Sep 30, 2015

County planning to abandon remote South Fork road

Park County commissioners intend to stop maintaining a South Fork road that serves only a couple residences.

Commissioners are primarily looking to vacate Road 6JM to avoid having to replace an old and outdated bridge that spans the South Fork of the Shoshone River along the road.

The Park County Engineer’s Office — which figures only about 14 vehicles cross “Bridge FII” each day — has estimated that replacing the structure would cost the county between $1 and $1.3 million.

Noting that the low-traffic road mostly accesses one piece of property, “it would seem reasonable to assume that the majority of the general public probably would see the cost of replacing that bridge as unjustifiable, in my opinion,” assistant county engineer Jeremy Quist said at the commission’s Aug. 18 meeting.

If this bridge remains open to the public, the county says it will likely have to replace it at a cost of more than $1 million. Photo courtesy Park County

It’s up to commissioners to decide whether it’s in the public’s interest to vacate the road.

Road 6JM — about 20 miles out of Cody — winds north of the South Fork Highway (Road 6WX). It primarily serves the TE Ranch, but also provides access for several irrigation ditch users and it connects with a private road that leads to Hawks Hill Ranch. It also reaches a 162-acre “island” of state-owned land, where the TE Ranch grazes livestock.

Park County has never formally established 6JM as a county road and doesn’t claim ownership of it or the bridge, Quist said in an interview.

The county stopped maintaining parts of the road beyond the bridge in 2001, saying the structure wasn’t able to carry a county motor grader.

TE Ranch’s owners objected when the county cut back the maintenance and has some qualms about the county’s plan to now abandon the entirety of Road 6JM.

“TE Ranch Limited Partnership understands that public funding is tight and that Bridge FII has been given a low priority,” owners Charles Duncan III and Mary Anne Dingus wrote to the commission last month. “However, Bridge FII still serves a crucial function for the TE Ranch’s ongoing business, private homes and Castle Rock Ditch users in Park County. These are taxpaying entities that contribute to the economy.”

In spite of that, Duncan and Dingus said they would be OK with taking on the responsibility for the bridge and road if the county agrees to also abandon some old, undeveloped road easements that cross the ranch.

“Bridge FII still serves a crucial function for the TE Ranch’s ongoing business, private homes and Castle Rock Ditch users in Park County,” said the TE Ranch's owners.

Quist said the county would likely have to close or replace Bridge FII if it remains open to the public, but if it switches to private access, the TE Ranch would “have more freedom to rehabilitate the bridge than the county would.”

In 1990s, county commissioners had explored the idea of connecting Road 6JM with Road 6NS, which lies a couple miles to the northeast. That connection would have effectively created an alternate route up the South Fork, but the county was never able to get agreement from all the landowners.

Public comments on the county vacating Road 6JM are due by noon Monday. The county will consider any claims for damages at their Tuesday meeting.

The location of Bridge FII.

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