Greens Challenge Utah Land Grab
SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Utah seized 36,000 prime acres of falsely characterized "highway" from the federal government via a "litigation assault" filed three decades too late, environmentalists claim in court.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Michael Abdo sued Utah's attorney general and Tooele County, in Federal Court.
Tooele County is west of Salt Lake City and Provo, on the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake.
"Since 2012, Tooele County's commissioners, through the Utah attorney general, have pursued a quiet title action against the United States claiming title to alleged R.S. 2477 rights-of-way throughout public lands in Tooele County," the lawsuit states. "These alleged rights-of-way course through some of Tooele County's most pristine and protected wilderness areas, including the Cedar Mountain Wilderness, the Deseret Peak Wilderness, and the Stansbury Mountain Wilderness."
The state and Tooele County want "to widen, grade, and pave" the targeted roads, the plaintiffs say, "thus destroying the wilderness character of surrounding lands."
"On June 6, 2000, Jan Graham, then attorney general, signed a quiet title litigation agreement with Tooele County," the complaint states.
"The agreement 'sets forth the understanding among the attorney general's office and its client, the State of Utah and Tooele County in connection with a lawsuit to be filed in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, to quiet title in the state and country to R.S. 2477 highways traversing federal lands.'
"The agreement provided that '[t]he attorney general shall represent both the state and the county in the quiet title action.'
"The agreement further provided that [t]he state shall provide funding on a continuing basis through the conclusion of the litigation which will include those highways selected by the county for adjudication under the plan.'
"On June 20, 2000, Tooele County passed resolution number 2000-11 approving and ratifying both the plan for R.S. 2477 rights and the quiet title litigation agreement.
"On or about June 15, 2000, the State of Utah and Tooele County filed a notice of intention to file suit to quiet title to certain rights of way in Tooele County, Utah, with the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
"On Nov. 18, 2011, the state and county filed an amended notice of intent that supplemented its June 2000 notice.
"On May 15, 2012, the state and county filed their original complaint in the United States district court for the district of Utah to quiet title to R.S. 2477 rights-of-way in Tooele County, in a case captioned Tooele County, et al. v. U.S. The Utah Attorney General's Office provides the only listed attorneys for the plaintiffs.
"On September 5, 2012, the state and county amended their complaint to include a total of 2,415 miles of alleged roads in Tooele County. The Utah Attorney General's Office remains the only listed attorneys for the plaintiffs." (Citations omitted.)
Utah Public Lands Policy Coordination Office Director Kathleen Clarke described the "massive and improper" litigation as the "largest litigation ever taken on by the State of Utah," the plaintiffs say.
They claim that the "misguided anti-wilderness agenda" violates Utah law and is "wasting" taxpayers' dollars.
"The state's and Tooele County's massive litigation is brought directly contrary to a clear statutory mandate that dictates that the state 'may not bring' any action more than seven years after the state's alleged rights in the property accrued. In direct contravention of this mandate the attorney general and Tooele County have launched this litigation assault outside of their authority because they are bringing claims at least 30 years after Utah law directs that they be brought," the lawsuit states.
"The state and county now waste taxpayer dollars to pursue a misguided anti-wilderness agenda in contravention of Utah law. Utah's and Tooele County's rights could not have accrued any later than 1976, when R.S. 2477 was repealed. Thus, the attorney general and Tooele County were prohibited from using state and county resources to pursue these claims after 1983."
Tooele County, pop. 58,210, is the second-largest county in the Beehive State.
The Cedar Mountain, Deseret Peak and Stansbury Mountain wilderness areas are home to wild horses, grazing cattle and mule deer, and are poplar camping, hiking, hunting and backpacking destinations.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, based in Salt Lake City, claims members in all 50 states and "several" foreign countries.
The plaintiffs seek an injunction prohibiting the defendants from implementing, funding or otherwise pursuing the project, plus costs.
"Such relief will spare Utah taxpayers millions of dollars, while preserving the wild and pristine character of Tooele County's public lands," the complaint states.
The plaintiffs are represented by Stephen Bloch.