New rules could lead to more road building

New rules announced by the Interior Department Jan. 6 are expected to clear up land ownership controversies and help states and local governments claim rights of way on federal land, making way for possible road construction.

The new legislation will free up millions of acres of lands that had been off-limits to roads, mining and commercial activity. Some of the changes include the elimination of a 12-year statute of limitation on claims and a rule that allows “entities other than the owner of the record” to file right of way claims. Officials hope the new rules will save money in the long run by helping avoid legal conflict between federal and state governments.

“This will help our federal land managers more clearly define who owns what and how it can be used,” deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management Patricia E. Morrison told the Washington Post. “It goes to the heart of our land management planning.”

Revised Statute 2477, a provision of the 1866 mining act, will be revived by the new rules. The original statute, used to aid settlement of western lands, was repealed by congress in 1976 when the Federal Land Policy and Management Act was passed.

The battle over ownership and rights of way has been unresolved between western states and the Bureau of Land Management for years. Alaska has claimed 24 routes in Denali National Park and Preserve as state rights of way. A survey effort in San Bernardino County, Calif., resulted in 2,567 miles of road claims in the Mojave National Preserve, including wagon roads, trails and horse paths.

Many environmentalists are worried the rules will aid in the destruction of national parks and will allow state and local governments to develop roads out of old wagon trails and wilderness paths.

If the new legislation actually frees up federal land for states and local governments, the an influx of road and building construction could be experienced over the next few years.