Former county judge Mark Webb is questioning the legal validity of an ordinance that requires county approval for any public road closures.
Ordinance 2013-01 requires any agency wishing to close roads in the county to first consult with the county court and sheriff. The ordinance states “...for the safety and well being of Grant County citizens all roads, trails, stock driveways and by-ways over and across public lands within the boundary of Grant County, Oregon shall remain open as historically and customarily utilized consistent with the Grant County plans and policies, unless otherwise authorized for closure by the Grant County Court and the Grant County Sheriff.”
The ordinance is unenforceable and unconstitutional because it conflicts with state and federal law, Webb claimed at a Feb. 1 Grant County Court meeting. He asked the commissioners to have the county’s legal counsel, Ron Yockim, review the validity of the ordinance. Webb said the wording in the ordinance was too broad and violated the Constitution and federal statutes because it applied to all roads on public land in the county.
The ordinance was originally passed to ensure continued access to parts of Grant Count and to aid in emergency and search and rescue operations, according to Grant County Judge Scott Myers.
The court planned to send it on to Yockim for review, Myers said. The ordinance has come into play a handful of times in dealings with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Myers said he understands residents’ concerns about road closures limiting access.
Prairie City resident Frances Preston said she believes the way of life in Grant County is threatened and this is a matter of limiting access, as well as a systematic attempt to control the people by controlling the land.
She read from a letter at the meeting, in which she stated she believes states always have rights over the federal government and the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer. She said she did not believe the ordinance conflicted with laws or state and federal constitutions.
The Forest Service, however, does not recognize the road ordinance as valid because it conflicts with federal law, according to Malheur National Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin. He said the Supreme Court was the highest authority in the country, and the federal government has authority over public federal lands.
Beverlin said the Forest Service would gladly work with the county to transfer authority, along with maintenance and liability costs, to the county.
He said roads are sometimes closed because of environmental impact on wildlife or waterways. When road closures are made, he said, they try to maintain access to some areas by reopening closed roads and creating loops with other roads.
Beverlin said any proposed road closures are brought to the attention of the county court and the general public before action is taken.
“It’s a real open, transparent process that we encourage anybody to get engaged with,” Beverlin said. “The public are the ones that help us modify our projects to determine what’s really appropriate, and we value their opinion.”