by Michael Howell, Bitterroot Star
The gate blocking Hughes Creek Road has been a longstanding issue of dispute. Hughes Creek Road was established as a 12-mile-long county road in the early 1900s. Since the late 1970s the road has been blocked by a gate about nine miles up. In the 1980s Ravalli County sued to have the gate removed. The parties eventually stipulated to have the case dismissed and the gate has remained in place ever since. Last year the issue was raised again and members of the public and representatives of the US Forest Service testified before the county commissioners seeking to have the gate removed. As a result the Commission ordered the gate removed by June 1, 2017. Landowners Zackary Jay and Tracy Bugli and Wade and Charlene Cox, as Trustee of the Cox Family Trust, filed suit asking the District Court to keep the road closed at the nine-mile mark. However, Langton has decided that his court has no authority to make a declaratory ruling in this matter, leaving in place the commissioners’ decision to remove the gate.
The plaintiffs also asked the court to declare that Hughes Creek Road never existed beyond the gate and is approximately nine miles long, and to grant injunctive relief barring public access beyond the gate.
Langton notes, however, that by asking this, ‘the Plaintiffs are effectively asking the Court to: (1) ignore the findings of two separate boards of commissioners that the county road extends some three miles past the gate, (2) override the Commissioners’ recent quasi-judicial decision to deny the petition for abandonment, and (3) abandon the road by enjoining public access. The only method by which a district court obtains jurisdiction to abandon a road is through a petition for writ of review. For the same reason stated in the section above, this count should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.’ ”