Volume 4, Number 15 - July 8, 2004
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Landowners may grant easements
Tuesday evening's dinner meeting at the Timberline Restaurant in LaBarge to discuss the LaBarge Creek Road drew county commissioners from both Lincoln and Sublette counties, as well as representatives from both the Bureau of Land Management and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
It also drew three holders of private property along the roadway in Sublette County to hear what the agencies had to say and to discuss their views.
Lincoln County Commissioner Kathy Davison explained that her commission became involved in the LaBarge Creek Road issue when a town meeting was held and local citizens expressed their concern that the landowners intended to shut down the road, blocking public access.
"It wasn't a big deal, but we wanted to make sure it didn't happen," Davison said.
The citizen concern was apparently based on the posting of signs requesting travelers to stay on the road rather than trespassing on private property. None of the five owners of private property on the road have threatened to shut down access.
The LaBarge Creek Road is a county road in Lincoln County, but no easements exist for the road as it traverses private property in Sublette County. Concerns about public access prompted the Lincoln County Commission to ask the Sublette County Commission to become involved in the matter as well.
Sublette County Commission Chairman Gordon Johnston said while the five current landowners may be good people with no intention to shut off access, "If John Blatt buys one, it's over." Johnston was referring to Blatt's purchase of the Willow Creek Ranch and his subsequent closing of a road that had been used by the public with permission, but with no legal access.
"It's easy to say, 'I'm not going to sell and I'm not going to die.' But it happens," Johnston said. "The chain can go up."
"That's a real concern, Gordon," Davison said. "Things change."
Sublette County Commissioner Betty Fear said there were a lot of "what ifs" that they could continue to talk about, noting it would do little good to ponder these without speaking with the landowners themselves to learn how many of them would be willing to grant road easements.
Davison said, "What's important is to get something done to keep this road open for the future."
The property owners present in the restaurant were invited to join in the session. Attending were landowner Bill Busbice and his foreman Kevin Prather, Fox Ranch foreman Clayton Lunde and landowner Matt Barerro.
B-T Kemmerer District Ranger Mark Booth said that the LaBarge Creek Road has been designated a forest highway, meaning it is one of the key access roads to the forest. This designation also makes the road eligible for funding for road improvements. The Lincoln County Commissioners indicated that they would be willing to work out a deal to maintain the road as well.
Johnston pointed out that Sublette County doesn't have an interest in having the road brought to county standards. If the landowners granted easements, they could impose restrictions on road improvements, such as the county's agreement with Dan Budd, Johnston said.
"Basically nothing would change," Johnston told the landowners.
Fear said it is important to get easements from all landowners. Cramer told the landowners, "We'll take an easement, if you're willing to give it. ...You can put whatever stipulations you want."
The Sublette County Commission agreed to send letters to all five landowners requesting a written response to the county's request for easements to make it a county road. That would begin the negotiation process for the terms and conditions of any easements.
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