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New public roads trigger lawsuit against county

Resident says increased traffic to BLM land causes unfair burden

When Montezuma County commissioners approved public roads at a Summit Lake West subdivision for access to Bureau of Land Management land, it put an unfair maintenance burden on residents, according to a lawsuit filed by a resident.

Cheryl McMillan is asking the court to rule that the county and the BLM assume full maintenance responsibility on County Roads 35.6, 35.9. 36.6 and N, including winter plowing.

The handwritten lawsuit encapsulates neighborhood concerns about the impacts of increased traffic on the undeveloped, narrow dirt roads and the additional expense expected to keep them passable for residents.

“Since the inception of these roads, residents took responsibility. Now, the county claims ownership and is inviting added heavy traffic and intends to burden residents with cost and labor of maintenance,” she writes in the complaint, filed Sept. 28 in district court. She filed the complaint “pro-se,” without an attorney.

This summer, the county commission, along with the BLM, began negotiations to open up access to an isolated parcel of BLM land south of Summit Lake. They said the short section of Road N that parallels the BLM boundary could make a new access point.

After several public meetings, the commission voted Sept. 16 to change Roads 35.6, 35.9, 36.6 and N from private, red-signed roads to public, green-signed roads, making them officially under county jurisdiction. They cited the subdivision plat that states the roads are open to the public for the change, and also felt the change would improve access to public lands.

The BLM has considered putting a public access gate and small parking lot off Road N for public access, but when that would happen is unclear. There would be no trail building, the BLM said, and use would be nonmotorized, with an emphasis on hiking and horseback riding.

Under county road policy, the Summit Lake West roads now have a “graded” green-signed status, which limits maintenance by county staff to grading at least once per year, and no snow plowing. The green-road status also allows residents to obtain free gravel from the county, but residents are responsible for hauling and spreading.

That is insufficient, according to McMillan’s lawsuit.

She said that for decades, residents have spent “tens of thousands of dollars” to keep the roads passable for their use, especially a challenge in winter.

Increased traffic to public lands will cause deteriorate beyond the financial means of the neighborhood to repair, McMillan states. And parking by public land visitors on narrow roads will block access and cause trespass issues.

“It is not only unfair but also not possible for a few people to be able to support these roads,” she writes. “The county and BLM are attempting to pass their responsibility to residents. Residents are being victimized by Montezuma County and are being coerced into trying to maintain their roads.”

She added that increased traffic and insufficient maintenance will combine to create poor road conditions and increased traffic accidents, and will impede emergency vehicles from accessing the neighborhood.


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