Here is an update from the newspaper. Nemont can explain how this will play out if anyone has any questions. He is our local political expert. I am too busy breeding with my relatives to make sense of this.
HELENA - Despite warnings that landowners are being put in an “impossible position,” the state Senate on Friday endorsed a bill saying the public can use any county-road bridge right-of-way to gain access to streams.
The Senate voted 31-19 for Senate Bill 78, the session’s most prominent stream-access bill, with all but one of the chamber’s 26 Democrats in favor. Six Republicans also voted for it.
The bill stems from high-profile disputes involving landowners who are refusing to allow access to streams that run through their Montana property.
Supporters said SB78 is a good compromise that spells out how anglers, boaters and other recreationists can access Montana’s rivers and streams, which are legally owned by the public.
If the Legislature doesn’t set out the rules in law, those who want to use the rivers for recreation will press the issue in court, and the result may be more onerous for landowners whose property surrounds the stream, they said.
“The choice for the Senate today is whether you want to make boundaries and make the rules and make the law (here),” said Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman. “It’s this bill or let the courts do it.”
But opponents - most of them ranchers - said the measure is no compromise, forcing landowners to make sure any fencing at bridge crossings does not block access to the stream underneath.
“This bill only goes one way,” said Sen. Bob Story Jr., R-Park City. “The landowner doesn’t get anything out of this bill.”
The bill faces a final, binding vote in the Senate before it goes to the House, which is controlled by Republicans.
Sen. Lane Larson, D-Billings and sponsor of SB78, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the bill’s chances for passage in the House.
SB78 says landowners can build a fence attached to the bridge that crosses a stream, but must get a permit from the local county commission to do so - and the fence cannot block access to the stream.
If the county determines that the fence blocks access to the stream, it can alter the fence or require the landowner to alter it so access is allowed.
The bill also allows anyone to protest to the county commission that a fence is denying public access to the stream. The commission’s subsequent decision can be appealed in District Court, at which point an arbitration panel chosen by court will decide whether the fence blocks access.
The panel’s decision may be appealed again to District Court, for a decision by the judge.
Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, said the bill doesn’t make any sense, because any fence a landowner builds up to a bridge is going to hinder access to the stream underneath.
“You’re putting the landowner in an absolutely impossible position and you’re putting the county in the middle of it,” he said.
Sen. Gregory Barkus, R-Kalispell, said the bill has good intentions, but is the wrong way to approach the problem. Instead, state fish-and-game officials should try to negotiate access at some of the 130 county road bridge crossings, he said.
“They’ve got plenty of resources to contact landowners and make a safe access point,” he said. “I don’t want an in-your-face piece of legislation ”
Larson, however, said he’s been working with landowners and sportsmen’s groups for more than a year on what he called a “proactive solution” that will maintain Montana’s fishing heritage for everyone.
“I would prefer that (parents and their children) have the opportunity to fish, rather than talk about why we can’t get down to the river at this bridge, or the next bridge,” he said.
Last edited by quackpipe
on Sun Feb 11, 2007 4:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.