Wyoming Department of Transportation

Landowners are liable for burning state property

Date: 03/19/2010 



Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Landowners are liable for burning state property

The prescribed burning season has started in many rural areas of Northwest Wyoming, and citizens are being advised of issues related to prescribed burning near state rights-of-way.

Right-of-way fencing, signs inside the rights-of-way, and guardrail are owned by the State of Wyoming, according to Shelby Carlson, Wyoming Department of Transportation district engineer in Basin.

In lieu of burning, an option available for landowners is securing a WYDOT forage permit. This permit allows individuals to mow the state rights-of-way to control vegetation growth. The agreement requires the permit holder to obtain insurance to cover the activity, due to the dangers associated with working in the highway rights-of-way. Forage permit forms are available from WYDOT maintenance offices.

Prescribed burning is already impacting state property in Washakie and Big Horn counties in the last week of winter, Carlson said.

Citizens conducting prescribed burning are liable for damages to state property, including right-of-way fencing and other state property, inside the state rights-of-way.

“When burning a ditch off of the highway rights-of-way and along the rights-of-way fences, we ask that the wooden fence posts and fence area be wet down prior to burning and kept wet during the burning to minimize damage to the fencing materials,” Carlson said.

Fences owned by WYDOT are usually placed one foot inside the rights-of-way lines.

“These fires should be continually monitored to ensure they do not come into the rights-of-way or damage fences,” Carlson said. “If a fire set by an individual damages state-owned property, WYDOT will initiate a damage repair project to which all associated repair costs directly related to the burning event are charged. These costs will then be invoiced and sent to the responsible party for payment.”

Carlson said the safety of the traveling public, workers and volunteers in the rights-of-way is first and foremost in decisions made regarding activity on or along the state highway system.

“The situation of burning highway rights-of-way generates safety concerns for the traveling public by the potential of limited visibility caused by low hanging smoke and damage to fences, signs, sign posts, guardrail and permitted utilities. Damage to any of these items may increase the potential for a crash or otherwise jeopardize the safety of the highway user,” Carlson said.

Carlson said fences are impacted by prescribed burning near the rights-of-way. “The use of metal posts minimizes damage to fence posts from fire, but fire destroys the galvanization of steel posts and the integrity of the wire, and may either destroy or severely damage the brace and end panels which are constructed of wooden posts,” she said. “Wire that has been damaged by fire cannot be stretched for fence repair, and it must be replaced because the tensile strength is destroyed. This lengthens WYDOT’s response time to repair a fence breach, and it increases maintenance costs.”

Some of the state highway rights-of-way in question are held by WYDOT through permanent easements. But although the title to the land belongs to the grantor of the easement, a highway easement brings with it all of the laws, rules, policies and authority that go along with the control of highways.

Chapter 12 of the WYDOT Rules and Regulations states in part that “any use of the right-of-way which interferes with construction or maintenance of the highway, or safe use of the traveling public, shall be considered an unlawful encroachment.” Wyoming law makes these unlawful encroachments misdemeanor offenses on state-owned or controlled lands.

If problems arise concerning prescribed burns near the state rights-of-way, citizens are urged to contact WYDOT maintenance offices on South Pass and in Worland, Basin, Lander, Riverton, Dubois, Shoshoni, Thermopolis, Ten Sleep, Lovell, Cody, and Meeteetse.

MEDIA: Questions about this news release may be directed to Cody Beers, WYDOT District 5 public involvement specialist, at 856-1341.

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