Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Desert road may be diverted

County seeks public comments on Picabo Desert Road proposal

Express Staff Writer

"The purpose is to go from a public road, across those desert lands to Highway 75. That's what it does today, and, essentially, you would have that same capability."

Dennis Wright, Blaine County commissioner

For Katie Breckenridge and Rob Struthers, who own and operate the B-Bar-B Ranch south of Picabo, a decade-long effort to divert traffic away from their ranch could be drawing to a close.

The Bureau of Land Management in August gave Blaine County an approximately 2-mile-long, 30-foot-wide road right-of-way. If built, a road there would connect the unpaved Picabo Desert Road and Silver Creek Road, southeast of Picabo and the B-Bar-B Ranch.

The section of Picabo Desert Road that currently cuts through the B-Bar-B, and which Breckenridge and Struthers want closed, has apparently enabled some travelers to vandalize ranch property.

Although Blaine County Commissioners have already accepted the right-of-way across BLM land, they will host two public hearings this month to gauge public opinion on the prospect of closing the road through the ranch and building the new one.

The first will be on Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Silver Creek Store in Picabo. The second, where a decision is expected, will be on Monday, Dec. 20 at 4 p.m. at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

The effort to divert traffic away from the ranch has had its ups and downs. At Struthers' request, Blaine County officials made an application to the BLM in 1995 to have a new road created. In April of 2001, after no action had been taken on the application, Struthers took matters into his own hands.

That spring, the BLM and Idaho Department of Fish and Game investigated an illegally made road that appeared suddenly in sage grouse habitat southeast of Picabo.

Not more than a bulldozed swath through the sagebrush, the road was about two miles long and was nearly identical to the right-of-way granted to Blaine County last month. It followed a former two-track road that meandered through the sagebrush.

Struthers was said to have had the new road bladed to divert public traffic off Picabo Desert Road and away from the ranch. Blaine County Commissioner Dennis Wright said in 2001 that Struthers had been working unsuccessfully for years within the established government process to get Picabo Desert Road moved legally, and "he was just frustrated."

The BLM fined Struthers for his actions and rehabilitated the road to its former two-track state, said Tara Hagen, a realty specialist with the BLM's Shoshone Field Office.

But in the end, the BLM decided the disturbed site was the best of five alternatives it examined in an environmental assessment.

Wright said the BLM initially OK'd the new road right-of-way for 12 feet of width. Wright asked for 20, and the county ended up with 30.

"The intention, still, is to maintain a two-track road," Wright said. "But we have to bring it back up to a certain level of structure."

Wright said the existing Picabo Desert Road that bisects the B-Bar-B Ranch is owned by the county, but he pointed out the county does not own the entire track through to state Highway 75. If the county chooses to vacate the road inside the ranch, the property would be given to Breckenridge and Struthers.

"The purpose is to go from a public road, across those desert lands to Highway 75," Wright said. "That's what it does today, and, essentially, you would have that same capability."

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