Gathering addresses road issues

 By Kay Braddock

       Prairie County residents filled the courthouse meeting room last week to discuss county road issues. Initial discussions led with the county’s current road easement program and updated cattle guard maintenance policy.

“This is not a county issue,” Prairie County commissioner Todd Devlin said to the gathering about the county’s reasoning for obtaining easements on roads. Devlin explained the county’s decision to begin obtaining easements was precipitated by a South Eastern Montana Stockgrowers Association meeting, where attendees were encouraged to ensure legal access to private lands existed. “The whole idea behind easements is to protect private property rights. That’s the bottom line.”
Establishing county easements on roads gives title insurance companies legal access to collateral, Devlin said and allows lending institutions to complete buy-sell agreements. 
The county has recently agreed to maintain cattle guards on county roads at no cost to landowners.
Questions raised from residents included the difference between county roads and gas tax roads, why the county wasn’t taking on the resolution process to obtain road easements and why the county paid the state for easements on roads running through state lands.
Gas tax roads are roads open to the public and can be traveled with a two-wheel-drive vehicle, weather permitting, Devlin said, pointing out the county receives about $30-per mile each year for the roads.
County road supervisor Mark Trask said the formula for money received by the county is based on the area of land within the county, miles of road and population of the county. The formula, Trask said, was more beneficial to western Montana than eastern Montana.
“We get a little less money every year as the populations are changing,” Trask said.
Why “reinvent the wheel?” Elner Eaton asked. He noted Dawson County simply listed roads in newspaper publications and then declared those same roads as county roads. 
“It’s never been tested in court,” Devlin responded of the described resolution process. 
Gary Pfiefle, who has been heading up the county’s easement program explained further saying counties who have gone through the resolution process are now going back and obtaining easements on those same roads to ensure their legality. 
“We people that pay the taxes are just supposed to give easements,” asked Sue Tibbetts, noting the county paid for easements on roads running through state lands.
Devlin acknowledged the county has paid about $18,000 to the state for those easements, but said the county had little choice. According to the Montana Constitution, the state is required to receive the maximum amount of revenue on state lands, including easements on roads running through them.
County commissioners agreed to check with the county attorney if the new cattle guard policy could be tied in with road easements.
A lengthy discussion on road conditions throughout the county followed, with the majority of the questions posed to Trask. Several residents expressed concerns for the traveling public’s safety due to the conditions of roads. 

Published Nov. 25, 2009

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