Thursday, May 28, 2020

County to defend Green Lake Road lawsuit

Pursuing a ruling from court that the road is public

By Cayla Vidmar

Gunnison County will join with the Lake Irwin Coalition (LIC) trying to open the road to Green Lake to the public. That road has been closed above Lake Irwin by a property owner who erected a gate after dealing with increasing numbers of people trespassing on his property.

The LIC brought a lawsuit against J.W. Smith, who erected the gate in August 2016. On January 10, 2019, the LIC filed an amended complaint to the District Court to include the county and the United States Forest Service (USFS) in the litigation.

“The court ordered, after reviewing motions by the original litigants, that a number of parties—including the U.S. Forest Service, the County and other landowners of lands crossed by the road—be joined as parties. The county has been so joined as a defendant,” writes county attorney David Baumgarten by email.

The judge ruled that the county, USFS and all landowners over whose land the road crosses were “indispensible parties” in the issue. This in effect forced the county to become a part of the litigation.

Baumgarten requested on Tuesday, February 5 that the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners make a formal recommendation to his office to “defend the lawsuit and bring any and all cross and counterclaims in order to pursue a ruling from the court that the road in question is public.”

The commissioners agreed unanimously to have the county attorney’s office defend the lawsuit.

“If we were done, and we had been successful, we would have obtained [a ruling] from the court that the road in question is public,” said Baumgarten.

County commission chairperson Jonathan Houck said, “I feel comfortable moving forward… Gunnison County has tried to find a solution and this is the next step in furthering our ability, for the good will of our community, to find a solution. I think we need to keep moving forward.”

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