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Rocky Mountain Front Roads
Goldman Sachs Exec Blocks Access Roads
Rocky Mountain Front Access ImperiledUp against more Wall Street money.
The article below from the Choteau Acantha newspaper describes in part what is going on with several roads leading to the Rocky Mountain Front in Teton county. PLWA, although not cited in the article, has been very involved with this . John Gibson and folks from the Russell Country Sportsmen, have made several trips to the location. It is a very complicated situation in that there are several roads involved – all with somewhat different status. The attorney from Seattle mentioned is Tim Callahan, a former local from the area. He has been a great resource and owe him much for his dedicated professional efforts. Without him, this situation would have likely just been passed over by the county commissioners, and the Goldman Sachs money allowed to prevail. We are up against billionaires – literally – all the time.
With permission and full credit to Choteau Acantha
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 1:13 AM MST
County hears mixed comments on roads
The topic of maintaining public roads on the Rocky Mountain Front west of Choteau drew a courtroom full of area residents to Choteau last week to give the Teton County Commissioners their input.
The commissioners invited citizens to attend their regular meeting on Jan. 5 and give comments on two roads west of Choteau in the Deep Creek area Ñ the Elizabeth Road and the Stafford Road.
County Commission Chairman Arnie Gettel of Power told about 32 citizens that the county has at various times in the past two decades fought battles in the court system to keep open what it considered county or public roads on the front when landowners sought to close them.
In this situation, the new owners of the former Jack Salmond ranch, Gordon and Jill Dyal, contend that the Elizabeth and Stafford roads are private and should not be open to the public.
Speaking to the commissioners, Gordon Dyal, a Goldman Sachs executive, said his research does not show a clear county road established for the Elizabeth Road, which serves as a driveway to his home, or for the Stafford Road past a missile base.
His attorney, Allan Karell of Billings, said his research on the roads has not turned up any clear evidence that the roads were actually "opened" by the county.
In fact, he said, the Elizabeth Road "would be the classic road to nowhere" as it ends at his clients" home and does not provide access to any public lands.
He said his research on the Stafford road shows a county easement up to a certain point, and then a private easement for the U.S. Air Force to access a missile base, and then nothing further to the west or south.
Eleven citizens, including the Dyals and two of their attorneys, spoke in favor of abandoning any public right of way on the Elizabeth Road and on the Stafford Road beyond the missile base. Seven citizens spoke against abandoning the roads and urged the county to help maintain access to public lands along the Rocky Mountain Front.
Choteau attorney and rancher Justin Lee, representing the Dials, said of the Elizabeth Road, "The reality here is that this is the Dials' driveway."
"The Stafford Road, we call it a road, but there is no road there. I guess if the county wants to go through the expense of building a road, I think it would be a terrible waste of taxpayers' money," Lee said. ÒI would encourage us not to consider these roads public."
Ranchers Wayne and Judy Gollehon, who live west of Choteau also spoke against pursuing access on these roads. "Seems foolish to waste county money on something like this. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all," Wayne said.
Rancher and outfitter Dusty Crary, who lives west of Choteau along the Teton Canyon Road, said he was concerned that "access creep" by people pushing to get onto federal lands is impacting private ranchers.
"No one has lost anything that they were ever entitled to in the first place," Crary said. “Any able-bodied person can hunt that federal land in Deep Creek."
Roy Jacobs of Pendroy, a taxidermist, said he thinks the push to keep these roads open is all about hunting. "It's a five-week window and they will hammer it. Anything walking across that road, they’ll shoot it and try to get away with it. I think it will be a nightmare during hunting season," he said.
Hiker, mountain climber and scenic photographer Ralph Thornton, who lives west of Choteau along the Teton Canyon Road, said part of the local economy is based on recreation and access to public lands. He encouraged the commissioners to maintain an easement of some kind, particularly on the Stafford Road, that would allow hunters, fishers, campers and recreationists access to the Deep Creek country.
Fairfield-area rancher Chuck Dale said both roads should be kept open, noting that in the old days, the Elizabeth Road went farther from where it stops now, allowing people to loop around to the Pishkun Reservoir. "I'd like to see everything public stay open. Anything that we can keep as a public road, we need to keep," he said.
Bonnie Dale also of Fairfield said, "If there has been one cent of public funds spent on this road, by golly it belongs to the public too and we should never ever close any public road or county road. We are losing the access to the Rocky Mountain Front.”
Bruce Coccoli of Choteau, who works for the Montana Highway Patrol, said he and his sons enjoy recreating on public lands and on private lands with permission from the landowners. But he thinks government needs to do a better job of clarifying where legal access exists.
ÒI want to know for my own edification, what is legal and what is not legal, so that we can help all recreationalists with access," Coccoli said.
Department of Natural Resources and Conservation staffer Erik Eneboe of Conrad said, however, that the Elizabeth Road to his knowledge does not touch state land.
County Commissioner Jim Hodgskiss, however, said that he and Commissioner Joe Dellwo drove the Stafford Road and beyond the missile base there are clear remnants of a built-up road, borrow pits and culverts. If that road were maintained, Hodgskiss said, it would provide access to a landlocked parcel of state land.
Gettel said the county has been approached by people outside of the county to fight the access battle. An advertisement placed in the Choteau Acantha promoting attendance at the meeting was placed by an attorney in Seattle, for example. "We are getting pressure from the outside," Gettel said.
Garry Williams of Helena with the Montana State Lands office, encouraged the commissioners to address roads providing access to public lands. ÒI recommend that you concentrate your efforts on those roads that do access public lands. We would support that interest," he said.
County Attorney Joe Coble said the commissioners have opened this dialogue without any agenda, but to get a feeling from constituents about the issue of public access. That input will help the commissioners decide whether to pursue legal action.
"It's not clear cut right now," Coble said, referring to the status of the roads. ÒI cannot tell you whether these roads are county roads or they are not. ... I think it’s important for everyone here as taxpayers to consider what is worth using your money pursuing or what is not, and that is exactly what these guys here have to decide."
The commissioners took no action on the issue, and they will continue to hear public comment on access issues at their Jan. 19 meeting, where they will discuss the Salmond Ranch Road, also located west of Choteau.