CANYON CITY – There was applause last week as the Grant County Court unanimously approved an ordinance requiring that agencies contemplating road closures consult first with the court and the sheriff.
The May 22 decision culminated a second public hearing on the ordinance, held at the County Courthouse. The second meeting drew about 30 people, and like the first, had to be moved upstairs to the larger Circuit Court room to accommodate the crowd.
The Court heard largely from proponents of the measure, some in writing but most voicing their support during the two hearings. Three residents submitted letters opposing the ordinance.
County Judge Scott Myers said the Forest Service and other agencies were supposed to be working with the county, “but they have not been as forthcoming as they should have been.”
“What we’re trying to do here is to spark some cooperation, some dialogue,” he said.
Commissioner Chris Labhart noted “the legal, binding power” of a county ordinance. He said past courts have not been at the table on the issue of road closures.
“The new court will be at the table,” he pledged.
Commissioner Boyd Britton called it sad that the matter had to come to this point, but the new ordinance will force Forest Service and other agencies “to have a discussion with us.”
Roger McKinley said it’s not sad or bad, but “a wakeup call” for the agencies and the community.
“We’re losing our forest, and we’re losing our opportunities to do things in the forest,” he said, citing that as a part of the erosion of citizens’ freedoms.
Mike Whale noted that the Parrish Cabin fire area remains closed, almost a year after the fire. He complained that the Forest Service crews can drive there, but the public can’t drive in to collect mushrooms or pursue other activities.
Jeff Thomas, president of the Grant County Farm Bureau, said in a letter that his organization is strongly in support of the ordinance.
Thom Seal, a mining engineer who has criticized the Bureau of Land Management’s road policies, also supported the Court’s action.
Herb Brusman told the Court that road closures pose a hardship for the disabled or elderly who want to use the forest.
Also testifying in favor, Dave Traylor said the ordinance “is somewhat of a Bill of Rights for this court.”
Greg Starr complained that the United Nations is influencing how the forests and parks are run.
The opponents who wrote in noted that the citizens already have the opportunity for input on road decisions, and they called the ordinance unnecessary.
“Laws exist to let the Court have a say,” wrote Dan Becker.
Tim Unterwegner, retired biologist for the state, urged the Court to seek legal advice on whether the ordinance would be enforceable. He also said closing roads is one of the best solutions for elk damage and trespass on private lands.
Sheriff Glenn Palmer thanked the Court for its stand, and urged the county to excise the word “collaboration” in favor of cooperation.
“Collaboration hasn’t got us very far in recent years,” he said. “It’s actually hurt us quite a bit.”