County looks to turn over 17 Mile Road to tribes

Sep 7, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Fremont County government is looking to turn over full ownership of 17 Mile Road to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, more than 20 years after all parties had agreed to the transfer.

In a 1996 memorandum of understanding, the parties agreed that the transfer of ownership would take place once the road had been reconstructed.

That project was completed in 2013.

Since then, the state has transferred its right-of-way to the tribes, but the county never did.

Reservation road

The road project received money from the Federal Lands Highways Program, the county and the state.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs also provided resources for the roadway, and the MOU instructs the agency to add the road to the BIA Highway System.

Fremont County Commissioner Clarence Thomas, who represents the Wind River Indian Reservation district on the county board, has been proposing during his tenure that the county turn over control of some roads on the reservation to the tribes, resulting in reduced costs for the county's roads department.

"If tribes are going to say they're adamant of sovereignty, it's like a 16-year-old saying that they're going to move out when they're 18," he said. "When they turn 18, you need call them on it."

Thomas said that other roads on the reservation, like ones in Crowheart that are mostly used by non-tribal members, should stay in the control of the county.

Access, process

Fremont County Attorney Pat LeBrun said that, because federal funds were used to reconstruct 17 Mile Road, it would be impossible for the tribes to limit access without approval from the Wyoming Highway Commission.

Removing the road from county responsibility will require the county to hold hearings and formally vacate the road.

That process is likely to take more than six weeks.

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