Whose road is it anyway? Old Forgay Point Road is contested
Old Forgay Point Road, which runs through private ranch lands between Pioneer and Forgay roads, is under contention, and has been for many years.
It’s legally considered a public road, because it was commonly used before the Crescent Grade on Highway 89 was completed.
Should it have remained open to the public and part of the county road system? Some think it should, others not.
The contention rekindled anew this year, after a confrontation, a call to the sheriff and a letter to the Plumas County Public Works Department.
Landowner Warren Gorbet’s wife, Krisi, contends an unknown man was approaching their home along the road so she stopped him and asked if she could help him.
He allegedly said it was a public road and that she could “go to hell.”
So she backed up her truck into the road and stayed there until he turned around and left.
She called Deputy Phil Shannon, and he remembers going out to talk to her, although he never did find the man she described.
For Shannon, the issue seemed to end there.
Enter David Long, a nearby Mount Hough resident — the unknown man.
A resident there for just more than 10 years, Long alleged Gorbet was the confrontational one and blocked his path on the road.
“The county asked me to write that letter,” he said, not knowing it would be a public record.
With a letter the county would have a tangible reason to send someone out to the house and “read the law (to a woman) who thinks this is her road,” or so he thought.
Long later said he first started using the road after friends of a neighbor told stories about the area, including about a village site, so he and his wife were curious and wanted to see it.
He really liked the road, and it was a public road, so he started using it to run his dog.
His wife, Madeline, is upset by the whole thing and said they never meant to disrespect Warren Gorbet, who suffered a bad stroke last year, and that they just want peace in the valley.
She now understands how the Gorbets feel about trespassers on their land.
Though she is curious about the work done and would like to go see it, Long said she probably wouldn’t ever go there again.
A contentious history
“My husband and Sophia Leal fought the county over this road for 40 years,” Gorbet said, and the late Leal’s granddaughter, Maria Johnson, agreed.
“We have continually fought to keep that road the way it is,” Johnson said. “There is no reason for the county to make it bigger.”
Was it retaliation to perceived threats, she wondered?
Increased use of the more accessible road has caused additional problems with trespassers — as Shannon verified — and with poachers according to all three property owners. Timber theft was also mentioned.
Former longtime game warden Bob Orange doesn’t recall being called to catch poachers there in the past.
Disturbance of ancient sites
In addition to the county’s alleged trespass onto private lands, Krisi Gorbet is also extremely upset about work done at the ancient Maidu village site.
The new edge of the road is only a couple steps from a visible circular indentation in the ground. The assumption is someone lived in a roundhouse long enough for signs to still be visible this many decades later.
Former Forest Service archaeologist Marcia Ackerman and current archaeologist Dan Elliott know about the old Maidu village site there. Both expressed their concerns about the sensitivity of the area, though it was on private land and therefore not in Forest Service jurisdiction.
What was done to the road
“It’s like a superhighway in there now,” exclaimed Jason McIntyre, another landowner along the road. “I was pissed off when I saw it.”
Public Works Director Bob Perreault described the planned work as follows in an April 27 letter:
“The minor maintenance activities will consist of various tasks, such as: grading the rutted wheel areas, shaping the existing travelway with a grader, adding minor quantities of crushed gravel to the surface, cutting low hanging tree limbs directly over the travel way and installing a few traffic control and information signs.”
Landowners say what was actually done to the road and surrounding land was much more than minor.
The road is definitely bigger, according to Shannon, who patrols it regularly due to past problems with trespassers, underage drinking and other issues.
“It’s a lot wider now,” he said, and there were no turnouts and large cutouts into the surrounding land before the work was done in late August.
There were tracks going out into the land, though, where people would go to avoid the mud.
“You couldn’t drive in the middle of the road unless you wanted to get stuck,” Shannon said.
Much of the “super highway” area is on the McIntyre property.
A different perspective
District Supervisor Robert Meacher and landowner Loren Kingdon, whose land is on the uncontested portion of the maintained road where it runs out from the Gorbets’ and eventually turns into pavement at Pioneer Road, disagree.
“Leave it open,” said Kingdon, because it provides a second way out of his pastureland in case of an emergency.
He said it would be the same thing to other residents who live near where the pavement ends on the Forgay side.
Nancy Neer, on the Greenville side of Forgay, doesn’t really care if the road is open or not. What she does care about is what seems to be a big waste of taxpayer money on a road that is rarely used.
Regarding the cultural resources, Kingdon said all of Indian Valley is an archeological site.
Meacher said the road has been a long-standing issue for him, that there has been a history of threats to county employees and members of the public.
He thinks it is one of the most scenic roads in the county and should remain open to the public.
He also discounts the notion that it was always a narrow wagon road, since it was in use after the invention of the automobile.
He heard the road was used at one time by a county official for hunting access, but that official would have been trespassing on private land, even though it is not fenced or posted — Gorbet never felt the need to fence it before, because of the lack of use by the public.
McIntyre did fence his property in 2007, but it was to keep his cattle off the railroad tracks, not for trespassing problems.
Now he finds tracks on the new turnouts and cuts into his land where hunters have unloaded their all-terrain vehicles. He also sees the tracks they made out into his pastureland, and the trash that has been left behind.
He’s also found one of his two gates is gone and he’s continually replacing cut wires on another.
Gorbet too has had gate damage from what looks like vehicles, and a bent-up county signpost lies next to it, face up. “Public Road,” it reads. “Please close gate.”
The county perspective
In a telephone interview, Perreault said the letter from David Long inquired about the condition of the road and motivated him to maintain the previously long-neglected road.
He took a drive on it in the spring and saw the deep ruts and other road maintenance issues.
“It’s our responsibility to perform maintenance on all county roads,” he said.
He denied Gorbet’s opposition to widening the road, scarring trees or using large gravel on in it a phone call.
“Stay on your area,” is all he remembers her saying. “Besides we do not respond to those kinds of demands, it’s the county’s property — we contend that we have a prescriptive right to maintain the roadway and drainage,” he added.
He said no written deed or easements exist. It was a dirt road that was used by the general public for a time, and so became a public road in the county’s mileage list of maintained roads.
The county receives millions of dollars from state and federal sources, based on maintained miles, for road maintenance and schools.
The monetary value of the dirt road could not be established as of press time.
To remove the road from the county maintained mileage list, Perreault said the Board of Supervisors would have to abandon it.
Such a move was made back in 1986, when Warren Gorbet and Sophia Leal asked supervisors to abandon the road.
Supervisors unanimously voted to declare their intent to abandon the road and set a public hearing date.
The hearing was delayed time and again until mention of it in meeting minutes just stopped.
“It just fell off the radar,” then-District Supervisor John Schramel said, recalling he thought then-Public Works Director Tom Hunter objected to it and maybe one other person did as well.
There were no objections or any discussion in the minutes, nor was there ever a public hearing on the matter.
Other roads in the county were abandoned during the same period, one in Chilcoot and one for Andy Anderson of Quincy.
The only denied intent at the time came, after a public hearing, when three women objected to the abandonment of a Quincy alley.
Landowners fight back
“My comment to the county would be that if they are in an economic crisis, they just wasted a lot of taxpayer money on a project that was not only not needed, but absolutely not wanted,” Johnson said.
“I’m a bit frustrated at this point,” said Gorbet, who has contacted a lawyer. “So maybe instead of all the double talk and rhetoric, county officials should come out here, enjoy the scenery and help pick up the garbage that is being spread along the road.
“I am sure many county employees will testify that Warren Gorbet felt very strongly about disallowing this road to be widened or the trees damaged,” she wrote to Perreault.
About Gorbet’s demands for keeping the road narrow, Perreault said there are no formal agreements or stipulations for the road width that he is aware of.
Gorbet will not back down from her belief that the county has gone too far this time. She insists the county has encroached on private property and caused major damage to existing historical landmarks, the old wagon road and walking trails and compromised existing California Indian archaeological sites.
She has initiated conversations with an attorney and land rights specialist.
“I think I want to talk to a lawyer, too,” McIntyre said, with plans to go out and take measurements of the encroachment onto his family’s land.