Elko commissioners again take up road settlement

ELKO - Elko County commissioners will once again take up a settlement proposal between the county and three federal agencies over a disputed dirt road in Jarbidge.

Federal officials have warned the county faces litigation and possible fines if commissioners reject the offer that was reached after three months of mediation ordered by a federal judge in Reno.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet Wednesday.

The South Canyon Road dispute began in 1995 when the road was washed out by a flood. Three years later, the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service concluded the road couldn't be rebuilt without jeopardizing bull trout, a threatened species that lives in the adjacent Jarbidge River.

The county maintains it owns the road and not the federal government, even though the road is on national forest land.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Myhre has said a draft lawsuit presented to Elko County last August would move forward if the proposed mediation agreement is not approved by Elko commissioners.

''This agreement is good for the fish, good for the people, good for the community of Jarbidge, settles ongoing legal disputes and sets the stage for improved relationships,'' Bob Vaught, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest supervisor, said two weeks ago during a public hearing on the proposal.

But commissioners at that time delayed a vote on whether to accept the settlement, which would give the county a right-of-way but not ownership of the road that it seeks.

The proposal would also allow the road to be rebuilt only if environmental studies conclude it can be done without causing environmental damage.

A group of citizens armed with shovels took matters into their own hands over the July 4th holiday.

Hundreds of people from around the West and beyond converged in Jarbidge to reopen a portion of the road that has come to symbolize resentment by some against federal land policies.

State Senator Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, and Assemblyman John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, have urged commissioners to approve the settlement.

So have Nevada's U.S. Senators Harry Reid and Richard Bryan, who are both Democrats, as well as Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons.


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