An agreement has been reached between Prairie County and Michael and Terry Karrels, allowing public access to a section of Scenic View Road that crosses property owned by the Karrels.
A faxed copy of a Prairie County public access easement, signed by the Karrels on April 11, was received by Prairie County Attorney Becky Convery Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re just glad to get the matter settled,” Convery said. “We think it’s the best solution for all parties involved.”
The documents were received just one week prior to the scheduled April 18 District Court trial date that would have taken up the matter.
A gate installed in the fall of 2007 by Karrels and locked a year later led Prairie County to file papers in District Court in September 2010 seeking a judgment declaring the 7-mile dirt road north of Terry a county road by virtue of prescriptive easement.
Conditions within the agreement require the gate be unlocked and also assure that the county will assume full liability on Scenic View Road.
Attorney Clifford Edwards, who represents Karrels, called the road’s liability issue a “sticking point” during negotiation talks with the county.
“Finally the county agreed to accept liability,” Edwards said, pointing out the issue needed to be addressed in legal documents, regardless of assurances made in public statements by county officials.
A large washout neighboring a portion of the road has been a liability concern brought up by Michael Karrels during previous public meetings.
Devlan Geddes, an attorney from Bozeman, who began assisting the county in the legal matter in November of last year said the county has been willing to assume liability on the road from the beginning. Geddes pointed to state law, which already determines that counties must accept liability on county roads.
“The county has agreed to take on responsibility for Scenic View (Road), no different than any other county road,” Geddes said. “That’s always been its position.”
Prairie County Commission Chairman Todd Devlin said he was glad to see the matter resolved.
“I find it very disturbing that those supporting the road closure never took into consideration the intent of the road, state law, and taxes paid to build and maintain the road for 40 years,” Devlin said in a written statement.
Convery said the county intends to remove the gate, but will first inspect the road and begin any needed maintenance on the road before the summer tourism season begins.
Published April 13, 2011