Proceedings, Debates of the U.S. Congress
INTRODUCTION OF BILL DEALING WITH CLAIMS FOR RIGHTS-OF-WAY UNDER R.S. 2477
(Extensions of Remarks - April 03, 2003)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E671-E672] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] INTRODUCTION OF BILL DEALING WITH CLAIMS FOR RIGHTS-OF-WAY UNDER R.S. 2477 ______ HON. MARK UDALL of colorado in the house of representatives Thursday, April 3, 2003 Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I am today introducing a bill to establish a process for orderly resolution of one of the most important problems associated with management of the Federal lands--claims for rights-of-way under a provision of the Mining Law of 1866. That provision was later embodied in section 2477 of the Revised Statutes, and so is usually called R.S. 2477. It granted rights-of-way for the construction of highways across Federal lands not reserved for public uses. It was one of many 19th-century laws that assisted in the opening of the West for resource development and settlement. More than a century after its enactment, R.S. 2477 was repealed by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, often called ``FLPMA,'' and was replaced with a modern and comprehensive process for establishing rights-of-way on Federal lands. However, FLPMA did not revoke valid existing rights established under R.S. 2477--and, unfortunately, it also did not set a deadline for people claiming to have such rights to file their claims. As a result, there is literally no way of knowing how many such claims might be filed or what Federal lands--or even lands that once were Federal but now belong to other owners--might be subject to such claims. But I have no doubt that potential claims under R.S. 2477 could involve thousands of square miles of Federal lands, not to mention lands that now are private property or belong to the states or other entities. This is obviously a serious problem. It also is the way things used to be with regard to another kind of claim on Federal lands--mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872. However, that problem was resolved by section 314 of FLPMA, which gave people 3 years to record those claims and provided that any claim not recorded by the deadline would be deemed to have been abandoned. The courts have upheld that approach. I think it should have been applied to R.S. 2477 claims as well. If it had been, R.S. 2477 would be a subject for historians, not a headache for our land managers or a nightmare for private property owners. I think that now, finally--more than a quarter of a century since it was repealed--the time has come to let R.S. 2477 sleep in peace. And that is the purpose of the bill I am introducing today. My bill is based on legislation proposed by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in 1997, but is somewhat broader because it would apply not just to States or their political subdivisions with R.S. 2477 claims, but also to those individuals now able to assert such claims. It follows the sound example of FLPMA by providing that any R.S. 2477 claim not filed with the government within 4 years will be considered abandoned. I think this is more than reasonable, because those interested in claiming rights-of-way under R.S. 2477 already have had ample time to decide whether they want to file a claim. The bill also recognizes that as things stand now, R.S. 2477 claims are a potential threat to the National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, units of the National Trails and National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems, designated wilderness areas, and wilderness study areas as well as to lands that the United States has sold or otherwise transferred to other owners. It specifically addresses this threat by providing that any claim for such lands will be considered to have been abandoned when the lands were designated for conservation-purpose management or when they were transferred out of federal ownership unless a claimant can establish by clear and convincing evidence that there was a well-established right-of-way whose use for highway purposes was intended to be allowed to continue. The bill also spells out what information must be included in a claim, how claims are to be considered administratively, and the rules for judicial review of administrative decisions about the validity of R.S. 2477 claims. Mr. Speaker, this is a fair, balanced bill. It gives claimants under R.S. 2477 ample opportunity to come forward and seek to have their claims upheld, with an opportunity to seek ultimate redress from the courts if necessary. At the same time, it gives the American people-- the owners of the Federal lands--and private property owners assurance that the time will come when they will know what they own, without having to worry about new R.S. 2477 claims being made against their lands. In my opinion, such legislation is long overdue, and deserves the support of every Member of Congress. For the information of our colleagues, I am attaching a brief outline of the main provisions of the bill. Outline of R.S. 2477 Rights-of-Way Act of 2003 The bill is based on a legislative proposal sent to Congress by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in 1997. Here is a section-by-section outline of its provisions: Section 1 provides a short title, has findings about the bill's background, and states its purpose of setting a deadline for filing claims and specifying how claims will be handled. Section 2 defines key terms used in the bill. Section 3 deals with the filing of claims for rights-of-way based on R.S. 2477: Subsection (a) sets a deadline of 4 years after enactment for filing. Subsection (b) specifies where claims must be filed: in the state or regional office of a federal agency responsible for management of claimed Federal lands; with the commanding officer of a military installation subject to a claim; or with the Bureau of Land Management if the claimed lands are no longer in Federal ownership. Subsection (c) provides that claims not filed by the deadline shall be deemed abandoned--this parallels Section 314 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, which required recordation of unpatented mining claims. A claimant would have 3 years to file a lawsuit challenging the effect of this provision on a claim. Subsection (d) provides for coordination among federal agencies. Subsection (e) provides that R.S. 2477 claims by non- Federal parties can only be validated in accordance with the process established by the bill. Section 4 provides procedures for handling R.S. 2477 claims: Subsection (a) specifies that claimants have the burden of proof and that claims for [[Page E672]] lands in conservation, wilderness study, or inventoried roadless areas or for lands not owned by the Federal government are presumed to have been abandoned unless a claimant can show that continued use of a right-of-way for highway purposes was clearly intended to continue after conservation designation or transfer of title by the United States. Subsection (b) specifies what information must be included in a filing by a claimant. Subsection (c) specifies procedures for review of claims by federal officials. Subsection (d) requires reviewing officials to consult regarding pending claims. Subsection (e) provides for issuance of a draft decision about a claim's validity, followed by a period of public comment Subsection (f) provides for issuance of a final decision on a claim within one year after release of the draft decision. Subsection (g) requires a lawsuit challenging a final agency decision on a claim to be filed within 3 years after the decision and limits judicial review to review of the administrative record. It also provides that the Federal Government can decide to purchase a right-of-way that a court determines belongs to another party. Subsection (h) requires a successful claimant to file information about the right-of-way with BLM and the relevant State within 5 years, and specifies that a failure to do so will constitute abandonment of the right-of-way. Subsection (i) provides that the Federal government can choose to purchase a right-of-way determined to belong to another party. Section 5 specifies that administrative decisions about claims are to be based on federal law and state laws that are consistent with federal law. It also provides that prior adjudications of R.S. 2477 rights-of-way are to be recognized. Section 6 provides that nothing in the bill will affect provisions of FLPMA or the Alaska Lands Act related to rights-of-way. ____________________