RENO, Nev. - One dispute between Elko County and the U.S. Forest service apparently is close to resolution following the filing of a settlement agreement with a federal mediator.
The agreement submitted on Monday involved the five-year-old Duval Ranching-Kelley Spring lawsuit filed by the county and several ranchers over the ranchers' claim to ditch rights-of-way on National Forest land.
The litigation grew out of a dispute between North Ruby Valley rancher Don Duval and the Forest Service over Kelley Spring on Duval's grazing allotment.
After he ran pipe to a watering trough, the Forest Service sued, saying he broke the law by failing to get a permit from the agency.
He pleaded guilty, paid a fine and removed the watering device. Members of a group called the Kelley Springs Protection Association put it back.
The lawsuit was sidetracked in April 1996 when a U.S. District Court judge in Reno dismissed the county as a party, saying the Board of Commissioners did not have standing in the case.
The county continued to pursue the case until the District Court ultimately ruled against it. The decision was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco where the settlement was reached through the court's mediation process.
Boise, Idaho, attorney Mark Pollot, who represented the county and the ranchers, said the agreement allows the county to pursue future actions in the suit, including possibly asking the court for reimbursement of attorney's fees, which number in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
''If the government puts conditions on that property that are such that the property is eventually taken from them then certainly that potential is there,'' he said.
Ben Siminoe, assistant forest supervisor for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, said the agreement allows the parties who brought the action to resolve their disputes without the expense of further litigation.
''I believe the settlement agreement clarifies the existing Forest Service procedures available to the ranchers in this case who believe they own rights-of-way for ditches across the national forest,'' he added.
Elko County Commission Chairman Roberta Skelton, who signed off on the agreement, said she hoped it would lead to a similar settlement of the higher-profile dispute with the Forest Service of Jarbidge's South Canyon Road.
The county has been involved in an ongoing fight against the Forest Service over the fate of a short, unpaved road leading to a wilderness boundary near Jarbidge.