A federal judge in Reno ruled against rural Elko County this week — again — and closed the 18-year-old case stemming from a sometimes volatile feud over the road in remote wilderness near the Idaho line.
It began in 1999 when the Clinton administration filed suit against then-Nevada Assemblyman John Carpenter, one of the leaders of a “Shovel Brigade.” They had vowed to rebuild a washed out road near threatened fish habitat along the Jarbidge River in defiance of the government. Carpenter and one of his lawyers, Grant Gerber, have since died.
The county claimed it owned the road under a Civil War-era law that granted state and local governments’ rights of way to existing roads in places where national forests and parks later were established.
The so-called “R.S. 2477 roads” — named after the statute number — became a lightning rod for property rights advocates and anti-federal forces in the 1990s, with similar court battles in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico.
Like other cases, the federal government denied Elko County’s claim it owned the road before the Humboldt National Forest was established in 1909.
But the Nevada case is unique because, despite the government’s position, the Forest Service signed an agreement with the county in 2001 that said it wouldn’t challenge the county’s alleged right of way.
It looks like the court held that 1) the county did not prove that it owned the road prior to the establishment of the national forest, and 2) the Forest Service could not violate the law by giving away federal land rights though a settlement agreement. (Of course the county could again appeal this ruling to the 9th Circuit.)