Inter-Tribal Council, BIA, Commissioners to meet about road transfers

(Lander, WY) – The transfer of 4 county roads located on the Wind River Reservation to the National Tribal Transportation Facility Inventory (NTTFI) was discussed at the Fremont County Commissioners’ meeting this week. This was prompted by the new Wind River Inter-Tribal Council (WRITC) reaffirming their interest in the roads.

In what was at times a heated discussion, the decision was ultimately made to table this until a meeting takes place between the WRITC, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Superintendent, and the Commissioners.

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The transfer of Trout Creek, North Fork, South Fork, and Ethete roads have been a topic of discussion in Commission meetings over the last few months. However, it has been years in the making, according to Commissioner Clarence Thomas, who lives off of one of the roads.

Concerns were raised in the meeting by Fremont County officials including Assessor Tara Berg, as well as a local title insurance company owner Kristin Paulsen.

Those concerns centered around deeded private land and not having a written document that guaranteed access for the lifetime of the road. Without that, it makes the title uninsurable, according to Paulsen. Most companies in the U.S. reportedly require title insurance which protects homebuyers and lenders.

Both Commissioner Thomas and WRITC Transportation Department Director Howard Brown shared they did not believe that was the case. Noting this has happened on many occasions.

“We are not trying to change the status [of the roads],” Brown said. “We just want to be able to maintain those roads.”

The county vacating the roads does change the road status, according to Paulsen.

“If it [transferring roads] is going to be something you want to do, we need to have it correctly written, recorded, in place, or we do affect taxpayers, we do affect landowners,” said Berg.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Superintendent for Wind River Agency Leslie Shakespeare was also in the meeting. He explained if the roads in question were transferred to the NTTFI it does not change the right of away.

“We do have the right of ways recorded at the agency. They may not be a public record because they are owned by the Tribes, but those who do have deeded land can come to the agency and request that information that ensures they have right the away.”

Concerns were also raised by Berg and Paulsen about accessing those records as some of them are privileged information due to Tribal ownership.

Commission Chair Travis Becker floated the idea of a joint venture between the two governments to maintain the roads. Thus avoiding the issue of access.

There was no interest in shared responsibility expressed during this week’s meeting. Citing the county does not have the funds to maintain the roads.

“It’s obvious we’ve got a lot of work to do on this,” Becker continued.

Brown mentioned stakeholders sitting down together and work through the issues so everyone is comfortable.

Commissioner Thomas made the motion to table the discussion until the WRITC, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Superintendent, and the Commissioners could sit down together.

County 10 will keep you updated as this process continues.

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