiction and approved an action that was appropriately under the county's jurisdiction.
"The BLM has clearly taken a position that is adverse to Sublette County's," Budd-Falen said.
Commission Chairman Bill Cramer also reported to Budd-Falen that the BLM had requested a private meeting between the agency, the county and the Erramouspes, but the commission decided to decline the invitation. Commissioners were very vocal about any such meetings with the BLM being held in the open at regular commission meetings.
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