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Deal in works on disputed Cow Creek Rd.

Weiser Signal American of Weiser, Idaho

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County has been at odds with rancher for many years

The long-running legal dispute between Washington County and the Bilbao Land and Cattle Company over the status of Cow Creek Road could finally be close to a conclusion.

Third District Judge Susan Wiebe was scheduled to hear arguments in the penalty phase of the county's civil lawsuit against the Bilbaos on April 8.

In December 2014, Wiebe ruled in the county's favor and ordered the Bilbaos to remove gates and other barriers from Cow Creek Road, which the county asserts is a public road.

But on Tuesday, Washington County Prosecuting Attorney Delton Walker said a verbal settlement had been reached between the county and Bilbaos. He couldn't provide details about the settlement because the Bilbaos had not yet signed it.

"We have a verbal agreement but we don't have a signed agreement," Walker said on Tuesday morning.

The judge could call off the April 8 trial if both sides finalize the deal on Tuesday, he said.

The county has filed multiple lawsuits over the years charging the road is public and the Bilbaos have illegally placed encroachments on Cow Creek Road north of Cambridge.

The 3.5 miles of road that cross the Bilboas' property to Adams County over Cuddy Mountain have also' been the subject of contentious public hearings. County officials have come and gone over the many years the road has been disputed.

The Bilbaos contend Cow Creek Road leads to nowhere and the county abandoned portions of it.

They also have said the prohibition in Idaho code against placing encroachments on public roads does not apply to unlocked gates. They have argued that the gates are unlocked and used to control livestock and are needed for their cattle operation.

The Bilboas sought to appeal the 2014 court decision to the Idaho Supreme Court, but the state's high court declined to hear the appeal because it was not a final judgment.

"It's pretty complicated and that's underplaying it," Walker said about the years of litigation over the road.

The Bilbaos have petitioned the county three times to abandon or vacate the portion of Cow Creek Road that goes through their property. The county denied the petitions to abandon in 1984, 2000 and 2006.

According to voluminous court records, the Cow Creek Road issue first surfaced in 1973. The first lawsuit was filed by the county, the state of Idaho and the county road supervisor in 1975 after the Bilbaos installed gates across the road. In 1976, the first court ruling came down that it was a public road.

The county and Bilbaos have not been able to settle the legal dispute outside of the courtroom, although attempts have been made. There have been recent negotiations between the county's legal counsel and the Bilboas.

Walker said the county has made multiple offers to resolve the issues over the road with the Bilbaos, including "very lenient offers" within the past year. He said talks have been going on between the two sides for two years.

Ray Bilbao said last week that there have been settlement talks as recently as a couple of weeks ago. One issue centered on cattle guards to be installed on the road and who would pay for them. Another issue is who's responsible for all the attorney fees that have accrued during the case. Bilbao said they wanted to sit down face to face with county commissioners to hammer out final details, but it never happened.

Bilbao said the gates have been removed along the road through the family's property.

He stands by claims the family has made about Cow Creek Road, that it was not maintained by the county and didn't serve a public purpose.

Bilbao said the county is setting the wrong precedent by claiming an overgrown path is a road for the public to use.

"They were really reaching," he said.

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Original Publication Date: April 8, 2015

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