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Company seeks $600,000 in damages from county

Jan 29, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

North Fork Land and Cattle is seeking at least $600,000 in damages and other costs that would result from the Fremont County Commission's plan to establish use of the controversial Bunker Road right of way.

The $600,000 "represents the estimated damage to the North Fork real property from the proposed action," according to the notice that seeks other "costs of attempting to mitigate damage ... with items such as fencing, wildlife underpasses and the like."

The amount in the damage claim filed with the county government on behalf of North Fork was the only specified amount among the eight unique notices submitted by the noon Jan. 10 deadline.

Commissioners wanted affected landowners to submit an intent to claim damages as well as any objections to the plans to condemn part of the privately built King Drive connecting to Bunker Road.

Landowners have until noon Feb. 17 to submit the specific amount of the claimed damages.

Of the eight notices received by the county, some of which contain damage claims for several parties consolidated into a single filing, six objected to the commission's plan for the road.

"The County has not made reasonable and diligent good faith efforts to negotiate the purchase of affected lands," according to the objection submitted by attorneys with Cheyenne law firm Hirst Applegate on behalf of a group of several landowners.

Those landowners include Cornelius and Deborah Britt, Thomas and Judith Carlino, Stephen Pozsgi, Bryan and Jennifer Neely, Andy Ben, Maly Prom, Michael and Kristy Jones and Pat McGavran and W. Davis Merritt.

"The County's proposed action may result in a total taking of one landowner's property, resulting in significant, but as of yet

undetermined, damages," according to their claim notice.

In another separate objection, landowners Bryan and Jennifer Neely stated, "The County lacks documentation and justification to show that the condemnation of private property belonging to us is required because of public necessity and represents the greatest public good."

North Fork Land and Cattle in its objection stated, "The alteration and partial vacation of Bunker Road is not required in the public interest and necessity. Nor is the proposed action the most compatible action with respect to the greatest public good and the least injury to North Fork and other affected parties and landowners."

One notice supported the county's action, and one did not include any statement concerning an objection.

"We believe that the county is doing absolutely the right thing in insuring that this public access remains public, and that county residents are allowed to use this road for the wonderful recreational opportunities it affords," wrote Steve and Jane Lynn, who live along Baldwin Creek Road.

The claims and objections mark another stepping stone in the county's process for acquiring the privately built road to use as a new route for Bunker Road.

The issue has been a source of strong debate between the commission and specific landowners in past years. Some landowners questioned the route's legal existence, because it was not identified in title searches or a subdivision approval.

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.

During their meeting Jan. 10, commissioners appointed Jerry Crews and Dick Inberg, of the Riverton area, and Ivan Judd, of the Shoshoni area, as the appraisers who will view the land and provide an estimate of damages.

They plan to review information about the proposal Jan. 19 before visiting the area that afternoon. The appraisers will provide a written report to commissioners by Feb. 10.

Commissioners will ultimately decide whether to pursue the proposed road alteration and determine the specific amount of damages to award to the landowners who submitted claims.

Retired lawyer Travis Moffat will act as the presiding officer during the public hearing.

The objections submitted by the landowners provide a variety of reasons against the county's proposal on the table.

"There are alternatives other than those currently proposed by Fremont County which would cause less impact and injury to wildlife, the environment, North Fork and other affected parties and landowners," according to the objection signed by North Fork operating general partner Ron Hansen.

North Fork's notice contains objections echoing the popular belief of many affected landowners that opening Bunker Road is intended to stimulate development for the benefit of a few.

"The proposed alteration is not designed to advance the public interest but is designed to advance the interests of a limited number of other private landowners in the area," according to North Fork's objection.

The filing by Hirst Applegate contains the exact same wording, while Michael and Ruth Bohlen in their objection explained the contention.

"We believe that Fremont County should not use tax dollars to acquire or alter King Road or Bunker Road for the purpose of building a subdivision road access from Baldwin Creek Road for Jim Freeman, Steve McKinney and developers of their subdivision," the Bohlens wrote.

"They have access to their property through Jim Freeman's land and a part of that road has already been constructed," they stated.

Some commissioners have indicated they want to use Bunker Road to access roughly 1,000 acres of public land. They also have said they do not want to give up the public's right of way.

The Neelys identified concerns about the effects of widespread development in the area.

"The prospect of a public road opens access for future development," they wrote.

"We are not opposing development but we do not want our driveway to become the primary artery for future sites especially when the surveyed Bunker Road missed our property altogether," they stated.

"Further residential development at the end of the road would mean a continuous stream of construction equipment, cement trucks, contractors and other vehicles up and down the road for years to come. Opening it as a public road will add to traffic and potential future security issues," the Neelys wrote.

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