Public Access Group Urges County To Adopt PAG Route Map
by Samantha Wright
Aug 25, 2012 | 2499 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ACCESS MAP – Ouray County GIS specialist Jeff Bockes points out details on the Ouray County Public Access Group Route Map to county resident David Vince and USFS official Liz Mauch, following a spirited discussion at this Tuesday’s BOCC meeting regarding the county’s potential adoption of the map. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
ACCESS MAP – Ouray County GIS specialist Jeff Bockes points out details on the Ouray County Public Access Group Route Map to county resident David Vince and USFS official Liz Mauch, following a spirited discussion at this Tuesday’s BOCC meeting regarding the county’s potential adoption of the map. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
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OURAY COUNTY – Community members who had hoped the Ouray Board of County Commissioners would adopt the recently released Ouray County Public Access Group (PAG) Route Map without any hangups were disappointed this week, when discussion of the map’s proposed adoption foundered on unexpected shoals of contention.



The map, described by its creators as a living document that will be continuously updated as new information is obtained, indicates the existence and documents the history of all known historic public routes in Ouray County, with the intention of heading off potential conflicts with private property owners who have public access routes that cross their property.



The map comes with a prominent caveat that its purpose is solely to indicate the existence and document the history of historic public routes in Ouray County, and that it is “not intended to be used as a guide to transportation.”



It represents the culmination of five years’ worth of collaboration among the local government entities, federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and special interest groups that comprise PAG.



PAG representatives presented a recommendation letter to the Ouray County Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 14, asking the commissioners to formally adopt and record the PAG map as a companion document to a resolution adopted by the BOCC in 2008 asserting all public highways (including roads and trails) in Ouray County are open to the public unless they have been specifically abandoned by the county.



The map was unveiled to the public in May 2012. A 17-day public comment period extending into June yielded only two comments – both supportive of the map.



But attorney Michael Hockersmith, a senior partner at the Tisdel Law Firm in Ouray, jumped into the fray on Tuesday, telling commissioners that if the county formally adopts the PAG map it would be a “huge nightmare” from the perspective of an attorney representing private landowners.



“The problem with adopting a map is that it will show up on every title review,” he said.

“The issue of whether a road or trail is public is very fact intensive. The reality is that by recording something you are basically by fiat saying these are public roads. They may very well be, but you need to be very careful about what you adopt. When you record something, a living document dies.”



Hockersmith’s concern was echoed by County Commissioner Mike Fedel. “I would be comfortable using (the PAG map) as a tool, but I’m wary of unexpected legal consequences (if the map is adopted and recorded),” he said.



This stood in stark contrast to the vast majority of those in the room who strongly urged the county’s adoption of the PAG map. Supporters ranged from a U.S. Forest Service official to members of the four-wheel-drive community, the Ouray Trail Group and the Ouray County Historical Society, among others.



Statements of support focused primarily on PAG’s collaborative approach to addressing issues of public access in Ouray County, and its commitment to consensus-driven decision making, as well as the map’s potential benefits for emergency service providers, realtors and real estate buyers.



Commissioner Heidi Albritton, in her last appearance as BOCC chair before her recently announced resignation went into effect, countered Hockersmith’s words of caution by stating her understanding that the map would be adopted simply as a tool or resource.



“We are not making a legal commitment that would have the kind impacts you are describing,” she said. “It is not meant to force an agenda.”



Albritton stressed that if the county adopts the PAG map, there needs to be language that emphasizes that it is a living document subject to amendment.



Hockersmith, however, reiterated his concern. “If it’s adopted, the map becomes more than a resource; it’s an assertion of a particular right, which may or may not be accurate.”



Ridgway rancher Linda Ingo, seated next to Hockersmith, also expressed concern about the map, pointing out that it shows a road on Log Hill which she said was vacated by the county in 1972 and converted to a public stock drive, used solely by herself and several other ranchers who graze their cattle in the area.



Ingo requested that the road be deleted from the map, or that the map should more clearly delineate the road’s status as vacated.



County GIS specialist Jeff Bockes, who did much of the hands-on work in creating the PAG map, pointed out that its legend “clearly labels the road as not part of public access.”



“But a picture is worth a thousand words,” Ingo countered. “When people see it on the map people think they should have the right to go up there. I don’t want to spend a lot of time going to public meetings to defend a private road.”



Commissioner Lynn Padgett and Albritton agreed a suitable course of action would be to direct County Attorney Marti Whitmore to give the BOCC options for how to go about adopting the map in a manner that doesn’t have unintended legal consequences for private property owners, yet allows it to be a “living, breathing body of work” that is true to the 2008 resolution the board put into place outlining its policy on public access.



"This is a huge body of work and I think it’s extremely valuable for many reasons,” Padgett said. “I would hate to see it just get shelved.” 

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