MONTROSE – A group of Montrose County citizens, angered over the closure of Cushman Creek Road near Olathe by the federal Bureau of Land Management, is demanding elected officials in Montrose County do something about it, perhaps even press charges against the agency for what they believe is an illegal barricade of a historic county road.
While only a handful of residents spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting of the Montrose County Commissioners, dozens of residents showed up seemingly in support of the county doing something to get the road open once again.
“We believe this road has been illegally closed,” Olathe resident Betty Oglesby told the commissioners on Monday, suggesting that the county should prosecute the federal agency for the illegal closure. “The penalty for someone closing one of those roads is a class 1 misdemeanor.”
Earlier this year, according to Oglesby, a group of citizens tore down the BLM barricade on Cushman Creek Road and another barricade on Dry Creek Road. While the BLM admitted, according to Oglesby, that it was a mistake to barricade Dry Creek Road, the agency refuses to acknowledge the barricade the BLM has re-erected on Cushman Creek Road is wrongful.
In her dealings with the BLM on the road closure, Oglesby said a BLM officer told her there was a 2007 document where the county commissioners had relinquished the rights to that road. So far, Oglesby said no such document has been found.
“We went through the records in the county and did public records request and they came back and said they could not find any of those records,” Oglesby said. “A letter was written asking for [the BLM] to produce this document and after they did some extensive research, they could not find such document.”
Montrose resident Bill Porter said he asked for this document in conversations that he’s had with BLM officers as well and nobody has been able to produce it.
“They kept referring to it and I told them ‘I want to see it’ and that, ‘I don’t believe it,’” Porter said, adding that he knows the county wouldn’t give up the rights to that road to a “bunch of knuckleheads” like the BLM.
Following a Freedom of Information Act request for the document, Porter received a letter from the BLM on Oct. 31 stating that the agency “does not possess” the requested record.
Oglesby and Olathe resident Barbara Hewlett brought the commissioners a draft resolution and a draft letter to the BLM they would like the board to consider sometime in the near future that states both Dry Creek and Cushman Creek roads are public rights-of-way according to historic records and that it acknowledges that Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap has the power to enforce any punishment on those who illegally barricade those roads, including the BLM. Oglesby also said they also had “over 25 pages of signatures” on petitions requesting that something be done to open the road again.
“Why can’t I file a complaint to Rick’s office to have his office go and investigate it?” Porter said. “What else does the citizenry have to do from a practical standpoint to notify the county of another illegal barricade?”
Dunlap said his office will investigate any complaint but that investigating a complaint against the BLM for an illegal barricade of a road will not go far if the District Attorney for the Seventh Judicial District Dan Hotsenpiller doesn’t prosecute the case.
“I will investigate it, no problem at all,” Dunlap said. “At that time, when we investigate it, we will forward that information to the DA and it’s up to the DA to prosecute a case like this. It doesn’t do any good to go and enforce it if the DA isn’t going to prosecute it.”
After reaching Hotsenpiller’s office on Tuesday by phone, so far no comment has been made as to whether or not he would consider prosecuting charges against the federal agency.
As for the request to consider the resolution that was drafted by the group of citizens, Commissioner David White said the commissioners had a meeting several weeks ago on this issue and proposed to organize a task force to move forward on it. At that time during Monday’s meeting, a sheet was passed around the meeting requesting the names of those who would be interested in sitting on the task force.
In requesting information from the BLM as to why Cushman Creek Road has been barricaded, BLM Public Affairs Specialist Shannon Borders had little she could comment on.
“We utilize a travel management plan as our determining factor as to whether or not a road is open or closed,” Borders said on Tuesday. “There is an ongoing investigation in this area and I cannot comment any further.”
With Commissioner Ron Henderson absent from Monday’s meeting, both White and Commissioner Gary Ellis did not comment on whether or not they would be willing to consider the draft resolution provided by the group but said with the creation of the task force, the fight to open the road is something they would support.
“It’s almost like putting land into an artificial wilderness,” Ellis said. “Creating a wilderness takes an act of Congress…The issue raised here, their philosophy, would be closing the roads because of non use. They are, in a sense, closing our roads and they don’t have the authority to close those roads because they haven’t been used to that level of satisfaction. Looking at the proposed draft letter and resolution, I think we have to consider this. If it is going to begin, let it begin here. It’s an opportunity to draw the line in the sand and begin somewhere.”