CANYON CITY – Public Access Board members told the Grant County Court they’ve identified more than 200 forest roads in the county that were closed by a September order.
At the Feb. 11 Court meeting, board chairman Jim Sproul noted the group was first told the order affected no roads in Grant County, only Harney County.
“Then it was a handful, or a few,” he said. “Our documentation is that there are over 200 roads in the south end of the county closed by the action, or attempted to close.”
He and others urged the Court to send a letter to Malheur National Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin, saying the closure order violates the county’s access ordinance. Adopted in May 2013, that ordinance requires public lands agencies to consult with the Court and the sheriff when contemplating road or access changes.
The order was signed by Beverlin’s predecessor, Teresa Raaf. The order covers a number of road actions that apparently went into effect earlier, but had not been finalized.
In earlier meetings, Beverlin has said he initially thought all the roads affected by the September order were in Harney County, which would not be governed by the Grant County ordinance.
However, he agreed to review the roads in the order, and later acknowledged that a preliminary review indicated some roads are in Grant County.
Beverlin said last week the review is still under way, and he reiterated the findings will be presented to the court when complete. He said the Harney County portion of the review is done and has been presented to that court.
Access board members raised a concern not just about the number of roads, but the location. They said many of the closed roads seemed to be clustered in a specific area.
Howard Geiger said that’s the Myrtle Park area, which has long been used for snowmobiling, wood cutting, and other activities.
They also are concerned that National Environmental Policy Act reviews either were not done, did not specifically cite the roads to be closed, or lacked the required public notice.
Geiger and others in the group pressed the Court to send a letter – a draft was submitted to the Court earlier – to declare the Forest Service in violation. They want the agency to rescind the order for all Grant County roads.
The Court resisted that move, with County Judge Scott Myers calling it “premature.”
“I’m not willing to sign a letter at this point,” Myers said.
He said the Court is awaiting a report from Beverlin on the order, how the agency will proceed with the closures, and whether the roads were legally closed.
Board members said the failure to take the order to the Court and sheriff first made the closures illegal.
Sproul questioned what support the Court has found for the closures, noting the opponents were evident, right there in the room.
Commissioner Boyd Britton, while lauding the committee for doing a great job, said he believes Beverlin will review the road orders and report back to the Court.
The meeting included some verbal sparring over who was in charge, the Court or the board, and the Court cautioned one member who interrupted Beverlin with a loud aside about getting a shovel.
Commissioner Chris Labhart said he’d like to have a separate meeting to focus on the issues, and review maps of the area.
“This isn’t working,” he said of including the issue on the regular agenda. “We’re trying to work together on this, and keep it civil.”