By George Bauer
Public Land/Water Access Association Director
Kennedy requests rehearing and Supreme Court says no!
If the Bridges of Madison County saga on the Ruby River was a baseball game, then we would be at the seventh inning stretch. This historic case was filed in 2004 and was finally heard after eight years of early inning maneuvering. The score was PLWA – 2, Media Mogul – 0 when James Cox Kennedy was ordered to remove his -No Trespassing- signs from Duncan Road and Lewis Lane. The ruling reinforced Montana’s 2009 Bridge Access Law which says a public road right of way extends the full width of the road and over the bridge to a stream’s high-water mark. That law, passed after much compromise between anglers and landowners to help gain public access to public waters, came on the third try and only after lots of hard work.
Before the hearing the parties (PLWA v. Madison County) stipulated Seyler Lane was a public road right of way - it is one of the oldest roads in the state. And yet District Judge Loren Tucker ruled there is a distinction between the public’s right and the county’s right to access the river. Judge Tucker’s ruling did not get to first base - it was thrown out by the Montana Supreme Court. The January 2014 ruling stated the roadway could to be used by the public -for all foreseeable uses, including recreation. The case was sent back to District Court with instructions to hear evidence on the width of the right-of-way.
Like a big league manager who didn’t like the call at the plate, Kennedy filed a petition for rehearing. This would have reopened the case for further arguments on the grounds the court abandoned property law principals and converted Kennedy’s private property to public land. On March 6, 2014, the court said in effect, “Nonsense!”, and denied the request. The Supreme Court has never been eager to plow the same ground twice and it is doubtful it will start here.
Later this year another District Court will hear evidence of decades of public access to the Ruby from Seyler Lane and then could take months to issue a ruling. Don’t be surprised if Kennedy appeals, whatever the decision. The Supreme Court took nearly a year to reach a decision this last time so it could be 2016 before the fat lady sings at the bottom of the ninth.
Step up to the plate and take a swing at those who would rob the public of their access rights. Join PLWA and let’s keep on winning.