Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Custer County road dispute ends in settlement

The U.S. Department of Justice and the BLM have reached a settlement with Custer County over a remote mountain road that county officials had threatened to use a front-end loader to reopen, the AP reports. The BLM had closed the road in 1999; the dispute escalated this past spring when county Commission Chairman Wayne Butts threatened to haul away a regional BLM official in "pretty pink handcuffs" if he dared to show up to stop the county's road-reopening efforts; Herd Creek Road is in the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study Area, where no motor vehicles are permitted. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller and the Idaho Falls Post Register; in it, U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson praises all sides for reaching the settlement.

Feds, Idaho county agree to settle road lawsuit
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The federal government said Friday it's reached a pact with a central Idaho county, helping defuse what had been a tense standoff this spring when local officials threatened to use a frontend loader to re-open a remote mountain road closed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Department of Justice and BLM announced Friday that Custer County agreed to refrain from unilateral actions on federal land without agreement with the federal government.

The dispute escalated in April, when one county official threatened to haul off a BLM manager in "pretty pink handcuffs" if he tried to stop locals from opening the road near the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study Area.

The agency had closed the road in 1999, to the chagrin of locals who complained they were being unfairly barred from accessing beloved recreation ground with their motorized vehicles.

Ultimately, however, a physical confrontation was avoided and the frontend loader parked when a judge ordered county officials to stand down.

"I commend the cooperation shown by Custer County and our federal land management agencies in reaching this settlement," said Wendy J. Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, in a statement. "Under this settlement, the BLM and the Forest Service can continue to manage and protect our public resources in a way that benefits all Idahoans, indeed the entire country."

Custer County in mid-April sent heavy machinery to Herd Creek Road in what was a scenario reminiscent of the "shovel-brigade" road conflict of the 1990s near Jarbidge, Nev., that became symbolic of western residents' animosity toward the federal government.

Officials steering the equipment went with the intention of removing boulders that had been placed there by the BLM more than a decade earlier to protect values in the Jerry Peak Wilderness Study area, where no motorized vehicles are allowed.

County officials argued they hadn't been properly consulted before the route was shuttered.

The boulder-removal action was called off around April 16, however, after U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a restraining order against the county to bar it from firing up the earth-moving equipment and acting on federal land without federal consent.

Friday's pact emerged from talks that started in August, when the two sides agreed to settle their differences in the negotiating room, not with diesel-powered construction equipment in Idaho's remote backcountry.

Custer County Commission Chairman Wayne Butts, a colorful local politician who counts himself among locals in this mountainous region who chafe at federal control of about 97 percent of county territory, threatened in April to haul away a regional BLM official in "pretty pink handcuffs" if he dared show up to stop the boulder removal.

Butts didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Friday, after the agreement had been announced.


Information from: Post Register,

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

Follow Betsy online: