Commissioners hash out easement requests

By Lisa Phelps
Posted 5/14/24

WHEATLAND – Opinions and accusations were flying, but the jury is still out on the path that should be taken as the Platte County Commissioners decided whether to abandon or move easements in …

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Commissioners hash out easement requests


WHEATLAND – Opinions and accusations were flying, but the jury is still out on the path that should be taken as the Platte County Commissioners decided whether to abandon or move easements in two separate requests by landowners.

At question is whether or not the county should vacate easements even when they cannot provide services or keep the easements for future use and in some situations, public access. Also discussed by commissioners is if they should draft a guiding policy to clarify the stance of the board as to whether abandoning easements will be allowed or give a blanket “no” on all requests for abandoning easements.

After determining there will still be legal access to the landowner parcels involved, the board did take action to approve an application to vacate the southern half of an existing easement on County Road 182 near Deer Creek Road where it terminates at a residence. The vacated portion currently has no existing established road.

The second request was denied by the commissioners. The request by landowners had two parts: to vacate the existing remainder of County Road 110A at the end of Antelope Gap Road, and to change its route to follow a two-track road that turns north to access communications towers on lands owned by the requestors. (A large portion of 110A was previously vacated in 1982.)

“I’m not interested in trying to re-establish a road, because then they want us to maintain it.” commisioner Ian Jolovich said, adding later, “I think it’s a big mistake to alter county road easements without a road.”

“Those easements are where we don’t have a county road, we should abandon them,” commissioner chairman Steve Shockley said.

Jolovich disagreed. “Then you bind future commissions. I’d kind of like to see direction from the county. Easements are useful for things other than roads. It affects access to property. I’d like to see clear direction.”

“I’m upset with you guys for closing it. I think you made a mistake,” neighboring landowner Lee Johnson said about the commission’s vote to vacate the CR182 easement. He said he wanted to be able to trail cattle across the (now former) easement, but now he said he won’t be able to do that.

The next conversation brought up by chairman Shockley was to discuss easements involving private property, county roads and the railroad tracks.
Doug Dunlap agreed to give the county an easement to tie the existing East Johnson Road to the county’s Old Yellowstone Highway that is utilized by local residents for access along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad easement.

“Basically, the WY320 easement ends from where it touches Dunlap’s own property under the railroad. He signed to let us [establish public access across the railroad tracks,] Shockley said in his introduction of the subject.

However, the railroad company does not want to cooperate in establishing a crossing open to the public. Shockley said the landowners looked into officially establishing a private crossing, but it was too expensive.

“It’s something to talk about: we have easements, but no road. There is already an existing route to get to the road there. We have this legal easement, except the railroad is in the middle,” Shockley said.

Ervin said this discussion is about a different situation than the petitions voted on concerning county roads 182 and 110A earlier in the meeting. “If you vacate without an existing road, that is different,” he said.

A meeting last Monday with railroad representatives that took 18 months to finally wrangle BNSF into participating in, did not bring much resolution.

Though the land is clearly owned by Dunlap, the railroad is not wanting to allow the county to use the easement granted them to connect two existing roads, which would provide practical access to three residences. Currently those residents have legal, and practical, access, but their practical access does not currently follow their legal access, Ervin explained.

“They want us to give up another public crossing to add this one, and we don’t have even one crossing we can give up, so we’re pretty much at a standstill,” Commissioner Kayla Mantle said at the commissioner’s meeting.

When discussing trying to connect the two roads with the easement, Jolovich and chairman Shockley aired their disagreements.

“[Johnson] left because …of this BS we get into. I feel the way you guys are handling it, I want to correct. I say 15 (#$!) times, I’m not interested in developing a county road…We need to be more consistent,” Jolovich said, referring to the action taken earlier to vacate the easement on CR182 and denying the change in the CR110 easement, and comparing that to the request Shockley brought up for consideration of developing a road – be it a small section or not. 

Shockley responded, there was access to a county road on the doorstep of the landowner by CR182, but “These don’t. Three properties don’t have access to a road.”

He added the property can’t be sold without access.

“You vehemently say no new county road, now you want it?” Jolovich questioned. “We say 100 times, ‘it’s your homework (to find out if there is access to your property) – not my problem…In the future I do not want to do any of this horsetrading. It’s too risky to trade one and try to see into the future.”

Shockley said he used to think the same way - that the county shouldn’t lose the control of land by giving up easements - until there were many people demanding the county maintain a county road to their easements.

“I think it’s easy to say we don’t have the money for it. I do not want to get into horsetrading. [the easements are] valuable. If you think they aren’t, you’re not thinking,” Jolovich said. “My guidance is, if it’s not a county road, it will not be one.”

“I’ll take it a step further – if there is no county road, why [should there be] an easement?” Shockley replied.

Jolovich said, “If people buy land without doing their homework (no access or they’re not able to get insurance), it’s not my problem. I’d like us to clarify (maybe make a resolution), if it’s not a county road, it won’t be one unless something happens.”

No action was taken at the meeting on this suggestion.

Shockley brought the conversation back to the situation concerning access across the railroad tracks, “So if the railroad blocks access, what could you do? Then… you can’t cross, you have to go all the way to Uva.”

Mantle emphasized, there would be legal access, just not practical access.

All commissioners came back into agreement with each other when it was brought up someone had cut the fence by the easement in question, and cattle got out of their pastures. They each condemned such actions. More productive conversation followed as the commission discussed the pros, cons and legalities of the situation.

County Attorney Doug Weaver said as far as the railroad’s right to prohibit them from creating the crossing across the tracks on the easement they have, it matters who actually had claim to the land first. In 1886 the railroad had an easement, but “easement” also means you don’t own the property.

The debate continued but was not resolved before the meeting was adjourned just before Noon on Tuesday.