"The BLM has continually disregarded Federal District Judge Alsup's order by refusing to provide land owners a key to the gate across Surprise Canyon Road" said Kris Tholke, a property owner. "We are asking the court to ensure the BLM and other parties involved abide by the original court order".
According to a 2001 settlement agreement in the suit brought by a number of environmental organizations, the BLM agreed to close Surprise Canyon Road to the public, but the agreement also exempted owners of private property in the vicinity of Panamint City from the closure.
The 2001 settlement agreement also required the BLM to finish a National Environmental Policy Act, or "NEPA" document by July 2001. The document's purpose was to determine the public's access to Panamint City.
"Here we are six years later and there is no end in sight," says Bryan Lollich, a property owner. "The public has been told for four years that it's almost done, but they still haven't seen anything from the agency".
Property owners said in court papers filed today that the BLM has refused to allow property owners vehicular access to their property. The property owners have made numerous requests and filed applications for access which had been met with a series of delay tactics, and ultimately a decision by the Department of Interior to not even process requests for access by the owners.
Surprise Canyon Road is located on the western slope of the Panamint Mountains and is the only access route to the historic site of Panamint City, and the surrounding private property. Surprise Canyon Road and Panamint City are in a non-wilderness "cherry stem" created by an act of Congress, surrounded by Surprise Canyon Wilderness and Death Valley National Park. A "cherry stem" means that these areas were specifically excluded from wilderness because they did not meet the wilderness criteria. The cherry stem of Surprise Canyon Road and Panamint City was created by Congress to insure future public access to this historic town, and private property in the area.