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In 1993, Bruce Tobias and Carol and Robert Flynn bought 27 acres of undeveloped land beyond Poco Diablo Resort.

Aside from a few horse trails, 24 years later it still sits vacant. That may soon change as the U.S. Forest Service is in the midst of an environmental assessment that would allow access to that land
through one of three proposed alternatives.

About 25 people turned out on Tuesday, Aug. 29, on the Yavapai College campus to discuss the longstanding matter. The Coconino National Forest proposes to allow construction, operation and maintenance of an access road by issuance of an easement to the Tobias-Flynn private land parcel located within national forest land.

It was pointed out several times during the meeting that the federal government is only required to grant an easement on U.S. Forest Service land and conduct the appropriate environmental studies.

According to USFS’ Judy Adams, a large part of those studies have been prepared by consultants paid for by the land owners and overseen and approved by forest staff to ensure the requirements are met and the process is followed.

In the end, access to the property will be paid for and maintained by Tobias and the Flynns.

“There are a few different alternatives and the picture’s not real clear yet for us so it’s important to hear the different perspectives,” said Nicole Branton, district ranger for the Red Rock Ranger District.

A USFS document states that when Tobias and the Flynns acquired the property, they contacted the Forest Service to inquire about obtaining access to their land. The parcel owners were advised that they should first try to obtain access over the private property to the east of their parcel.

The parcel owners attempted to negotiate for access through nonfederal land to the parcel several times over the years. When negotiations failed, the parcel owners sued to condemn a private way of necessity in Coconino County Superior Court. The state court denied the parcel owners motion for failing to carry their burden of proving reasonable necessity for the easement because the parcel owners might obtain access over National Forest land.

Subsequently, the report states Tobias and the Flynns filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. In 2002, the court issued in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that an easement by necessity exists. 

Since that time, the owners and the Forest Service have been considering possible locations for the road access. The Forest Service accepted an application for a location from Oak Creek Cliffs Drive crossing Oak Creek to the private property, the document states.

The property in question was part of a land swap in 1968 between the Forest Service and CO Bar Livestock Company. Because it was originally federal land, the court said the USFS was still responsible for providing an easement to the property.

When the land was purchased, it was already landlocked by U.S. Forest Service land and the Oak Creek Cliffs subdivision.

“We offered to help them build a new bridge, a new road; we offered a compromise on density and monetary assistance with their wastewater system,” Tobias told the Sedona Red Rock News in 2008. “The residents of the subdivision remained focused on the fact that they didn’t have to sell us an easement.”

The USFS is proposing three access alternatives. They are:

  • A road approximately 0.85 miles to the property that would start from Oak Creek Cliffs Drive. The route would include a two-lane, 24-foot-wide bridge approximately 450 feet long and 60 feet high that would cross Oak Creek just above the upper end of the swimming hole, and cross one ephemeral natural drainage tributary to Oak Creek. [By comparison, Midgley Bridge is 375 feet long.]
  • A road approximately a halfmile to the subject property. It would cross Oak Creek upstream from the above alternative and cross one ephemeral natural drainage tributary to Oak Creek. A 24-foot-wide bridge approximately 650 feet long and 80 feet high would cross Oak Creek downstream from another informal swimming hole.
  • An access road, 1.4 miles long plus 1,850 feet of reconstructed Chavez Ranch Road, to the private property starting from the Chavez Ranch Road. It would cross a total of approximately nine small ephemeral natural drainages and washes that are tributary to Oak Creek.

The USFS is accepting public input on the project proposals until Monday, Sept. 18. After gathering input and additional data, the USFS will make the final determination on the alternative routes.

Even though it was a rough estimate, it was stated at the meeting that if all goes as planned, the property owners could begin construction within the next 18 to 24 months.

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