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BOCC hears appeal in WF Pine Creek Road situation

Local Editor | September 13, 2022 1:00 AM

WALLACE — The Shoshone Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) heard arguments for and against the validation of a section of West Fork Pine Creek Road on Thursday morning during a public hearing at Shoshone County Courthouse.

The hearing was an appeal of a decision made by the BOCC earlier this year where they denied petition that was filed by Paul Louzenhiser, an off-road vehicle enthusiast and member of the North Idaho Trailblazers (NITB), for the purposes of validating a section of road that intersects through multiple different property owners before heading into lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

This time around, Loutzenhiser is joined on the official petition by Silver Valley resident Bob Jutila, and co-sponsored by the NITB President Wayne Hallgren — all three entities represented by David Claiborne, an attorney with Sawtooth Law Offices, who also serves on the Idaho Recreation Council.

The original petition is steeped in history, but really gained steam following the actions of nearby property owner Joe Avery, who had placed blockades across the road on two different occasions — including one particular road block in 2020 that resulted in the county work crews being tasked with removing the pile of logs and debris from the roadway.

Members of Loutzenhiser’s NITB group, as well as other local recreators have used the road to access a section of BLM land with varying trails and roads throughout it — including a section of specifically constructed off-road obstacles called the “Roller Coaster.”

While both Jutila and Loutzenhiser spoke during the hearing, Claiborne presented the meat of their case for the validation.

Much of the debate concerning this stretch of road centers on the historical use of it, and if it has ever been considered a public highway — despite some mapping that seemingly hinted at such facts, there was nothing concrete to cement the petitioner’s original case.

Former commissioner Mike Fitzgerald explained his reason for declination — mainly that the evidence wasn’t sufficient enough to prove the county’s interest in the road — historically or otherwise.

Claiborne explained that according to Idaho code there are two ways a public road can be established. By public use or by order of the county commissioners.

“What we were able to find was that in 1909, the BOCC acted, first to appoint surveyors and overseers. They came back later that year, I believe it was in July, and the BOCC issued an order declaring the West Fork Pine Creek Road as a public road,” Claiborne said. “From its confluence with the East Fork, all the way to the county line. I think that is conclusive, it’s certainly compelling evidence of a public road. This very body has already examined the question and determined that this is a public road.”

The attorney’s discovery harkens back to the early settling days of the state, where counties wanting to lay out road systems would appoint viewers or overseers to go out and find where these roads would be best suited — as well as to look at the existing roads and trails to make a determination as to whether or not they were suitable to be considered a public road.

He also pointed out that since 1909, no record exists that Shoshone County has never vacated or abandoned that road.

“So it is today, a public road by declaration of the 1909 board,” Claiborne said definitively.

Claiborne also discussed the public use possibility of establishing a public highway — which he said was the primary focus of the original hearing by the petitioners which was ultimately denied.

When it was declared a road in 1909, Claiborne explained that it was put into Road District 7, a taxing district that collected funds to maintain the roads. Which only proves that public funds were used to maintain the road — which Claiborne previously said, ran from the “confluence with the East Fork, all the way to the county line.”

Claiborne also submitted proof of public funds being used to maintain the road, including documents from as far back as 1974, and as recently as within the 2020s.

Many Silver Valley residents were on hand to voice their opposition to the petition, many of whom spoke against it earlier this year.

Concerns over noise, traffic, pollution, potential fire hazard, and the simple reason of not wanting other people up there were among what was heard by the BOCC. However, their reasons may or may not hold any real weight with the commissioners, since the burden of proof to validate the road lies with the petitioners.

Things did get heated during the rebuttal period of the hearing when Claiborne was contesting many of the things that were said against the petition. While Claiborne was speaking, a resident of Pine Creek (who had spoken during the hearing), jumped to his feet screaming, “this petition is wrong and I’m done hearing it!” He was subsequently subdued by courthouse security after he carried on with his outburst in the courtroom lobby.

With more than 100 total pages of submitted evidence — by both sides of the argument — commissioner John Hansen requested that the BOCC be given more time to make any sort of determination.

This would give all of the commissioners, including recently appointed commissioner Tracy Casady, time to review the original testimony, as well as the new evidence submitted on Thursday.

The BOCC has scheduled a follow-up meeting on Oct. 6 at 9:30 a.m., where they should render their decision.