By Kay Braddock
Leadership from the Montana Stockgrowers Association met with Prairie County commissioners last week in a nearly two-hour meeting to discuss the Scenic View Road access issue.
Tom Hogan, MSGA President and Watty Taylor, MSGA First Vice President said the group was first contacted by landowner Michael Karrels about the road issue. Karrels, whose deeded property the road runs through, is a member of the MSGA.
“Obviously the Montana Stockgrowers prides ourselves in protecting private property rights,” Hogan told the three-member board. “What we would like most of all, is to figure out a way to get out of this, so that everybody gets out of this something they can live with,” Hogan said.
“We totally agree,” Prairie County Commissioner Todd Devlin responded.
Hogan informed the commission that lawyers retained by the group reviewed documents regarding the issue.
“They’ve ruled that that’s a private road,” Hogan said, adding, “and he (Karrels) can close it if he wants to.”
Hogan questioned the commissioners’ resolution to take the issue to court.
“We’re in a pickle,” Devlin said, noting because of state statutes the county is not allowed to abandon an existing county road that leads to public lands without ensuring another road provides essentially the same access.
The county does have an easement on the Old Cherry Creek Road, which runs through more portions of deeded property owned by Karrels, and leads to the outlook area, Devlin said. “We can get rid of it (Old Cherry Creek Road), if he give us the Scenic View Road.”
Devlin pointed to negotiating options county commissioners have presented to Karrels in the past two years, including seasonal use of the road and using the county dispatch as a call center for travelers to call before traveling the road.
“We told Mike all along when this first started … ‘Mike, don’t do this. Whatever you do, lets work it out. We’ll work with you. We’ll do anything we can to make this work, but don’t lock the gate.’ He was told straight up front,” Devlin said.
“I can tell you from my conversation with him, I do not think that he’s going to go beyond the fact that he wants to be the guy that grants permission to the road,” Hogan said.
Pointing to varying consequences this road could have on access issues statewide, Devlin said ranchers in the area are expressing concern.
“If this becomes a private road we might have some real issues,” Devlin said, pointing out this would be the type of road that could encourage public access groups to introduce legislation that may ultimately infringe on more private property rights.
“Now, you’re going to take a road that we deem as private and make it public,” Hogan responded. “That has more of our members upset and worried than the opposite.”
Hogan questioned the importance the scenic view outlook has on the community, pointing out commissioners allowed a recreation lease providing restroom upkeep by the Bureau of Land Management to drop in 1991.
“As an outsider, I’m looking at this and thinking if this Scenic View was so important to the community or the county, why wasn’t the lease kept up?” Hogan asked.
Other issues concerning the BLM and county were at play when the county discontinued the lease, Devlin said.
Through discussions MSGA leadership has had with BLM officials, Hogan believes the BLM has little interest in keeping the road open to the public.
“They’re (BLM) talking out of both sides of their mouth,” Devlin responded, noting Terry’s kiosk, which advertises the scenic view outlook, was built and paid for by the BLM.
“They’re (BLM) playing games with all of us,” Prairie County Commissioner Ann Marie Davis agreed.
Devlin pointed to past attempts commissioners have made with Karrels to come to a compromise on the road in the last two years, questioning why all of the sudden a “big panic” is now occurring. Commissioners have heard from the Montana Cattlemen’s Association, the MSGA and officials from Mont. U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg’s office since they first announced an Oct. 1 deadline for a resolution on the road.
“We don’t intend on going any further than this,” Hogan said of MSGA’s response to the road.
Published Oct. 7, 2009