By Kay Braddock
A resolution regarding Scenic View Road continues to elude Prairie County commissioners as the one predominate question remains unanswered – who owns Scenic View Road? At least 60 county residents attended a two-hour long public meeting held at the county courthouse Tuesday morning to discuss the issue with the commission and representatives from state and federal agencies.
With both sides well represented – those who view the road as a private property issue and those who view the road as county owned – the meeting adjourned with no clear conclusion.
Fearing a costly legal battle, Commissioner Bill Leach laid out an informal proposal that has been drawn up by county attorney Scott Pederson. The plan was recently presented to landowner Mike Karrels. It states:
*Access to the road would be open and unfettered from Memorial Day until Labor Day, with the exiting gate being left open.
*Access on the road throughout the rest of the year would be on a call-in permission basis only.
*Permission would not be unreasonably withheld, but all users would be required to leave their personal information including: vehicle type, license plate number, name of driver and number of people.
Although the proposal seeks to accommodate both sides, it is not clear whether liability concerns or the road’s ownership status is addressed.
Karrel’s recently installed a cattle guard, gate and sign on a portion of the 7.5 mile road, which leads through about 4 miles of his deeded land. The road, which has deep pot holes in portions and at one point neighbors a 20-foot wash out, has become a liability concern of Karrel’s, Pederson said at the meeting.
“These folks are here to do what the people of Prairie County ask them to do...within reason,” Pederson said of the commissioners.
Pederson laid out some of the legal options the county could take to claim the road is county owned, including prescriptive easement and eminent domain. Any option declaring the road county owned, will likely end in court, Pederson said.
A written agreement existed for use of the road, between the former landowner and the Bureau of Land Management, according to attorney Lance Tonn, who represents Karrels. The agreement was revoked by Karrels in March. But Pederson questioned whether that revocation included the road or just the land.
The current Scenic View Road was built by the county in 1965, according to Terry Tribune archives. The project was completed through a collaborative effort by the Terry Chamber of Commerce, Terry Jaycees, Prairie County Sportsman’s Association, commissioners and BLM.
Although no easement has been obtained by the county on the road which leads through portions of deeded land, it has been maintained by county crews for the past 43 years –once or twice a year in recent years, according to county road department supervisor Mark Trask.
Commissioner Leach pointed out that the county does not have easements on the majority of the roads throughout the county.
“I’m perfectly willing to live with any decision Judge Simonton delivers,” Leach said at the conclusion of the meeting. If the issue does go to court it will go before the Seventh Judicial District Court.
Residents Speak Out
“Every rancher should have a good cattle guard,” Terry resident Joe Johnson said, but argued placing a gate like the one installed on Scenic View Road with a private property sign on it is unreasonable. Johnson, who has gathered 195 signatures in less than two weeks opposing the gate, said the commissioners should tell the road department to cut the gate down.
“It’s been maintained by your tax dollars and mine,” he said.
Although he hasn’t been out to Scenic View more than three times in the past 10 years, he sees the outlook area as important to the community.
“We don’t want to hurt Mr. Karrel’s feelings,” Johnson said of those who signed the petition.
Rancher Lon Reukauf said that the BLM should do a land swap with Karrels, resolving the issue.
“The BLM folks may tell you this could not happen,” Reukauf said, but added with enough public pressure BLM officials could make it happen.
“It’s not a real simple process to go through,” BLM Field Manager Elaine Raper said, explaining land exchanges must be done value for value. Determining the values of each section may prove difficult.
County resident Dennis Teske, who farms north of Terry, said the road presents a real safety hazard.
“I’ve been to Mike Karrel’s Scenic View Road,” Teske said. “It’s not travelable.”
The bottom line is that it’s private property, Teske said.
Northside rancher Kim Keltner agreed, stating there is a difference between a right and a privilege. The constitution doesn’t give people a right to drive wherever they want, Keltner said.
“You need to take into account his feelings too,” Keltner said of Karrels.
Published July 9, 2008