Earl Bennett, a longtime Delta County resident who recently plead guilty to constructing an unauthorized road on national forest lands, stopped by the DCI office to share his side of the story. He confirms that he was president of the Cathedral Peaks Ranch Landowners' Association, and in 2014 did operate a bulldozer to clear the road, as detailed in a press release published in the Sept. 5 edition of the DCI.
But the road had been in use until 1990, when a portion of the hill slid and covered it up. In 2014, Bennett said he and several other individuals cleaned up the road, staying within legal easements and continuing up the original roadway.
The U.S. Forest Service claims the "newly constructed" road was built without proper authorization, and created a dangerous risk of mudslide that could endanger a home below the "damaged" area.
The house, Bennett says, is 1/4 to 3/8 mile north of the road work and about 250 feet higher in elevation, so there's little risk from a mudslide.
Bennett hired an attorney, and showed him a certified map with the road clearly marked, but in the end decided to avoid the possibility of a felony conviction and enter a plea of guilty to a misdemeanor charge. An avid hunter, Bennett said he didn't want to lose his right to own firearms with a felony conviction.
Bennett says the case against him is based totally on misrepresentation. "There was no ill intent on my part or any of the board members on my crew," he said.