By Kay Braddock
Montana’s attorney general is stepping into the fray regarding public access on Scenic View Road, according to Judy Beck, communication officer for Attorney General Steve Bullock’s office.
“There is an attorney assigned to this road specifically,” Beck said, acknowledging assistant attorney general Stuart Segrest has been assigned to review the road issue. Segrest has been in contact with Prairie County attorney Becky Convery and has also obtained legal documents compiled by former Prairie County attorney Scott Pederson.
Scenic View Road, which winds through portions of public and private lands, leads to a popular site overlooking the Terry Badlands, which sits on 26 sections of property maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.
The road became a public access issue when last year landowner Michael Karrels installed a cattle guard, gate and private property sign, in the middle of the road which ran through portions of his deeded property. The gate has been locked since the second week of hunting season, at the end November of last year.
The road was built using county funds and has been maintained for over 44 years by county crews and equipment, according to Prairie County road department records.
“Attorney General Bullock is committed to doing everything in his power to guarantee that Montanans have a right to access public lands, rivers and streams,” a written statement submitted by Beck said.
Attempts by the county to receive a legal opinion from Missoula lawyer and road law expert Peter Dayton have thus far proved futile.
“(We) haven’t heard a word,” Convery said, noting commissioners have repeatedly called and e-mailed the attorney.
The county and Karrels agreed to split the legal costs late last year for Dayton’s opinion, which can not be used in court and would merely serve as a guiding post as to how the commission could ultimately act on the matter. The county already paid Dayton $520 in December for his services, according to Prairie County clerk and recorder Toni Kalfell.
Convery is recommending the county submit legal documents to Walter Congdon, a lawyer based in Dell, Montana, who is familiar with public access issues.
Prairie County Commissioner Todd Devlin welcomes the attorney general’s assistance on the issue. He said the BLM is not recognizing county roads throughout the state.
“Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to get the state to step up to bat and help out the counties,” Devlin said.
Published May 27, 2009