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MOU with landowners concludes long Bunker Road disagreement

Jun 21, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The road will be public, with seasonal closures for half the year.

The years of controversy behind establishing Bunker Road as a public route ended with county commissioners ratifying a memorandum of understanding with affected landowners.

The commission's decision came at the end of a 45-minute hearing with approval of the road's proposed vacation and alteration and the 13-page agreement with signature lines for 17 landowner parties.

The board also agreed to a seasonal closure of the route from Dec. 1 to June 1 to all motorized vehicular traffic on the road that leads to a few hundred acres of Bureau of Land Management property near Lander.

The road during the seasonal closure will remain open to other forms of traffic including walking and cycling.

"This has been kind of a long issue," said commission chairman Doug Thompson after the unanimous vote to ratify the document. "I don't know if everyone's walking away pleased, but I'm pleased the issue is stabilized."

Cornelius Britt, an affected landowner and party to the agreement, described the feeling of the residents involved as "happy" and "satisfied."

Under the memorandum of understanding, the county agrees to pay the affected landowners $135,000 within 10 days, and the group can divide the amount among its members.

"Landowners agree not to interfere with the county's or the public's use of the road or right-of-way by landowners' placement of gates, signs, fences, cattleguards or any other obstructions, excavations, ditches or obstacles which would interfere with the county's and public's use of Bunker Road," according to the agreement.

Public access

Although the newly established route is public, county government transportation department superintendent Dave Pendleton said he would install a closure sign at a cul-de-sac on the route until the road is ready for travel by the public.

The agreement effectively kills all past and future legal actions against the county by the affected landowners concerning Bunker Road, which uses the privately built King Drive off Baldwin Creek Road as the public access route.

Private properties occupy the old Bunker Road's route, prompting the county's use of King Drive.

"The landowners and the county agree that each party hereby releases and forever discharges the other, from any and all claims, demands, causes of action or suits of whatsoever kind or nature relating to the resolved issues between them regarding the subject matter herein," according to the agreement.

The landowners named in the agreement are Robert Fischer, Stephen Pozsgi, Cornelius and Deborah Britt, Thomas and Judith Carlino, Bryan and Jennifer Neely, Andy Ben, Maly Prom, Michael and Kristy Jones, Davis Merritt and Pat McGavern, and North Fork Land and Cattle. There is also a line each for a member of the Seely family and a member of the King family.

Long dispute

After years of litigation waged by private landowners against the county, 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.

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

Tuesday's hearing represented the efforts of the mediation headed by Teresa McKee.

Commissioners denied a $7,500 damage claim by Steve and Jane Lynn in the matter. Commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson said the reason for the motion he made concerning the claim was "based on the fact it was not a result of this action."

Michael and Ruth Bohlen had an objection filed with commission on the issue that did not require any board action.

"I think the county shouldn't have done anything with Bunker Road," Michael Bohlen said at the hearing.

With the seasonal closure, Thompson said the dates are flexible.

"The county will make a determination of its usability because that's the last thing the county needs is a maintenance problem," he said.

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