Once open to the public when Nevada became a state in 1864, a number of roads in Lincoln County and in other counties of the state have, for some time now, been closed by agencies of the federal government.
Lincoln County commissioners, with full consent, have sent a letter to Rep. Bob Bishop (R-UT) in Washington D.C., stating their support of House Resolution 3270, the Historic Roads Preservation Act, introduced into Congress on July 17, 2017.
The letter asks Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, to hold a hearing on the bill this spring.
First introduced by Congressman Paul Cook (R-CA) and Thomas O’Halleran (D-AZ), HR 3270 is intended to acknowledge what is commonly known as RS 2477, which was enacted by Congress in 1866 to encourage the settlement of the western United States by the development of a system of highways. The entire text of 2477 is one sentence: “the right-of-way for the construction of highways across public lands not otherwise reserved for public purposes is hereby granted.”
County Commissioner Kevin Phillips said, “In many cases, the modern Bureau of Land Management does not acknowledge these historic roads and has closed them off to travel by any motorized vehicle.” He said there is a sign on the Panaca Summit noting, “Only travel on established roads.”
“The meaning of the sign,” Phillips said, “is to designate that those backroads [which] our ancestors many generations back may have used are now restricted from travel. But I contend those are established roads, because they were used in the past, before and up to 1976.”
The commissioner’s letter notes, “The bill (HR 3270) is vital to preserving much needed access across the spectrum of western states and Nevada certainly is no exception. This bill allows local governments a streamlined means of obtaining confirmation of those rights-of-way and securing recordation of those rights-of-way on the official records of the United States without unnecessary and time-consuming costs.”
The original grant did not require it being recorded, meaning it was self-enacting, and in 1866 constructing a road often meant “using a trail many times and perhaps filling low places, moving rocks, and placing signs.”
It granted counties and states a right-of-way across federal land when a highway was built.
The Act was repealed by the Federal Land Policy Act in 1976, but still stated
“Nothing in this Act, or in any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed as terminating any valid lease, permit, patent, right-of-way, or other land use right or authorization existing on the date of approval of this Act.”
HR 3270 would exempt both congressionally-designated wilderness and units of the National Park System, as well as military bases and Indian reservations.