Hoback Ranches’ owners battle each other over roads


A post-Roosevelt

Fire lawsuit is once again pitting Hoback

Ranches’ property owners against one

another in court over who can use which

roads.

An earlier 2017 lawsuit filed in Ninth District

Court by one homeowner against Hoback

Ranches Special Improvement District,

in part against a road expansion, in an April

30 decision by Judge Marv Tyler that tossed

some arguments and upheld others. That lawsuit

by Bill Winney also saw residents taking

sides and the conflict at times resulted in calls

to the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office.

Years earlier, subdivision residents also

took sides in an internal battle over whether or

not roads should be plowed in winter against

the developer’s and early owners’ original

planning to keep them unopened.

With 55 homes destroyed and dead and

dying trees marking the interior, some owners

are trying to rebuild while others are looking

other short and long-term impacts of the fire.

This time, several owners want to stop a

couple from using Upper Picnic Ridge Road

to bring in materials to rebuild their home that

burned down in last fall’s devastating wildfire,

according to Ninth District Court records.

Records indicate the couple has used this

road to access their property since 2011 and

brought materials in to build their first home,

destroyed the same month it was completed.

Embattled

Documents filed in court include an undated

email from Sheriff KC Lehr, who refers

to “the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing”

– regarding the lawsuit filed by six residents

against the couple on June 1. Its goal is a permanent

injunction prohibiting the couple from

ever using the road again, records show.

The preliminary injunction motion hearing

set for Tuesday, July 16, was continued to

Thursday, July 31, at 1 p.m. in Ninth District

Court.

In the email, Lehr said that the court should

decide whether or not Upper Picnic Ridge

Road is private – not county officials.

“After several of us reviewed these, in

depth, the notes indicated that the road is dedicated

to the use of the owners within Hoback

Ranches,” Lehr wrote. “Therefore we have

advised and maintained that Upper Picnic

Ridge not be shut off or restricted to access.”

Property owners were sent a letter that

“neither the County Attorney’s Office nor the

Sheriff’s Office would provide an ‘opinion’

regarding the status of the road. That is now

for the courts to interpret. Whatever that decision

may be is what we will enforce going

forward.”

His “biggest concern,” the sheriff added,

“is for the safety of everyone in the Hoback

Ranches.

“We have already taken threatening calls,

reports of vandalism, property destruction and

we are now being asked to be present during

(post-fire) meetings as individuals are truly

fearful.”

He expressed serious concerns that after

Judge Tyler’s ruling on this upcoming motion

hearing, “tensions could become even more

heated as this has the potential to impact more

than just those living on Upper Picnic Ridge

Road.”

“Regardless of the outcome,” Lehr wrote,

“we have to follow the direction of the courts,

all the while trying to maintain the peace for

everyone involved. If a crime is committed,

we will investigate and take the appropriate

action.”

Upper Picnic Ridge Road

On June 1, Andrew Wheeler, Elaine Burgess,

David Nemetz, Mary Nemetz, Gary

Zunino and Valerie Zunino filed their civil

complaint in Ninth District Court. It seeks to

“permanently” prevent Bradley Eves and Nanette

“Nikki” Cowley from using Upper Picnic

Ridge Road to access their property and

for now, from rebuilding their home.

“Upper Picnic Ridge Road is a private

road that was built by and maintained by the

plaintiffs and their predecessors,” the motion

states. “An easement agreement provides a

right of way … to the owners of Tract Numbers

10, 11, 17, 18” – and Eves and Cowley

own Tract Number 13, it adds.

“(Eves and Cowley’s) house was burned

in the 2018 fire. (They) have indicated they

plan to bring in logging trucks and equipment

to remove dead timber from the property …

in the early summer of 2019. (They) have

further indicated that they intend to build a

new house on the property which would entail

heavy cement trucks, delivery trucks and

building equipment accessing the property.”

That use “would cause extensive damage

to Upper Picnic Ridge Road, especially any

time the road is wet from snow, rain or snowmelt,”

it says.

However, they were willing to allow Eves

and Cowley to use the road during the civil

action “for only light vehicles and half-ton

pickup trucks and no trailers, heavy trucks,

heavy equipment, loaders, dozers, logging

trucks, logging equipment, delivery trucks,

cement trucks, building equipment, etc.”

In the June 11 preliminary injunction motion,

the six stated they “seek a permanent

injunction which will completely prohibit the

defendants from using Upper Picnic Ridge

Road.”

On July 1, District Judge Marv Tyler imposed

a temporary restraining order against

Eves and Cowley “to maintain the status quo”

and “prevent (them) from damaging the road”

until the preliminary injunction motion hearing,

now on July 31 at 1 p.m.

“Defendants may use Upper Picnic Ridge

Road for ingress and egress to their property

in regular passenger vehicles without heavy

loads,” it states. He also ordered them to not

cut or take down any trees standing on (the

other owners’) properties.

Judge Tyler ordered those suing to post a

$10,000 security bond for any potential damages

caused to the couple by the temporary

restraining order or if “the injunction was

wrongfully entered.”

Other side of the story

On July 3, Eves responded that they do use

Upper Picnic Ridge Road to access their property

and believe they have “legal and lawful

access to the property via Upper Picnic Ridge

Road.”

In an affidavit filed 10 days later, Eves

provided history of buying the 20-acre property

in 2011, with the physical address of 118

Upper Picnic Ridge Road.

“Since purchasing the property in 2011,

Nanette Cowley and I have accessed the

property via Upper Picnic Ridge Road. David

Nemetz and Gary Zunino have both told me

in the past the Upper Picnic Ridge Road was

a public road but that it stopped being a public

road merely because (Hoback Ranches’ SID)

had quit maintaining it.”

The couple started building their home in

the summer of 2017 and completed it in September

2018, he said. “Unfortunately, shortly

after completion, our home was destroyed in

the Roosevelt Fire that occurred in September

2018.”

Eves said that to his knowledge, no road

damage resulted from them building their

home the first time and with their property at

the road’s end, “we have every incentive to

ensure that the road is maintained.”

They started rebuilding last month with

at least two cement trucks and dump trucks

‘when the road was dry. … Because of the

temporary restraining order, we have ceased

all construction activity.”

Vista Ridge Lane

Previously, homeowners Bill Winney

and his wife Louise (whose name was later

dropped) filed a complaint against contractor

and next-door neighbor Troy Jerup and

Hoback Ranches SID for widening a subdivision

road, Vista Ridge Lane, that they felt

encroached on their property easement, according

to court records.

The complaint argued that the subdivision’s

board violated covenants by widening

the road onto their property; Winney installed

wooden posts set in concrete to mark 33 feet

from Vista Ridge Lane’s centerline as if it was

a 66-foot-wide road.

Also Jerup was paid for the construction

work, and Winney argued that commercial

operations are prohibited in Hoback Ranches.

The district’s board argued the reverse –

that Winney encroached on and impeded the

use of the road’s easement. Jerup was using

his equipment to do roadwork for the SID, according

to the board.

Each party requested summary judgments

– settlement decisions from the bench without

going to trial. However, a trial could come

about for the unanswered questions if desired.

Judge Marv Tyler’s April 30 decision addressed

numerous elements of summary judgment

motions, denying some and upholding

others. He wrote, “(Winney has) unreasonably

interfered with the dominant owners’

rights in and their use of the Vista Ridge Lane

easement.”

He ordered Winney to remove the wooden

posts set in concrete and restraining him “from

any other unreasonable interference with (the

subdivision’s) use of the Vista Ridge Lane

easement.”

However, Judge Tyler also concluded that

if Jerup and Hoback Ranches’ SID wanted

“quiet title” claim to the easement, “genuine

controverted material factual issues abound

and will be preserved for trial.” Likewise, the

issue of Jerup’s alleged commercial activities

is “entirely fact-driven and will be preserved

for trial.”

In the decision, the judge asked Hoback

Ranches’ counsel to prepare the order consistent

with his findings and conclusions and

another showing Winney and the SID agree

he has no viable claims for trespass.

On July 19, Hoback Ranches filed a motion

asking the judge “for an order correcting

a portion of the decision … with respect to the

designation of Visa Ridge Lane.” It asks that

the road be designated “as a private road easement

in Hoback Ranches based on the covenants

and not the plats, and that Vista Ridge

Lane is not maintained by HRISD.”

The district states that Jerup for himself

and neighbors “currently performs maintenance,

repair and snowplowing of Vista

Ridge Lane at his own expense.”

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