By Kay Braddock
Prairie County officials will take part in a court ordered mediation later this week, in an attempt to bring resolution to a three-year dispute over public access on Scenic View Road, according to Prairie County Attorney Becky Convery.
The pre-trial mediation, ordered by District Court Judge Richard Simonton, will take place Friday, March 4 in Billings.
Retired District Court Judge John Christensen will act as the mediator between the county and Michael and Terry Karrels. Confidential settlement papers have been submitted by both sides to Christensen.
“I think the county is very hopeful that we will settle this matter in mediation,” Convery said Tuesday morning.
Convery, along with commissioner Todd Devlin and co-counsel Devlan Geddes of Bozeman will represent Prairie County.
“The ultimate decision has to go to the Board of Commissioners before it can be approved,” Convery said of any agreements that may be reached during mediation.
Prairie County filed papers in District Court in September of last year seeking a judgment declaring the 7-mile dirt road north of Terry a county road by virtue of prescriptive easement after a locked gate was placed on the road.
Although negotiations were attempted at a public meeting between the two parties in the fall of 2009, Convery pointed out those talks were more on an informal basis.
“The county’s position hasn’t changed a whole lot from where it was two years ago,” Convery said, indicating the county continues to seek public access on the road.
The abuse of process counterclaim made by the Karrels against commissioner Todd Devlin and the Prairie County Commission, seeking actual and punitive damages, has been amended, according to court documents filed. The abuse of process counterclaim has been amended to be represented by Prairie County.
The abuse of process asserted by the Karrels stems from the county’s lawsuit on the road. The counterclaim asserts the county attempted to put the Karrels in a bad public light and to elicit public pressure against them when the county filed the lawsuit, ultimately in hopes of forcing the Karrels to give the county public access to their property, according to court documents filed. Other abuse of process assertions include that the county filed the lawsuit to subject the Karrels to costly litigation while the couple fights for their own private property rights.
Pre-trial concerns listed in court documents filed and addressed by District Court Judge Simonton focused on the 1965 cooperative agreement between Prairie County and the BLM as well as the 1969 Nefsy-BLM Agreement.
The 1965 Cooperative Agreement between the county and the BLM doesn’t mean the road is owned by the BLM, according to the District Court. The agreement also didn’t give the BLM the right to cross private property when the road was built.
In regards to the 1969 Nefsy-BLM agreement, “This agreement seems to do nothing other than provide for Nefsy to open more of his land to the public for recreation purposes,” the court document states. “The agreement is silent as to the road. This agreement could be unilaterally terminated by 30 days notice from either party. The BLM’s subsequent termination of this agreement at the request of Defendants would seem to have no effect on the road itself.”
Published March 2, 2011