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Road's status raises questions - is it another Jarbridge?
Dave Woodson - Elko Daily Free Press

Jack Creek Road, an old stagecoach route nestled in the Independence Mountain range, has the potential to ignite another controversy similar to the long-running dispute over the South Canyon Road.

Not much attention has been paid in the past to the 15-mile long road except by outdoor recreationists and a mining company that has since abandoned any activity.

Not any more.

Jack Creek Road is now the focus of a potential struggle that revisits the question of federal vs. county ownership.

At the heart of the controversy is whether Elko County should accept a U.S. Forest Service easement for the road.

"It should not even escalate to a Jarbidge deal," said Elko County Commissioner Charlie Myers, who chairs the county highway commission. "If it does we are wrong. The county commissioners taking care of Elko County are wrong to let that happen."

"I'm kind of curious as to why this is now an issue," Myers added.

He said the county owns about three and a half or four miles of the road.

"I think it is undetermined at this time who owns the other nine miles because the last two miles are privately owned," Myers said.

Jarbidge Shovel Brigade attorney Grant Gerber said the road is an issue because accepting a Forest Service easement for Jack Creek could set a precedent in the South Canyon Road dispute.

"This is the same type of easement that the Forest Service attempted to get the county to accept on Jarbidge," Gerber said. "Years ago the county rejected it because it has the potential of eliminating or reducing the RS 2477 1866 mining claim right to the road for the county and the state."

U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Dan Dallas said that is not the situation with Jack Creek Road.

"I feel like they are mischaracterizing what is going on," he said. "One of the things I have heard is they are saying if the county accepts an easement on this it would set a precedence that would follow over to Jarbidge.

"It had no relationship to Jarbidge whatsoever," Dallas said.

Myers said the potential for accepting an easement for Jack Creek Road had not really been considered as a precedent for South Canyon Road.

"I don't know that any of us had looked at it like that," he said. "I think we tried to separate each of the issues coming before the commission and I don't think anybody on the commission has tried to marry this with the South Canyon Road issue.

"I think another thing that probably falls under this issue, number one, is certainly nobody wants to go back into court," Myers said.

Commission Chairman Mike Nannini said the status of the two roads were quite different.

"If we want to pursue it, we can, nobody is trying to stop us," he said. "Not like in the Jarbidge area. We don't have these environmentalists coming at us and the Forest Service."

Nannini said there is not a disagreement about Jack Creek Road being an RS 2477 road.

"They openly say it is an RS 2477 road, there is no question about that in their minds, but if you go to court and specify that is what you want, my understanding was that you would get exactly what was an RS 2477 road," he said. "That is what you actually have a right to."

He said part of the problem with going the RS 2477 route was that such a designation would not give the county control over any of the improvements that had been made by the mining company.

Nannini also said it could take up to 10 years in court to get the designation.

He said with the Forest Service easement the status of the road would not be in limbo pending legal action.

"In the meantime we would have a right of way through this road and we would have the right to maintain it the best way we know how," Nannini said. "It is not going to be closed on them; it is not going to be shut down."

He said it would remain open for recreational activities such as snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, or whatever people want to do.

Dallas agreed that if the county wanted to proceed with an RS 2477 designation they would succeed, but he felt the easement was a smoother route to follow.

"That road has been there for years and years, it was there before the Forest Service was established," he said,."Obviously, we would just go through the work and give the county a perpetual easement that memorializes who is responsible for the road."

"In order for it to be that way (RS 2477) the county would have to go ahead and make the claim," Dallas continued. "There is probably little doubt that there is all kinds of evidence, but the county would have to chose to do that."

Gerber said if the Forest Service's agreement specified it was an RS 2477 road then he would find it acceptable.

"Why doesn't he say that?" Gerber asked. "I believe that that agreement if it took out the fact that it was going to be a voluntary gift from the Forest Service to the fact that it is an RS 2477 right that the county has - if that language was in there - then I believe the agreement would then become viable."

Nannini said that is one of the potential problems was the current condition of the road because it has not been maintained for several years.

"What bothers me is if we take it on as an RS 2477 is it going to be an acceptable road at the end of the day?" he said. "It is not a road as we know it. It is not 26 feet wide, and a lot of times it is a cattle trail or an 8- or 10-foot wagon trail and that is the issue on this road. There are a lot of spots on this road that are just a one-way deal."

Myers said there are major maintenance problems with the road.

"The other big issue is under the Forest Service agreement that they wanted the county to sign, there were some maintenance issues on that," he said. "A majority of the cattleguards on that road need to be replaced; the foundations are starting to fail. Of the three bridges, two of the bridges are in tremendously bad shape and ready to fail. We expect one to fail at any given time."

Myers said that should give the county second thoughts.

He noted that the last two miles of the road are on private property.

"When you start to put all of these things together it just may not be advantageous to the county to even consider that except for the fact it is a great recreational hunting access for county residents, but it may be very prohibitive as far as cost is concerned," he said.

Myers wondered if the road conditions may have prompted the easement offer.

"(That would) make it advantageous for any government entity to pass that off on the county," he said.

Dallas said he thought the road condition problem could be settled.

"There have been some issues raised, some legitimate issues, about cattleguards and bridges and stuff like that and there is a financial obligation that we need to work out," he said.

There is an ad-hoc working group considering the maintenance issues composed of Myers, Commissioner Warren Russell and County Road Supervisor Otis Tipton along with Forest Service representatives.

"This is a deal where we can all sit down at the table," Nannini said. "It is not a Jarbidge deal."

He said Gerber and other interested parties had been invited to sit down at the table.

Myers said the county board's most recent planned consideration of accepting Jack Creek Road on a Forest Service easement began with a proposal from Dallas.

"Dan generated documentation that came to the county and I'm not sure why that documentation was generated, what caused that to happen, and now we're right back into, or could be back into, a South Canyon Road issue, which is exactly where we don't want to go," he said. "I don't think this commission would go that way. I think this commission would look at some other remedies to try and solve the problem."

Nannini said Jack Creek Road was on a long list of issues being discussed between the county and the Forest Service.

"I think when Dan Dallas took over the Mountain City area district he ran across this and it was a cleanup project for him," he said.

Dallas said the road easement had been proposed to the previous county board and "they thought it was a good idea" and with their backing he had moved forward with the easement process.

"Now it has come back around, we have done the work, it has been surveyed. It takes quite a bit of work to put an easement like that together, and we more or less just offered it up," Dallas said. "It is an honest attempt and there is an agreement between both the county and myself that it was a good thing to do and that is all it was."

"We were in agreement to begin with - that's why I went ahead with the work - and we are in agreement now," he continued.

Nannini said he and former commissioner Nolan Lloyd had inspected the road about four years ago.

"We liked the condition of the road but we didn't like what we saw at the end of the road," Nannini recalled.

He said it was littered with debris from the Big Creek Mine that had taken over maintenance of the road and widened it in some places before closing operations and going into reclamation.

Dallas said that is when the mine notified both the county and the Forest Service that they would no longer maintain the road.

He said the mine cleaned up the road and that was when the Forest Service first offered the easement to the county.

"The Forest Service said there is a nice road here, the mine had done a good job, they graveled it, they packed it down, they fixed a lot of the areas there and they cleaned up the mess - if you guys want it you can have it," Nannini remembered. "We want it."

Gerber said one of the things that concerns him is that the agreement was generated by the Forest Service.

"Based on past experiences of promises they have made, I am not going to believe them unless it is signed, sealed and delivered and enforceable," he said. "This agreement that was proposed by the Forest Service and apparently by Dan Dallas does not meet those standards."

Gerber said the issue is one of trust and he does not trust the Forest Service.

"Our experience is that we have had a series of Forest Service people who have not told us the truth," Gerber said. "In regard to Jarbidge they told us various things - everything from on the issue of the road being open and then they arrest people using the road.

"How many times did the Forest Service tell the county after the flood in '95 that they were going to open the road and do the repairs that they promised to do - they promised in '95, they promised in '96, they promised in '97 and in '98 they finally said nope we are not going to fulfill our promise, we are going to make it into a trail.

"And the county said, look, you are not making it into any trail, this is a county road.

"So when I say that I disagree and do not believe the Forest Service I think there is plenty of ammunition."

Gerber also said he saw the easement issue as a potential career advancement for a top supervisor in Nevada by setting a precedent with the county.

Dallas said Gerber's comments about the Forest Service were incorrect.

"Implying it would set a precedent, it was a conspiracy by the Forest Service, it was an effort by the Forest Service supervisor to advance his career, that is just pure and simple wrong," he said.

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