Yesterday afternoon we got word from the Utah Stream Access Coalition that the Utah Court made a key ruling in favor of public access to Utah Streams. We have been waiting a couple months for this ruling and we are ecstatic it was leaning in our favor. I have read a few different articles on the ruling and wanted to post them here. Please take time to go through this information and figure out how you can still help with the fight for Utah waters. It seems that we are close but not %100 out of the woods.
USAC press release:
Today, Judge Derek Pullan of Utah’s 4th District Court issued a much-anticipated decision in the Utah Stream Access Coalition’s constitutional challenge to Utah’s Public Waters Access Act, also known as H.B. 141. While the decision in Utah Stream Access Coalition v. ATC Realty, et al., did not fully resolve all stream access issues in Utah , it did resolve several highly-contested issues in favor of stream access, including: (a) the waters flowing in Utah’s rivers and streams are and have always been owned by the public; (b) the public has an easement to use its public waters in place for any lawful purpose, including all recreational activities that use the waters; (c) these rights are protected by Utah’s Constitution; and (d) legislative authority to regulate the public’s right to use its public waters in place is limited by public trust principles. Judge Pullan also ruled that the Legislature exceeded its legislative powers under the Utah Constitution when it passed H.B. 141.
Judge Pullan requested further briefing on whether H.B. 141’s access restrictions violate public trust principles. USAC counsel is working on the supplemental briefing and is cautiously optimistic that those efforts will result in a favorable ruling on that issue.
Article from the SLTRIB:
Anglers and state see room for hope in partial ruling.
By Brandon Loomis
| The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published May 21 2012 07:07 pm • Updated 57 minutes ago
A Utah judge agreed Monday with anglers arguing that all rivers and streams are public waters, but he has yet to decide whether a law restricting access to them went too far.
Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan ruled that the Utah Constitution makes clear the waters that HB141 two years ago restricted from public access are owned by the state and must be managed in the public trust. He did not rule whether that public trust requires public access on streams crossing private lands, such as wading that anglers once enjoyed.
Instead, he asked attorneys for the Utah Stream Access Coalition, the landowners and the state to brief him for a final ruling this summer. Whichever way the judge goes, the contentious issue is sure to be appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.
Both sides saw hope in Pullan’s 43-page ruling.
“We believe it was very favorable to us,” said Craig Coburn, attorney for the Stream Access Coalition, which seeks a return to the standard of open in-stream access established by Utah’s high court before HB141’s restrictions. He noted that the judge ruled not only that the state owns the waters, but also that the public is entitled to an easement for purposes including recreation.
“He just did not push the ball across the goal line,” Coburn said, “because he didn’t think he had enough information.”
Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts said the ruling clearly affirmed the Legislature’s authority to regulate the public easement. He pointed to sections in which the judge noted that HB141 did not transfer any of the state’s property rights.
“The court did say that the Legislature has the authority to regulate the use,” he said, “and [HB141] is regulation of use.”
The question to be determined is whether the state’s regulation — what the access coalition contends effectively eliminates the public easement rather than just regulating it — violates the public-trust doctrine in state law. The sides will now submit briefs arguing how much leeway state law offers the Legislature in restricting public access to public waters.