SUBLETTE COUNTY – The third and final item on the Sublette County Planning and Zoning Commission’s March 18 agenda was to review and sign off on the county’s updated Road and Bridge standards for Class 1 roads.
These are roads that the county department will maintain and have been the subject of many discussions between the Board of County Commissioners, its Road and Bridge Department and Rio Verde Engineering, according to county planner Dennis Fornstrom.
However, no one from those offices attended the meeting, leaving the planning and zoning commission confused about what was different and why. Members there were Pat Burroughs and Chris Lacinak, who are relatively new, chair Blake Greenhalgh and Maike Tan.
The county last adopted official Class 1 road standards in 1977 and revised the eight-page document in 1992. The 2021 25-page version goes into more specific detail and was presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a recommendation of approval so the county commissioners can approve and adopt the updated version.
Fornstrom said many of the 2021 road standards are similar to the previous with some updates for rights of way and other standards “that have been in practice for many years.”
Road and Bridge Supervisor Billy Pape with Rio Verde’s Mike Jackson have worked on the new standards for the past two years, Fornstrom said.
“This is the final step to amend the regulations and updating or improving these regulations to be approved by the county,” he said.
Asked what he thought, Brian Gray of Jorgensen Engineering said the 2021 draft reflects “the way we’re doing things anyway; it’s easier to tell if a road meets (Class 1) standards. …The old regulations are outdated and the update reflects what we have been doing.”
Burroughs asked if the standards would make it easier for a road to come into the county’s Class 1 system “or more difficult?”
“If the road is built to these standards it would be easier,” Fornstrom said. If it is an existing road, it would have to be brought up to the new standards “just like in the past.”
In the past, for example, rights of way were established at 60 feet minimum with the county receiving a perpetual easement or title transfer. The new standards call for 60 feet minimum through private lands and 100 feet minimum through public lands.
People at the meeting discussed former county supervisor Butch Penton’s push for wider rights of way of 80 to 100 feet – which was not always successful. Portions of the county’s last road project – Calpet Road – had 60-foot rights of way. It was realigned with 100 to 120 feet on public land, according to Fornstrom.
Greenhalgh asked, “In the past when the county wanted a new road and Road and Bridge couldn’t get 100 feet, what did they do?”
Sometimes rights of way varied and a road might be narrowed, shortened or added onto with dugways, Fornstrom said.
Lacinak asked what this means for roads such as the one in Hoback Ranches that is partly on Forest Service land.
“Hoback Ranches has been working a decade to bring the road up to Class 1 standards,” he said. “Are we now out of compliance because of this change (from 60 to 100 feet)? They spent a lot of time and money to make this happen. It would be a real blow to go back to square one.”
Would roads like that one need a county variance, Greenhalgh asked.
Fornstrom said exceptions might be possible. The 2021 road standards report does not change his regulations – it is an update, he emphasized.
Burroughs wondered what the commission’s role was to read and approve road standards not all in its purview. As a private citizen, she said her concerns are different than as a zoning commissioner.
“It has to go through Planning and Zoning and to the county commissioners; they’ve been working on it for more than a year,” Fornstrom said. “Our part is to bring up this discussion.”
Lacinak said the new standards “could have real implications for the county. I would really like to have a copy with all the new text identified instead of just guessing.”
“I understand these are very important questions involving a lot of people who have worked on these,” Greenhalgh said.
“Instead of waiting,” he asked if the commission could move it forward.
Hoback Ranches’ residents could attend whichever county commissioners’ meeting it is scheduled for to give comments.
Deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich advised tabling the topic for more information.
The group approved a motion to table it and another asking Fornstrom to bring Road and Bridge in to explain changes and if or how it affects zoning standards. They requested a redline version, which Fornstrom will include in their next April 15 meeting packets.
The 1992 Class 1 county road standards are at https://www.sublettewyo.com/123/Planning-Zoning. The updated 2021 version is available from Dennis Fornstrom’s office at the Sublette County Courthouse.