Supreme Court reverses lower court on access to bridge in Madison County

by Charles Johnson, Helena Independent Record

“The Montana Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the state’s steam access law as it reversed part of a District Court decision and ruled that the public can use a public prescriptive road to gain access to a river.

The dispute dates back to 2004 over the use of a public road to gain access to the Ruby River.

James Cox Kennedy, CEO of Cox Enterprises, an Atlanta-based media company, who owned the land under the road, had raised the challenge to the state stream access law in the appeal before the Supreme Court. The steam access law was passed in 1985 following several court decisions expanding the public’s right to access to certain streams.Kennedy had erected fences, including an electrified one, and posted signs next to the guard rail along the road to tell the public it was not allowed access to the Ruby River from that site.

The Supreme Court rebuffed Kennedy’s challenge to the stream access law as part of its overall decision.

‘Kennedy has offered no convincing reason to disrupt what has long been settled constitutional law in Montana,’ Justice Mike Wheat wrote for the court.

In a 5-2 decision, the court ruled in favor of the Public Lands/Water Access Association and overturned part of District Judge Loren Tucker’s 2012 decision. Tucker had concluded there was no public prescriptive easement beyond the fences at Seyler Bridge to gain access to the Ruby River in Madison County.”

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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