Sand In The Wheels of Justice

Here we go again.

After 10 years of litigation , and a clear decision by the Montana Supreme Court , that Montanan’s have right to access rivers and streams from public roads, Madison county has thrown some sand in wheels of justice.

To refresh the readers’ memory, in the last 10 years PLWA won court cases and helped pass legislation that solidified the right of recreational stream access from county roads . However, a technical issue on “prescriptive” roads – roads created by public use – was the final chink and went to court as the Seyler Lane case . The case involved a bridge on that road . The Montana Supreme Court ruled that all legal uses including recreation were allowed on that prescriptive right-of-way including the bridge. They sent the case back to district court for determination of the width of the Seyler Lane road based on history and need. The key phrase in their ruling was that it had be “reasonably necessary and convenient” for foreseeable maintenance in the future.

However, according to the Bozeman Chronicle, Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel , apparently speaking for the entire commission , says they don’t even need a right-of-way wider than the travel way for maintenance of the bridge . This , of course, does not make common sense , let alone pass legal tests.

As PLWA president John Gibson says :
“How can they claim they can create a safe and convenient public road with something like a 20-feet easement? You’re lucky to pass two cars, let alone if someone has a breakdown. Are kids waiting for a school bus to be considered trespassing ? ”

“We’re asking the attorney general to step in and enforce state law. The commissioners want to say ‘we’re the monarchs of this county.’ But they’re not. Not when the state has the ultimate responsibility. If we have to, we will take this back to the Supreme Court .”

Reference Link: Dan Happel
Seyler Lane
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Public Land/Water Access Association Inc. or PLWA,
is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.
The Internal Revenue Service has made a determination that PLWA qualifies as a tax- exempt
organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that it is a public charity.

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Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice.
Legal counsel may be needed in dealing with specific access situations and issues.