In a decision that will help preserve the scenic beauty in one of the most visited national parks in America, a federal appeals court in California has upheld a ruling that a land developer does not have the right to build new roads through Yosemite National Park to connect its property to a state highway.
The company, Hazel Green Ranch, LLC, sued the National Park Service in federal court in 2007, claiming the right to construct roads over two historic routes leading into Yosemite Valley. Hazel Green claimed its road building rights under a nineteenth-century mining law known as Revised Statute 2477 and, after that legal theory was dismissed, based on state law easement rights. The developer wanted the roads to provide easier access for a private resort it hoped to build on an 83-acre parcel along the western boundary of Yosemite National Park.
“The giant sequoias and other magnificent resources in Yosemite National Park will remain protected for now, and hopefully, forever, now that the court has rejected this brazen attempt to bulldoze two roads through the park for private gain,” said George Torgun, an attorney for the public interest law firm Earthjustice.
Earthjustice represented the environmental groups Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, who joined the National Park Service in defending the lawsuit.
In the ruling, a panel of judges from the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a 2010 decision by a district court denying the land owner’s claims that various road easements still existed. The appeals court ruled that when the local Mariposa County abandoned the roads, Hazel Green lost its claim to easement rights as a landowner abutting a public road, and it rejected as unsupported Hazel Green’s claims to an implied easement by use and an easement by necessity.
“This decision has been a long time coming, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Joe Fontaine of the Sierra Club. “This old law RS2477 has been a big issue across the West, and we’re glad to see a court finally call a halt to builders who try to put roads where they don’t belong.”
“Thanks to Earthjustice, we have a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court that protects Yosemite, a World Heritage Site and one of our nation’s and California’s crown jewel national parks,” said Johanna Wald, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The millions of people who visit Yosemite every year are witness of its incredible and unmatched natural beauty that should be protected for generations to come.”