ELKO, Nev. (AP) — Elko County’s legal bills have climbed past $250,000 with no end in sight in a 16-year-old court battle with environmentalists and the U.S. government over control of a remote Forest Service road near the Idaho line.
Assistant District Attorney Kristen McQueary doesn’t expect a judge to make a ruling before the end of the year on conservationists’ latest attempt to throw out a settlement agreement between the county and the Forest Service.
She also anticipates the case eventually will again return to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The Wilderness Society and others say the federal agency has no authority to cede control of the road that runs along the Jarbidge River, home of the threatened bull trout.
The appellate court twice has struck down previous versions of the agreement. The parties spent two weeks in federal court in Reno this month gathering additional testimony before U.S. District Judge Miranda Du, and pouring over thousands of pages documents.
“By the time the judge goes through an enormous amount of information, I would be surprised if we had a decision by the end of the year,” McQueary told county officials last week. “But that all depends on when the transcript comes.”
“In all likelihood, however it turns out, the side that is unhappy will appeal to the 9th Circuit,” McQueary said. “This is just a step on the way.”
Elko County officials maintain the South Canyon Road belongs to them based on claims it existed before the national forest was created more than a century ago.
Lawyers for environmental groups say there’s no record of any road along the Jarbidge River before the area near the Idaho line was placed in reserve in 1905 and formally designated part of the Humboldt National Forest by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1909.
McQueary said last year the case was “by far the most man-hour intensive case” she’d ever seen in her nearly 20 years in the county’s civil division. But she had no estimate at that time on the cost.
A public records request by the Elko Daily Free Press (http://tinyurl.com/lr3bkq2 ) put the total as of last week at about $251,000.
Assistant County Manager Cash Minor said that doesn’t include a host of expenses from the latest two-week hearing, including attorney fees and payments for expert witnesses, as well as travel and lodging reimbursement.
McQueary said more is at stake than just the legal ownership of the road.
“The case is important for the precedent it sets for the West,” she said.