Elko County moves to obtain permits to rebuild controversial road

ELKO, Nev. - Despite concerns raised its lawyer, the Elko County Commission is taking steps to acquire permits needed to rebuild the South Canyon Road at the center of a dispute with the Forest Service.

''I think it's important to let them know we intend to open that road,'' Commission Chairman Tony Lesperance said.

The 3-2 vote last week marked one of the few times the commission has been at odds over how to proceed in the county's fight to assert its ownership of the road.

Deputy District Attorney Kristin McQueary had urged commissioners to move cautiously due to pending litigation.

''Don't hamstring Elko County's efforts in the mediation until we're absolutely sure that mediation isn't the way to go,'' McQueary warned.

''Let's go into the mediation with clean hands and open minds and give the other people confidence that they can deal with us in good faith,'' she said.

Commissioner Mike Nannini said that's why he opposed the move toward obtaining the permits.

''I just don't want anything to happen to jeopardize Kristin's position,'' Nannini said.

Commissioner Brad Roberts said he opposed initiation of the permit process, ''because I don't think we should be getting permits we don't need from people who don't have the authority to give them to us.''

But Commissioner Roberta Skelton, who was reared in Jarbidge and still lives there part-time, said she isn't interested in waiting for a resolution to the tangled controversy to be achieved through the uncertainties of mediation.

''It's not going to happen overnight,'' Skelton said, ''and meanwhile we're sitting here letting them take charge.''

Despite being adamant about pursuing the permits, Lesperance agreed with Roberts that they should not send the wrong signals about the county's original attempts to repair the road.

''I don't want this (applying for permits) to appear as if we thought we did something wrong in the beginning that this is any admission of guilt on our part,'' Lesperance said.

Much of the county's legal problems stem from the allegations that it did not obtain proper permits from the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection or the Army Corps of Engineers when the commission ordered road crews to repair the road in July 1998.

But the county has maintained because it was exercising its emergency powers, it wasn't required to obtain the permits.

The road is within the national forest but county officials argue the Forest Service has no jurisdiction because the road was there before the national forest was established in the early 1900s.

The Forest Service says reconstruction of the road would jeopardize survival of the threatened bull trout.


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