Democratic News

The General Accounting Office has offered an opinion on the legality of an agreement between the State of Utah and the Interior Department over whether certain roads on public lands are owned by the state or owned by the federal government. GAO says the Utah-Interior agreement is not legal. If implemented, this agreement would have set in motion a DOI plan to “disclaim” ownership of some rights-of-way (so-called RS 2477 claims) and would become a model for settling similar disputes over thousands of roads across the West. Senator Jeff Bingaman believes that the agreement violated the 1997 Interior Appropriations Act, which says that Congress must have a role in settling such road disputes. He asked the GAO to investigate, and yesterday’s decision validates Bingaman’s concern that the Interior Department has “overstepped its bounds” in giving away public lands. Files containing the GAO opinion and a GAO covering letter are attached. BINGAMAN STATEMENT ON GAO REPORT Study Says Interior Deptartment Deal with Utah on Road Ownership is Illegal U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today issued the following statement related to the General Accounting Office’s opinion on whether the Department of Interior has the right to set the standards under which federal rights-of-way be conveyed: “My concern has been whether the Department of Interior is overstepping its bounds in setting the standards under which federal lands can be given away. In concluding that the agreement the federal government negotiated with Utah is illegal, the General Accounting Office validates my position,” Bingaman said. “The Utah agreement was touted by the administration as a model. Now that it’s been deemed invalid, I hope that Secretary Norton abandons her effort to bypass Congress on this issue.”

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