By Kay Braddock
As the summer season approaches, county commissioners continue to weigh options regarding access to Scenic View Road which leads to about 26 sections of public lands owned and maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, designated as the Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area.
But one question may be the predominant underlying factor, as addressed at a recent commission meeting, “How much is the county willing to pay for the road?”
County Attorney Scott Pederson met with attorney Dale Hubber and landowner Michael Karrels on Tuesday, June 3.
“It was a real friendly meeting,” Pederson told the commissioners of the drive he took on Scenic View Road with Hubber and Karrels.
Landowner Karrels, who recently installed a cattle guard, gate and sign on the road that runs through portions of his deeded land, pointed out three areas of concern, according to Pederson. Those concerns include 1) road liability, specifically a 20-foot deep washout near the road, 2) the road’s high frequent use by hunters and 3) fires and garbage being left by Scenic View campers.
“All those things combined make him very, very concerned,” Pederson said of Karrels, who noted much of the area discussed is used as Karrels’ calving area.
Pederson said he pointed out that if Karrels’ allowed county easement to the road, the county would take on road liability issues. Pederson also noted to commissioners a posted sign describing the road’s condition should protect the county from lawsuits.
County crews are no longer maintaining the road, according to Commissioner Bill Leach. Pederson noted his understanding is that permission to use the road has been revoked and must be acquired from Karrels before traveling on the road leading to Terry Badlands.
Three options were laid out that the county could take on, but all three are costly. Under the prescriptive easement option, the county could claim historic use of the road, even though no recorded easement exits. This would likely entail a court trial between the county and Karrels, according to Pederson.
The petition process is another option. A landowner within Prairie County would need to write a petition stating that Scenic View Road should be declared a county road. Ten freeholders, landowners within the county but not within the town limits, would then need to sign the petition. A public hearing would be held, with county commissioners then deciding what is in the county’s best interest. If commissioners accept the petition, a fair price would be offered to Karrel’s for use of the road. Karrel’s could either accept or reject the fair price.
If the offer is rejected by the landowner, the county could choose to condemn the land through eminent domain, Pederson noted. This would entail a non-jury trial, that would go before Judge Richard Simonton.
Pederson recommended commissioners meet with Karrels as early as June 16 during their regularly scheduled public meeting at the courthouse. A public input meeting should be held afterwards, Pederson said.
Commissioners have also talked with Department of Natural Resource and Conservation and Bureau of Land Management officials about putting in another road that leads to the Terry Badlands, that would run strictly through public lands. Due to the wilderness study area, a new road could not lead directly to the Scenic View Outlook, leaving about a 2-mile hike for travelers.
Opinions shared on Scenic View
The Southeastern Montana Livestock Association and Prairie County Land Planning Board have both expressed favoring private property rights regarding the Scenic View Road access issue.
In a letter dated April 30, Don Griffin, president of the SEMLA stated, “At the April 25, 2008 meeting of the Southeastern Montana Livestock Association the following resolution was passed: The Southeastern Montana Livestock Association does not support the taking of private property for public access.”
During the May 6 commission meeting land planning board members Lon Reukauf, Lorin Larsen, Dennis Teske, Quinn Haughian and Rick Harding met with commissioners to discuss the issue.
According to meeting minutes taken by Clerk and Recorder Toni Kalfell, Harding questioned whether the county could alleviate liability concerns landowner Michael Karrels may have about the road’s condition. Harding also asked commissioners if a plank could be placed on the side of the cattle guard to make access to the gate easier for the public.
Larsen stated that he felt that it was Karrels’ private property and the public should respect it as such, according to meeting minutes.
The meeting ended with board members stating they felt the commissioners should, “lay back,” and see what happens but to not go forward on their own.
Economic Development Council president Lance Kalfell expressed concern over the issue, noting a gate on Scenic View Road is not a positive for tourism in Prairie County.
“We would like to see a compromise reached to see the road open,” Kalfell said, noting one gate like this will likely lead to others throughout the county.
“This is going to cause headaches and heart burn down the road,” Kalfell said.
Published June 11, 2008