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Plan to End Care of Canyon Road Protested

Times County Bureau Chief

It has been 60 years since Orange County and the federal government agreed that both would build and the county would maintain Black Star Canyon Road, a dirt strip that wiggles like a snake through the Santa Ana Mountains and into Riverside County.

For nearly five years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the 7.8-mile road was closed after heavy storms washed it out. Even now it is closed to the general public 10 months of the year because of fire hazards and storm damage.

But the county’s proposal that it end maintenance on the road drew a storm of protest Wednesday, with property owners arguing that the road would deteriorate into nothing and with the federal government saying it wants the public to be able to reach Cleveland National Forest.

The Board of Supervisors, after a public hearing, delayed any action until May 27, saying it wanted to study the matter further.

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The county’s Environmental Management Agency suggested stopping maintenance on the road because of fear that a motorist in an accident could blame the county, sue and collect a multimillion-dollar verdict or settlement.

Riverside County Experience

County officials cited Riverside County’s experience last year in settling for $3.7 million a lawsuit stemming from a 1982 accident on Skyline Drive, the name for Black Star Canyon Road after it enters Riverside County.

EMA Director Ernie Schneider told the supervisors that there are about 15 property owners with frontage on Black Star Canyon Road, five or six of whom live there full time.

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Schneider said there is a locked gate at the Riverside County end of the road and another near its southern end, at its junction with Silverado Canyon Road east of Irvine Lake. Residents have keys to the locks and can use it even in the 10 months when the general public is barred.

Larry Booth, who said he hopes to build a house soon on his 58 acres in the mountains--44 acres in Orange County and 14 in Riverside County--said it is unfair for property owners to pay for the “irresponsible and sad misuse of this road by young and usually drunken drivers.”

Ending maintenance of the road means that “you are conceivably cutting off an escape route in an emergency,” Booth said.

Inconvenience Cited

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Carl Sprague told the supervisors that he bought 12 acres that includes frontage on the road only last year and that “I assumed there would be maintenance on this road as there has been for years.”

Sprague said it would take him an extra 20 miles to drive through Riverside County to get back into Orange County and his job if the road is closed.

“I feel that as a property owner we should have some rights and some means of getting into Orange County,” Sprague said.

William C. Pidanick III of the U.S. Forest Service and a representative of the Sierra Club, an environmental group, urged the supervisors to do as much as possible to keep roads into Cleveland National Forest open.

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Pidanick said that if the county ends maintenance of the road, it could cut down on the access the federal government believes that the county agreed to in 1927 and again in 1975, when both sides paid to rebuild the road after storms washed it out years earlier.

Although the county has not lost any lawsuits because of accidents on the road, Pidanick said the Forest Service “can understand the liability, and we understand their aversion to it.”

But he added, “I’m not sure that letting a road deteriorate to where a road could not be used in the future is an appropriate action at this point.”


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