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September 21, 2006, Las Vegas Sun

Road to Jarbidge stays open in federal court decision

RENO, Nev. (AP) - A dispute over two miles of dirt road and a threatened fish in a national forest just south of the Idaho line may be over after nearly a decade.

A decision signed on Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Hunt lifted a stay freezing a 2001 agreement, in which the government had agreed not to contest Elko County's claim to a right of way on the South Canyon Road.

Hunt emphasized that the settlement agreement does not transfer any interest in land. Elko County's claim will remain dormant and Elko County and the government will work together on the road, he said.

"There is a huge gulf between granting someone an interest in land and refusing to argue about whether they have such an interest," Hunt said.

The 2001 agreement settled a federal lawsuit that charged Elko County had undertaken illegal repairs in 1998 on washed-out portions of South Canyon Road which runs alongside a fork in the Jarbidge River. The river's population of bull trout was declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999.

Under the settlement agreement, the Forest Service promised not to challenge Elko County's claim to a right of way on South Canyon Road and the county promised not to perform future repair work on the road without prior Forest Service approval.

After the agreement was reached in 2001, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco allowed two environmental groups - The Wilderness Society and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness - to intervene in the case.

U.S. District Court Judge David Hagen ruled the settlement was not fair to the public interest because it circumvented the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Forest Service regulations. Hagen stayed the effectiveness of the agreement pending the Forest Service's compliance with these laws. The lawsuit continued until Tuesday's decision.

Elko District Attorney Gary Woodbury said he was pleased that Judge Hunt found the settlement agreement was reasonable, but told KELK radio in Elko he expected The Wilderness Society and the Great Old Broads for Wilderness to appeal.

Michael Freeman, an attorney for the environmental groups, said he was reviewing the decision.

"We're obviously distressed at the court's ruling, but we're still reviewing and considering all our options at this point," Freeman said.


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