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Bunker hearing intended to halt dispute

Jun 15, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission has set the hearing for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 19, after approving a memorandum of understanding with affected landowners.

The Fremont County Commission is having a public hearing concerning Bunker Road's route in the Lander area in what signals an agreed resolution for the long-debated access controversy.

The commission set the hearing for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 19, in the board's chambers at the county courthouse in Lander after approving a memorandum of understanding with affected landowners,

The commission would not release the document that outlines the resolution and agreed payment amount to the landowners, noting the pact that resulted from months of mediation becomes effective at the hearing.

During a discussion June 5 about the upcoming fiscal-year budget, Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese said $137,000 was allocated for Bunker Road.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said the agreed amount will cover payment to landowners for the proposed road alteration.

"What that is paying for is right of way that the county did not have that we needed to acquire to have an adequate road," Thompson said.

Issue put to rest

Commission approval would mean an end to the Bunker Road controversy.

"We'll have our hearing, and at the conclusion of that it should be done," Thompson said.

Commissioner Travis Becker said he anticipates an end to the matter.

"I'm glad to see this is almost 100 percent completed, and I can't wait until our final public hearing to make it done," he said.

"I'm sure the landowners are in the same way, at least most of them, finally ready to put this to bed and move on. We've got a lot of other pressing issues that need to be taken care of, and we keep fussing and mussing over things that should've been taken care of a while ago."

After years of litigation, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in November 2010 that Bunker Road is a legal public route that has never been vacated or abandoned by county government.

Mediation process

The parties in February decided to pursue mediation concerning the obscured path off Baldwin Creek Road where landowners have questioned the route's legal existence because it was not identified in title searches or a subdivision approval.

Thompson said the memorandum of understanding involves "landowners that have a property interest in Bunker Road and King Drive, which will soon be all Bunker Road."

Most of the landowners involved have property adjacent to the road, he said.

"Rather than leave somebody out or offend someone, it's just landowners in the area who had a property interest in Bunker Road and King Drive," he said.

The payment from the county government is part of the resolution with the landowners, Thompson said.

"The landowners will divide the payment according to their homeowner's association and their attorneys. We will give them a lump sum to their attorneys, and they will divide it up however appropriate or however they deem appropriate," he said.

Thompson said the amount reflects the estimated cost to the county for rebuilding the road that runs through private property.

"That figure was about what it would have cost us. That's an estimate if we had to go back in and rebuild the original Bunker Road," he said.

Hearing agenda

Tuesday's hearing will include public testimony on Bunker Road's proposed route alteration that will use part of the privately built King Drive. There will also be "claims from any other people than the ones that were involved in the mediation," Thompson said.

"We will also discuss the seasonal closure, and I'm assuming we'll set that at that time, because that is a provision of the MOU," he said.

The proposed seasonal closure pertains to motorized vehicular traffic only, with other forms of travel allowed on the road. It would extend through the winter months from Dec. 1 through June 1 with the commission reserving the right to close the route earlier and reopen it later depending on weather-related conditions.

Affected landowners suggested extending the closure to coincide with the federal Bureau of Land Management's prohibition on motorized vehicular traffic from Dec. 1 through June 15 on its parcel accessed by Bunker Road.

Thompson said the public will be able to access the BLM property using Bunker Road.

"Just a reminder on the BLM ground, the public is still required to stay on existing roads and trails so it's not license to drive all over the BLM ground," he said.

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