A federal judge refused Wednesday to reconsider his ruling in favor of improving the Burr Trail, but gave environmentalists 10 days to appeal to a higher court.
Wayne Petty, representing the four environmental groups that have fought for years against a construction project on the route, filed a formal notice that he was appealing to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.The Burr Trail reaches 66 miles from Boulder, Garfield County, to a highway near Bullfrog Marina, Kane County. It is divided into several segments. Only the first stretch, the 28 miles from Boulder to Capitol Reef National Park, is part of the lawsuit, because that is where Garfield County planned to improve the dirt road.
Originally, U.S. District Senior Judge Aldon J. Anderson ordered work halted on the entire 28 miles. He later narrowed that to include only The 14 miles between Boulder and Long Canyon, a stretch that borders Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study areas. Work is complete on the eastern part of the 28-mile Segment 1.
After the hearing, Ronald Thompson, attorney for Garfield County, told reporters construction of the controversial improvements could begin this summer beside the study areas.
Presently, Garfield County officials plan only to grade and drain the dirt road. But, Thompson said, "If you give 'em the money, they'd pave it . . .
"I think the county will pave as soon as they have the funds and we've overcome the legal and administrative hurdles."
In rejecting the environmentalists' last-minute appeal to modify his ruling, Anderson said, "It has been established that they (Garfield County officials) have a right of way, pre-existing the wilderness study area."
The county has a right to maintain the road, he ruled. Road work can even encroach on the wilderness study areas, but it should be the least-degrading work, assuming that the work would degrade the study areas at all.
"I don't see any likelihood of success" by the environmental appeal, he said. But he conceded the conservationists had some philosophically important points.
Anderson said conservationists contend paving _ the least degrading alternative _ hasn't been studied adequately.
Responding to the environmental groups' claim that the project was wrongly "segmented," with the environmental impacts of only one part of the trail examined, Anderson said, "Sometimes the patterns of legal enforcement, the enforcement of rights, is a spasmodic and jerky kind of process."
Petty charged, however, "It's very clear that the National Environmental Policy Act says you can't segment . . . You've got to look at the whole thing."
In addition, the BLM "broadened the scope" of the project by also finding that the county could go ahead with another 19 miles, beyond the segment under consideration in the court case, Petty said.
William J. Lockhart, representing the environmentalists, raised the question of others using the ruling on Segment 1 to justify work elsewhere.
"There isn't any determination" with respect to the road's other segments," Anderson replied.