Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Judge Rules in County’s Favor in San Pedro River Litigation

 FLORENCE – Years of legal wrangling over public access to San Pedro Road, a critical means of access to and from Dudleyville, Arizona, have been put to rest by Judge Neil V. Wake of the US District Court for the State of Arizona.  In a decision dated September 2, 2010, Judge Wake accepted Pinal County's arguments against claims made by the federal Bureau of Land Management.  He ruled that Pinal County's rights were superior to any rights asserted by the BLM under a Conservation Easement that the BLM acquired in 1997.
"This was a complex case that threatened to jeopardize the health and safety of residents on the other side of the crossing," said Pete Rios, Chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors and District 1 Supervisor.  "Judge Wake's order breaks down the arguments of both parties and sides in favor of Pinal County and the community members who utilize this historic river crossing for frequent access to their properties."
The court order is 12 pages long.  In conclusion, Judge Wake writes:
"the County has a superior interest in the river crossing and the portion of San Pedro Road that crosses the Schwennesens' land.  It has the property right, notwithstanding the terms of the Conservation Easement, to allow continued public access to the road and its river crossing."
"Judge Wake's decision enables us to tell the Army Corps of Energy that the issues in the case involving Pinal County and the Bureau of Land Management have been resolved at the district court level," said Greg Stanley, Pinal County Public Works Director.  "Next we expect to be able to obtain a permit from the Corps of Engineers that will allow us to continue to maintain the road."
Pinal County Chairman Pete Rios states that he is "very satisfied with the judge's ruling and hopes that the Army Corps of Engineers will soon follow suit and allow the residents of Dudleyville and the Copper Basin Area to return to normalcy."
Additional Key Points
  • Pinal County has maintained a road, known variously as San Pedro Road, Dudleyville Crossing, or The San Pedro Crossing, for many decades.    The road or crossing has been in existence for over 100 years.  In 1994, Pinal County obtained a temporary easement to confirm its right to continue to maintain the road.  In August 2007, Pinal County received a notice of intent to terminate the easement, but Judge Wake has ruled that that notice was ineffective and that the easement continues in place.   On February 14, 2008, The Superior Court of the State of Arizona found Pinal County's application for Immediate Possession of property sought through eminent domain, necessary for public use. 
  • Should this access be permanently closed, the challenge to Dudleyville and the outlying communities would be enormous.  The road is widely used by the community of Dudleyville and other outlying citizens to cross the San Pedro River.  It provides vital access to Freeman Road via Camino Rio Road.  There is no other public access in Pinal County's system to cross the San Pedro River.  The only other access is a privately owned and maintained road approximately 5 miles away, which creates an additional 15 to 20 minute delay for emergency response, school buses, residents' travel, etc.   
  • In spite of the county having legally obtaining the rights-of-way through eminent domain actions in the Superior Court, the BLM sought to block the county.
  • Pinal County has expressed our desires to deal with issues related to problems caused by the road.  We wish to constructively address specific concerns the BLM and conservation groups have expressed, such as off-road vehicles driving up and down the river, potentially damaging the wildlife habitat.  
  • This is not a problem created by the road, as the road and wildlife have coexisted for over 100 years.  
  • Pinal County has offered to increase community awareness through community meetings, additional signage and stepped up enforcement.
  • Pinal County believes that closing the road will not stop the off-road vehicles, as they will just find other access points.  On the other hand, closing the road would cause the citizens of Dudleyville a great deal of concern – from emergency access to routine school bus traffic.