Support the re-opening of Surprise Canyon Road - Action Needed.http://www.fopv.org/action.html
Surprise Canyon Road, a county road located in the Panamint Mountains of Inyo County, California, has been the only route of wheeled access to Panamint City for over 130 years. Panamint City is located high in the Panamint mountains in a non-wilderness cherry-stem of Death Valley National Park. Surprise Canyon Road was created by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, under California law, on July 6, 1874, to provide access to Panamint City.
Surprise Canyon Road was closed in May of 2001 as a result of a lawsuit brought about by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, against the Bureau of Land Management. The parties to the suit settled by signing a "Stipulation Agreement" defining the terms of the closure. The agreement stated that the BLM must erect a gate to block vehicular access to the road, and to complete an "Environmental Impact Statement" (EIS) to outline further allowed use of the road.
This closure order had an appeal period of 90 days. CORVA and the High Desert Multiple Use Coalition appealed the decision in 2001 to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). This appeal was denied, and the only option was to file suit in Federal District court. Unfortunately the funds available for a suit of this nature were low, and there were other pending issues heading towards the courts at the time in California. As a result, the funds for Surprise Canyon were diverted to these other causes and the ability to appeal the closure to Federal Court was lost.
A second chance…
In 2003, two groups of individuals interested in re-opening Surprise Canyon Road purchased two patented millsite claims in the hopes of re-establishing vehicular access to Panamint City via Surprise Canyon Road. In the closure order there was an exemption to owners of private property, allowing them to access their property as had been done in the past. After many requests were submitted by property owners, the BLM did not provide keys to the gate and further required property owners to complete applications for a right-of-way. To date, the applications have gone un-answered as the agencies feel many of the issues they have surrounding the applications will be answered by the findings of the "EIS".
It has been over four years since the start of the EIS process, and a draft of the document is still being prepared. These four years have been an unnecessary delay, and a disservice to the recreating public.
With the support of many off-highway organizations, clubs, and individuals, thru the Friends of Panamint Valley, the property owners have retained an excellent law firm and have been preparing a lawsuit outlining the access issues of the owners, as well as addressing the issue of Surprise Canyon Road being an R.S. 2477 right-of-way established over 130 years ago by Inyo County. The evidence to support an R.S. 2477 claim is substantial and impossible to refute.
According to the recent 10th Circuit decision in Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance vs. BLM, R.S. 2477 determinations can only be made in the courts. A violation of the current closure would be punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. This is why it is necessary to support the efforts of the property owners and support Inyo County joining the pending lawsuit to re-open Surprise Canyon Road.
Help is now needed…
In order to pursue the R.S. 2477 claims, and open the road to the public, it is preferable to have the support of Inyo County. The decision to join a lawsuit is at the discretion of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. You can help by going to the Friends of Panamint Valley website at the following link…http://www.fopv.org/action.html
Using the provided form, send an e-mail to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors urging them to support, and become a party to any legal action pursued to re-open Surprise Canyon Road to the public.
Thank you for your support,
Bryan Lollich, Kris Tholke, and the Friends of Panamint Valley