An ongoing question the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and the County Board of Highway Commissioners have wrestled with for some time, is who owns the roads in Lincoln County?
If not already specifically designated as a county or state road, even if it be a two-track dirt path, who owns it?
At the regular meeting of the Board of Highway Commissioners, as well as the Board of County Commissioners Oct. 5, discussion focused on the possibility of creating an ordinance declaring that all roads in Lincoln County are under the county’s jurisdiction and belong to the county.
Highway board chair Paul Donohue said he is very concerned about the federal government wanting to take more and more of the land and roads in the county and closing them off to public access. “Anytime I hear the words ‘road study’ from whatever group may want to do that, it scares the heck out of me,” Donohue said.
He added it is of vital importance for the county to be able to maintain the roads themselves to help pay for the road department. “We have to put together something where we actually have some sort of authority over what happens with our roads.”
Donohue said he was not blaming the local BLM employees directly. “They are just following the rules they are told they have to play by, and it tears us up.”
He said that as county commissioners, they must do something, make some kind of fight, to represent the people who will lose their land if road accesses are closed off.
County Planning and Building Director Cory Lytle suggested the first course of action is to “develop a more comprehensive and working road plan beyond what the county currently has.”
This would establish the basic county policy regarding transportation, roads and access.
Much of the data the county already has, Lytle said, “It’s just the idea of compiling it and getting the data corrected and cleaned up.”
Lincoln County maintains over 2,600 miles of roadways in its current recognized system. “Many of these maintained roads cross public lands and have been used historically for a variety of reasons.”
In a handout to commissioners, Lytle noted, “The Nevada Department of Transportation has recently conducted an audit of all county maintained roads classified as “Class C” or better. In addition, Lincoln County has also been developing a database to track roadway names, starting and ending points, surface type, jurisdiction, right-of-way, or easement width, emergency routes, width of road and data useful for Lincoln County.
He outlined a 12-point policy which he feels will help lead to further efforts to prioritize roads for rights-of-way applications, road maintenance agreements or RS 2477 roadways based on applicable environmental concerns, wildlife habitat, cultural issues, classification of roadway, or special hazards, seasonal maintenance or designated evacuation routes. Currently, the county holds approximately 15 rights-of-way on roads crossing BLM managed public lands.
Lytle said, “We recognized many of these roads prior to 1976.” It was in 1976 the federal government repealed the 1866 2477 Revised Statute that granted “the right-of-way for the construction of highways across public lands not otherwise reserved for public purposes.”
In short, the comprehensive road plan, Lytle said, “Is just identify every road, even the two-track dirt path, have it named/or numbered and even have it notarized.” Nye County has already done this, and Lytle thought it was a good plan to follow.
Commissioner Varlin Higbee said he was told, “The more you can make all of this look like a legal brief, the better. We need to get affidavits from everyone involved in any way with these roads.”
General roads are the county maintained roads that are already named and/or numbered.
“There is a lot of work that has already been done, but it is still needed to be reviewed to make sure the numbers line up.” Lytle stated.
He said, “I think in the planning department we can start do this a little bit at a time. We can do it in-house, although it will take time, but I think we can have a good plan by spring of 2016.”
A meeting with the BLM is to be held Oct.13 in Pioche to continue working on a land use plan pertaining to the Basin and Range Monument.
Lytle added, “A lot of people don’t realize the importance of some of these roads, whether it be for accessing private property or fixing a water trough for your cows, or even fire protection.”