A group of about 16 area economic and county representatives toured Scenic View Road on Friday, May 6. The group spent a significant amount of time looking over the large washout neighboring a portion of the road, with county road supervisor Mark Trask detailing a suggested plan to fill the gulch and prevent further future erosion.
BLM officials decline tour invite after county crews grade road
By Kay Braddock
Prairie County’s decision to blade Scenic View Road last week left Bureau of Land Management officials questioning the move and ultimately led to BLM’s decision not to attend a prearranged tour of the road with county officials.
“You just can’t circumvent the process,” said Mark Jacobsen of the Miles City BLM office. “The county knows the process.”
Prairie County commissioners reached out to the federal agency last month to arrange a tour of the seven-mile dirt road, just a week after a settlement was reached between a landowner and the county allowing public access along a stretch of the road.
County road crews have not maintained the road since 2007, after a gate was installed on the road by a private landowner.
“It was time to start blading the road because of the moisture,” Prairie County Board of Commission Chairman Todd Devlin explained to a gathering of about 16 area economic representatives and county officials at a meeting before the group traveled the road. “We knew that it was going to take numerous passes to get it back to snuff.”
Devlin said he asked county road supervisor Mark Trask to at least make one pass over the road before the tour with the BLM.
The road, which leads to a popular scenic overlook of the Terry Badlands, runs through deeded property and BLM maintained grounds. Scenic View Road also serves as the northern border of the BLM Wilderness Study Area.
Officials from the BLM had originally agreed to accompany county representatives on the May 6 tour of Scenic View Road.
The tour was going to kick-off a cooperative effort between the agency and the county to address safety concerns, said BLM Field Manager Debbie Johnson.
But that decision changed when BLM officials received a phone call on May 4 informing the agency that a county road crew was already working on the road. BLM’s Johnson and Shane Findlay questioned why the county chose to work on the road prior to the meeting and also questioned why the county chose not to let the BLM know of their plans to blade the road.
Johnson and Findlay were under the impression that the May 6 tour would come before any actions were taken on the road’s condition.
But county officials saw the meeting’s agenda in a different light, saying the tour was planned to specifically address the large washout that neighbors about a 50-yard portion of the road and any other major issues with the road.
“Normal maintenance is not part of their (BLM) requirement,” Devlin said.
Pointing to a 1965 cooperative agreement made between the county and BLM, Prairie County Attorney Becky Convery said the county’s right to maintain the road has already been determined. The agreement, which designates Scenic View Road as a range improvement project, outlines the county’s responsibility to provide continuous normal upkeep and maintenance of the road, specifically listing cattle guards and culverts supplied by Prairie County at that time.
“The BLM has no right to stop us from blading that road,” Convery said. “Based on the cooperative agreement and even without the agreement, we have a right to be there because we’ve established that right by establishing jurisdiction for the last 50 years on that road.”
Although the county had previously sought a title 5 right-of-way from the BLM on sections of the road running through federal grounds as part of the county’s on-going road easement process, Convery said the county now believes public easements already exist on those sections under the RS 2477 law, which gave right-of-ways for the construction of highways across public lands during the settlement of the West.
Jacobsen said the BLM looks forward to hearing all viewpoints on repairing the washout neighboring Scenic View Road and working with the county on repairing the road and providing public access to the scenic overlook. BLM officials plan to tour the road on their own and meet with county representatives at a later time, according to Jacobsen.
“We’d love to see the people in there,” Jacobsen said of providing access to the overlook. “We just want to make sure it’s all done properly and all the concerns are addressed properly.”
Published May 11, 2011