Landowner seeks dismissal of county's road lawsuit

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The attorney representing Baker County in its lawsuit seeking to force a landowner to open a gated road in the eastern part of the county has filed a motion to extend by one week a deadline to respond to the defendants' motion to dismiss the case.

Larry Sullivan, a Vale attorney, filed the lawsuit on the county's behalf more than two years ago, on Feb. 7, 2019.

On Monday, Aug. 30, Sullivan filed a motion in Baker County Circuit Court seeking to extend, from Sept. 8 to Sept. 15, a deadline for the county to respond to the defendants' motion for summary judgment — in effect, a request to dismiss the case.

The defendants — Timber Canyon Ranch LLC, Kennerly Ranches LLC and Forsea River Ranch LLC — are represented by Charles F. Hudson of Portland.

Hudson, of the Lane Powell firm, filed the motion for summary judgment on Aug. 19.

Sullivan, in his motion seeking an extension to respond, wrote that "The parties have continued settlement discussions since the settlement conference on August 6, 2021, and are making progress. Granting the requested extension will allow the parties to continue to pursue those discussions without spending time and attorney fees on a matter that may prove to be unnecessary. Defendants' attorney does not oppose this motion."

The Aug. 6 settlement conference was closed to the public.

The Baker County Board of Commissioners decided in early 2019 to file the lawsuit.

The debate, though, dates to 2017.

That's when Todd Longgood and the Dennis Omer Hansen Revocable Living Trust bought the property, formerly known as the H Hook Ranch, east of Lookout Mountain, in the upper portion of the Connor Creek drainage.

Although a road that passes through that property, which connects the Connor Creek and Daly Creek roads, had been generally open to the public since the mid 1980s, according to Hudson's Aug. 19 motion, Longgood chose to install a locked gate on the road.

County officials objected to the road closure, and eventually chose to sue.

The county claims in its lawsuit that the road is a historic public route and that, based on a 19th century federal law, can't be closed to public access.

Alternatively, Sullivan argues in an amended version of the lawsuit, four other roads that also pass through the private property could be designated as public rights-of-way.

Hudson, though, in his motion for summary judgment, contends that "The uncontroverted evidence demonstrates that the portion of the road designated by the County as the "Connor Creek Road" that crosses defendants' properties was created by private parties after the land had passed into private ownership."

As a result, Hudson argues, the section of the road through the Longgood property can't be legally designated as a public right-of-way.

The county's case revolves around a resolution that county commissioners approved in 2002.

That resolution was prompted by a different property owner who locked a gate several miles to the east, near the Connor Creek mine along the Connor Creek Road a mile or so from where it starts at the junction of the Snake River Road along Brownlee Reservoir.

The 2002 resolution deems the Connor Creek Road as a public right-of-way.

But although the commissioners' discussion at that time focused on the gate near the Connor Creek mine, the county ended up designating as public a much longer section of road — including the part running through the property Longgood and Hansen bought 15 years later.

Hudson writes in his motion for summary judgment that the county never notified affected landowners about this extension of the public right-of-way, including those who owned the property Longgood and Hansen later bought.

In his response to the lawsuit, Hudson included maps, survey records, property deeds and an easement granted to the Bureau of Land Management to bolster his contention that the gated road at the heart of the lawsuit was built many years after the property was converted from public to private. As a result, Hudson argues, the disputed section of road can't be designated now as a public right-of-way.

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