POCATELLO -- An Arimo ranching couple says they will soon lose access to feed some of their livestock, following a district judge's decision Monday afternoon to allow the county to go forward with a road-use restriction.
Effective Feb. 11, Sixth District Judge Robert Naftz said he will dissolve the temporary restraining order he issued in late January on behalf of ranchers Sherrilyn and Dennis Munden, blocking enforcement of a road access restriction included in a new county ordinance.
The ordinance, approved in January, specifies that a 2-mile stretch of Garden Creek Road the Munden's have used to haul feed to bulls, steers and horses is part of a designated snowmobiling route and is closed to other forms of traffic.
Naftz rejected arguments by the Mundens and their Idaho Falls attorney, Nathan Olsen, that the restriction would cause their ranch "irreparable harm."
But he also ruled that the Mundens should be allowed to proceed with their civil case challenging the legitimacy of the county ordinance. The Mundens are seeking damages yet to be determined for lost property value and inflated business expenses associated with the county's restrictive easement.
Olsen said the Mundens received an $800,000 business loan based on their ability to access their entire property, and they're at risk of defaulting if they can't operate as they intended. They've built their cattle loading and calving facilities along Garden Creek Road and had planned to move their mother cows there soon to give birth.
"This ordinance is the most Draconian thing I've ever seen -- basically, it's a $1,000 fine and potential jail time if you're caught riding anything but a snowmobile," Olsen said.
Neighbors of the Mundens say they have long used the unimproved road as the shorter of two access routes to their property, traveling by snowmobile to a lot where they park their automobiles. However, tractor ruts made when the Mundens deliver feed have made the stretch of road impassable by snowmobile, they argue. One of their neighbors alleged the Mundens didn't abide by the travel restriction even before Naftz issued the restraining order.
Blake Hall, the attorney representing the county, argued the Mundens are victims of a "self-created problem." Hall reasoned they knew that the road wasn't maintained during winter and that winter travel was restricted to snowmobiles long before they brought in cattle along Garden Creek Road.
He said the new county ordinance is merely an amendment of a 2006 ordinance. The sole significant change, he said, is that the new ordinance replaces specific dates when roads close for snowmobiles with language specifying closures are based on weather conditions.
Olsen, however, argued the language in the 2006 ordinance is vague and makes no specific mention of Garden Creek Road being part of the snowmobile closures. While the recent ordinance includes a map of closures encompassing Garden Creek Road, the roadway was never added to a Forest Service map of snowmobiling routes.
"It didn't exist," Olsen said. "It wasn't part of the ordinance."
Sherrilyn Munden, who bought the ranch with her husband in 2012, said the prior property owner had no knowledge of the snowmobiling restriction, and she first learned of it from a letter the County Commission sent her in December 2017. In response to a public information request she filed based on the letter, the county was unable to provide any evidence that it ever sent notice to landowners in 2006 about adding a restrictive easement on the roadway.
"Those are eminent domain issues -- the condemnation of property where you're entitled to compensation under the law," Olsen said.
According to Hall, the Mundens erred when they chose to locate their calving facilities along an unmaintained roadway, even after hearing from the county that access was restricted. He advised the ranchers, who still maintain their permanent residence in Bountiful, Utah, and are building a home on their Arimo property, to keep their livestock only on pasture accessible by maintained roadways.
Should they need to use the pasture along Garden Creek Road, Hall suggests that they start with a sufficient supply of hay in that area to last them several months.