By Jay Bugli, Stevensville
Bill Geer’s recent letter supporting a “road fine bill” to improve public access used as an example the Hughes Creek Road, claiming it has been “illegally gated for decades.” Too bad the few facts he provided in support of that statement are totally erroneous.
Geer, president of the Montana Wildlife Federation, likely knows this, but used these “facts” anyway because this is how special interest groups spread their propaganda.
He claims “the fact that it is a county road is indisputable” and that, “recently the Montana Supreme Court ruled that it’s a county road yet it remains illegally gated.”
The Montana Supreme Court did not rule that Hughes Creek Road was a county road. The Supreme Court merely upheld Judge Langton’s decision that he did not have jurisdiction to address the claims in our lawsuit for two technical, legal reasons.
Essentially, the Supreme Court said that if we wanted the District Court to review the County Commission’s determination that Hughes Creek Road is public for miles beyond the gate that we had to file a different type of lawsuit. We did, and that was summarily dismissed by Judge Langton as well, only hours after we filed our response to the county’s argument. That decision is once again on appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
As a retired government biologist and long-time conservation advocate with leadership positions in numerous special interest groups, I suspect that Geer understands these distinctions and these facts. But they don’t suit his agenda, so he conveniently mischaracterizes the Supreme Court’s decision.
He and many others would like you to believe that the Supreme Court ruled that Hughes Creek Road is indisputably a county road along its entire length, and that it has been illegally gated for decades. However, the historical facts that we have uncovered dispute that conclusion.
Unfortunately, many of the historical documents we found that support our contention that the upper portion of Hughes Creek Road was always a private road were not found until after the County Commission went well beyond its authority in determining what exactly constitutes the public, county road known as Hughes Creek Road. And now the County Commission, their legal counsel in the County Attorney’s office, and the District Courts are claiming that we have no legal recourse to challenge their decision.
We – the private landowners beyond the gate on Hughes Creek Road – have been, and continue to be, denied due process by Ravalli County and the District Court. This is not about providing access to public lands. It is about taking private property to serve the wishes and desires of government agencies and special interest groups.
If they can do it to us, they can do it to you.