By Kay Braddock
The Prairie County Board of Commission plans to meet with landowner Michael Karrels later this month in an effort to resolve the Scenic View Road access issue. That decision came after commissioners met with Prairie County Attorney Becky Convery during Tuesday’s regular meeting. Also participating in the conversation was Dell, Mont. lawyer, Wally Congdon who has been hired by the county to assist with the road access issue.
In August, commissioners voted 2-1 to set an Oct. 1 deadline, stating if an agreement between Karrels and the county could not be reached by that date regarding access to the 7-mile dirt road, which leads through portions of private and public properties, the county would seek a resolution through litigation to determine whether the road was public or private.
Commissioners hope to meet with the landowner sometime Oct. 30 during a regular meeting, although neither Karrels nor his attorney Lance Tonn have yet to agree to the meeting’s date.
The commissioners were initially unaware that Karrels or Tonn had responded to the invitation by the Oct. 1 deadline, only learning of it mid-way through the regular Tuesday commission meeting.
After a Sept. 25 phone conversation, between Convery and Tonn discussing the invitation to negotiate, Tonn said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, that he sent a letter Sept. 29 to Convery agreeing to meet.
The Sept. 29 letter from Tonn also asks Convery to provide in writing “exactly what the commissioners position is.”
One negotiation option discussed by commissioners at recent meetings included seasonal access, which would open the road three months out of the year for public use. Another option presented would set up the county dispatch as a call center, so dispatch operators could take phone requests of those travelers who want to drive the road. Dispatch operators would write down travelers’ information including license plate numbers, number and name of occupants and the time of day of travel before travelers could drive the road which leads to a popular scenic view outlook resting on a portion of 26 sections of Bureau of Land Management property.
But Public Lands and Water Access President John Gibson questions the legitimacy of agreeing to close the road for long periods of time.
“We would recognize the county’s responsibility to close it if it’s wet,” Gibson said, emphasizing safety to travelers and maintaining the road’s condition would be reasonable factors to consider. “I’m not so sure that we would go along with some private individual closing a public road for any purpose unless perhaps it was incidental to driving cattle down a right of way or something like that.”
Gibson, who acknowledged the public access group PLWA has been watching developments on Scenic View Road, said closing the road during hunting season would be unacceptable to the group.
The BLM land the road leads to “belongs to the public and should be available to the public,” Gibson said. “As the private land becomes more commercialized, their (hunters’) only option is to have public land available for hunting, and 26 sections is nothing to sneeze at.”
Access for hunting is one of three concerns PLWA has regarding the road being closed, according to Gibson, noting the importance of public access to the scenic view outlook as well as range inspection of the land and fire suppression.
“One locked gate could make the difference between a small grass fire and a conflagration that encompasses thousands of acres,” Gibson said.
Published Oct. 7, 2009