A group of residents who live near Spearfish is threatening to close Higgins Gulch Road to the public. They allege the Lawrence County Commissioners aren't complying with an easement agreement that promised the county would maintain the road.
The dispute has been brewing for months. Their case will be heard by the commissioners Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. in Deadwood.
Roger Riley privately made an offer to the commission, but not on behalf of residents in the area.
Two other residents claimed they didn't know of Riley's offer.
A letter the group sent to people who use the road is included below.
To all users of Higgins Gulch Road:
THE RESIDENTS OF MILE TWO DO NOT WANT TO LIMIT YOUR ACCESS TO AREAS OF THE NATIONAL FOREST OR STATE LANDS, BUT IF LAWRENCE COUNTY REFUSES TO MAINTAIN THE ROAD AS THE EASEMENT AGREEMENT STATES, WE WILL SEEK REMEDY BY EXPLORING AVENUES TO MAKE THIS SECTION OF THE ROAD PRIVATE.
Higgins Gulch residents of mile two have sought road maintenance help from the US Forest Service (USFS) for the past several years, and to the extent they were able they have been extremely helpful. However, last year the USFS brought it to the attention of the residents of mile two that maintenance of this portion of the road was actually the responsibility of Lawrence County. The USFS produced an easement agreement that clearly states that Lawrence County is responsible for “constructing and maintaining” that portion of the road. Additionally, they pointed out it was currently listed on the counties secondary road system in the state DOT maps. The USFS also said that they did not typically maintain roads through residential areas and that in the easement agreement, their responsibility for maintenance was limited by available funding.
The USFS also did a traffic survey for the first 2.2 miles of Higgins Gulch Road (HGR) from Jun 1, 2019 to Sep 30, 2019. The survey revealed some interesting findings. There are approximately 9,000 traffic movements either turning off of, or onto HGR from Hillsview Road every month. That is roughly three hundred per day in a 24/7 count. On the weekends and during daylight hours, approximately every 2 to 3 minutes, a non HGR resident is using that portion of road to access the USFS or other areas beyond the residential area. Everyone can and does agree that this is a highly used road by many in the community and is enjoyed by hikers, bicyclers, runners, and those wishing to access USFS areas. Again, the residents of mile 2 HGR do not want to limit anyone’s access to these areas.
So, the residents of mile 2 HGR presented this information to the Lawrence County Commissioners in a letter signed by 25 residents and property owners, dated Dec 17, 2019 that requested Lawrence County to start maintenance on mile 2 of HGR. By the time we met with the commissioners at their January meeting, someone had removed mile 2 from the county’s secondary road system. During that meeting, the commissioners gave numerous reasons as to why the county would not maintain this portion of the road. Later, with a little investigation, those reasons were easily refuted or contradict other current Lawrence County road maintenance procedures. The discussion was tabled to the February commission meeting.
Mile two HGR residents met with the commissioners again in February where they strictly focused on the easement agreement filed with Lawrence County, Book 342 Pages 265 and 266. In this document, it clearly states that Lawrence County is responsible for “constructing and maintaining” that portion of the road. An interesting note is that Book 342 Page 269 has the same easement agreement for the first mile of HGR and Lawrence County has been maintaining it for over 25 years, but the commissioners rejected accepting the easement for the second mile. From the Feb 11 minutes: “Deibert noted that there is no resolution passed by the County accepting the portion of Higgins’ Gulch Road under discussion as part of the County highway system, and further no evidence of intent by the County to add the portion of road to its system.” Thus, it appears Lawrence County does not accept the easement agreement nor does it intend to comply with the terms of the easement by “constructing and maintaining” this portion of the road. Additionally, there still remains a county road sign stating “County Maintenance Ends” at the beginning of mile 2 HGR.
So, if Lawrence County is not accepting this easement agreement, what document or easement agreement did the county use to construct and allow public access through the private property? If none can pe produced, then the taking of this private property to construct a road and allow public access was and is a violation of the “due process” clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Not the federal government, the USFS, the state of South Dakota, nor Lawrence County can take private property for public use without due process. It does not matter if the public has been driving on the road for 100 years, the property was taken illegally.
If, however, Lawrence County is going to accept the easement agreement in Book 342, then they need to start maintaining this section of road, and if improvements are needed, again they are responsible for “constructing” them, not the residents or the USFS.
The residents of Lawrence County should not have to take the county to court or upset the entire community by making HGR mile 2 a private road. There is clear documentation that the county is responsible for “constructing and maintaining” mile two of Higgins Gulch Road. As the USFS traffic data suggests, this is not a minimally used road. HGR through sections 12 and 13 should be fully incorporated into the county secondary system and be given the same level of maintenance that the HGR section 7 receives.
Signed: The Residents of Mile Two HGR
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