Volume 2, Number 30 - October 24, 2002
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Road lawsuit filed
The Sublette County Board of Commissioners and G&E Livestock filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Monday afternoon against U.S Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and the Bureau of Land Management over the Erramouspe Road.
G&E Livestock, owned by the John Erramouspe family, uses the Erramouspe Road as the sole access to their ranch, which is completely surrounded by federal land.
The road traverses government lands for five miles from Highway 191 to the ranch located near the Big Sandy River 36 miles south of Pinedale.
In June 2001, Sublette County declared the Erramouspe Road a county road pursuant to an ancient federal statute: Revised Statute 2477.
RS-2477 is a self-executing law that was enacted by Congress in 1866. It provided that "the right-of-way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted."
Although the statute was repealed with the 1976 enactment of the Federal Land Policy Management Act, this action did not invalidate existing rights.
The BLM has essentially ignored the county's claim for jurisdiction of the road, and even granted a gas exploration company permission to perform work on the road earlier this fall.
Sublette County became involved in the road controversy in 1998 when the Erramouspes came to the commission requesting assistance. In late 1997, John Erramouspe was served with notice that since the BLM had confirmed Erramouspe had performed maintenance on the road, an official right-of-way needed to be obtained. Subsequently, BLM informed the Erramouspes "there shall be no maintenance performed on the road ... Any maintenance performed on the road will be considered unauthorized and will constitute a trespass."
The road had been used to access the John Erramouspe ranch for more than 70 years, but the agency pressed the Erramouspes to obtain (apply for and pay for) a BLM right-of-way. Since the family and the general public had used the road since before the BLM was created, the Erramouspes balked. It bothered the Erramouspes that they had used and maintained the ranch-access road for so many years and were suddenly being told they had to have government permission to do so and pay the federal government for that privilege, John Erramouspe said.
Meanwhile, the BLM has refused to resolve a building trespass with the Err-amouspes until the road issue is resolved. Some years ago, the Erramouspes had survey work conducted and discovered that a portion of their ranch house (specifically their kitchen), and a second smaller home, is actually located on BLM land. The proposed resolution to the building trespass is a land sale to the Erramouspes, but the BLM won't complete the deal because of the road.
Erramouspe asked the county for help, which resulted in the commission's declaration of a county road. The commission recently hired the Budd-Falen law firm of Cheyenne to handle the case, which resulted in the lawsuit filed Monday.
The lawsuit seeks to have the federal government ordered to recognize the RS-2477 jurisdictional claim. Federal Judge Clarence Brimmer has been assigned to hear the case.
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