SALT LAKE CITY, UT
- In a huge win for public recreational rights, the Utah Supreme Court today affirmed the 4th District Court's 2015 ruling that the Weber River was used for commerce prior to statehood, and that the evidence of this use was "sufficient to establish navigability of the river where it crosses the property at issue in this case." In so doing, the Court affirmed that the river's beds and banks "where it crosses the property at issue in this case" should be open to lawful public use.
The opinion by the USC represents the culmination of a six and one-half year legal battle brought by the Utah Stream Access Coalition (USAC) against landowners on the Weber River who sought to effectively privatize under the auspices of the ironically-named "Public Waters Access Act" of 2010 (also know as "HB141"), a river that had been used as a "highway of commerce" by the Utah Pioneers. By asking state and local law enforcement to enforce the Act and by posting no trespassing signs on the riverbank on a bridge crossing the Weber River on the Brown's Canyon Road, the landowners sought to restrict the public's access to the Weber River's beds and banks, thereby keeping the public from enjoying this contested resource.
"Our rivers are part of our heritage, and have been useful to all Utahans since statehood." says USAC president Kris Olson. "They are 'gifts of providence,' our natural resource, and now in the case of this stretch of the Weber, secured for future generations."
In recognizing the utility of log drives to determine navigability, the Court has opened the door to applying this standard to other similarly-sized and useful rivers throughout the state. USAC looks forward to discussions with state officials to address the status of these waters and to issue appropriate guidance on which ones are now open to public use.
The USAC expects a final ruling on the second of its lawsuits on appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the Act in its entirety, in the near future.