Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Green Lake litigation staying in federal court, road ownership still unsettled

County moves to keep USFS involved

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County’s participation with the Lake Irwin Coalition trying to open the road to Green Lake has been determined to stay in federal court, as of May 10. Property owner J. W. Smith installed a gate on the road above Lake Irwin to prevent a growing number of people from trespassing on his property. Deputy county attorney Matthew Hoyt gave an update on the case to the county commissioners on May 21. The nature of ownership for the road that Smith gated is disputed.

The suit was moved to federal court in early April, and last Friday, May 10 was the deadline to get it back to state court but it was not pursued by any of the parties involved. “So it is going to be in federal court,” concluded Hoyt.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) filed a motion to be dismissed from the case, arguing that they are immune to all the claims against them in the court of law, said Hoyt. He said the USFS is not trying to claim one side or the other, and just doesn’t want to be involved in the lawsuit. The County has taken steps to keep them in the case.

“We have now served an amended claim on the USFS,” said Hoyt. “Our argument is that the federal government has in the past …been designating it a federal Forest Service road.”

County Commissioner Jonathan Houck asked if the gate blocking the road is still intact. Hoyt answered that it is not yet being addressed. “The status is that neither us nor the plaintiffs have presented that the gate should be removed … No one is asking this court to ask him to take the gate down. That might come later,” Hoyt added.

“Under federal statute, there is a dispute over who owns or manages this road,” said Hoyt. A scheduling conference involving all parties to determine further trial dates is set for June 11.

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