Lawsuit seeks to halt construction of central Idaho trail

Posted at 2:06 AM, Aug 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-12 04:06:39-04

BOISE, Idaho — Central Idaho ranch owners want construction of a trail connecting the popular tourist destinations of Redfish Lake and Stanley stopped and additional work to make it a smooth path for hikers and bikers prohibited.

Sawtooth Mountain Ranch owners David Boren and Lynn Arnone have been fighting construction of the trail with a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government and on Thursday filed new documents contending the proposed trail violates terms of an easement.

The U.S. Forest Service has a conservation easement deed dating to 2005 that allows a trail 30 feet (9 meters) wide to cross about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of private property.

The lawsuit recognizes that an easement exists but contends it doesn't allow the Forest Service to bring in machinery to create or maintain an improved trail for recreationists.

The lawsuit asks the court to rule that defendants "may not enter and construct, use, or maintain a developed commuter trail through the property." The lawsuit says signs for the trail could be put up on the "unaltered landscape."

The filing follows a federal judge's order in June allowing work on the trail to begin after a ruling that Boren and Arnone failed to show they were likely to succeed on the merits of their arguments. That initial lawsuit filing contended the plan needed additional environmental reviews, and that the proposed path strayed from the easement.

The lawsuit names the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Sawtooth National Recreation Area and others.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which defends federal agencies in lawsuits, didn't immediately respond to an inquiry from The Associated Press on Friday.

Dave Coyner of Quality Asphalt Services has a contract to build the trail. He said Friday that work hasn't started. He said the plan is to start on the north end of the trail near Stanley, a tiny mountain community heavily dependent on tourism. The northern end is where the easement is located through private land as well as some wetland areas that Boren and Arnone contend need additional environmental study.

The Forest Service for years has wanted to build the trail in the rugged, scenic area that attracts thousands of tourists and offers many outdoor recreation activities.

The trail is also part of a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015 creating three new wilderness areas in central Idaho.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho sought support for the wilderness areas for years among local residents, environmentalists and ranchers before finally finding the right mix.

The deal that emerged brought in more than $1.5 million for trail maintenance in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and includes money to build the new trail between Redfish Lake and Stanley.