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Boadle Road - Nov 30 2010
Court Action Goes On

Boadle Road Goes To Court Again 01/04/2012

Hon. Nels Swandal to hear case.

As readers and members are no doubt aware , the Boadle Road in Teton County has been an endless saga of the associated landowner losing round after round in the courts and defying court rulings. The latest deal was that he tore out a bridge on a public right of way. PLWA action to sue for punitive damages, and reconstruction of the offending bridge went to initial stages of trial on March 7. The newspaper story below sets out the situation very well . The Choteau Acantha has been doing an excellent job of covering access issues in Teton County .

Story from Choteau Acantha - March 10,2012

State District Judge William Nels Swandal has given attorneys for both sides in a dispute over a bridge in Teton County until the end of the month to file their findings after a hearing in the 9th Judicial District Court in Choteau on March 7.

The hearing was the latest action in a lawsuit filed last November by the Public Land/Water Access Association Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving access to public land and water. This is the groupís third lawsuit in Teton County District Court against landowner Roger Jones, seeking to reopen access to Pishkun Reservoir via the Boadle Road and bridge over the Sun River Slope Canal.

Judge Swandal of Livingston is handling the case at the request Judge Laurie McKinnon of Choteau due to a conflict of interest since she formerly worked in the Teton County Attorneyís Office when the plaintiff sued the county over access to the Boadle Road, located in southwestern Teton County. The Boadle Road runs from U.S. Highway 287 west to the Sun River Slope Canal, crossing land owned by Jones and the Bureau of Reclamation. Near where the Boadle Road connects to the Sun River Slope Canal Road there is a bridge, referred to as the Boadle Bridge, over the canal.

In 2003, then-Judge Marc Buyske declared the Boadle Road, in use since the early 1900s, to be a public road through prescriptive easement and enjoined Jones from interfering with the publicís use of the road. The Montana Supreme Court affirmed the District Courtís decision in 2006.

In the new lawsuit, PLWA alleges that despite the 2003 order, Jones in the fall of 2011 destroyed the Boadle Bridge crossing the Sun River Slope Canal thereby rendering the Boadle Road unusable, and that Jones posted "no access" signs adjacent to the Boadle Road in an effort to prevent the public from using Boadle Road.

The PLWA also alleges that Jones built a new bridge and access road on his property outside of the Boadle Road easement and posted this road and bridge with "private property, no trespassing, keep out" signs.

In the lawsuit, the PLWA asks the court to impose a sanction against Jones payable to the PLWA for violating the 2003 judgment; to order Jones to pay PLWA's court and attorney costs; to require Jones to replace the bridge; to remove all signs indicating the bridge is closed; and to require Jones to pay PLWA compensatory and punitive damages equal to $10 million or 3 percent of Jones' net worth, whichever is less. If Jones fails to reconstruct the bridge, PLWA is asking the court to authorize PLWA or its designee (including Teton County) to reconstruct the bridge and to order Jones to pay for the reconstruction.

In response, Jones asked Swandal to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Jones is a retired businessman whose primary residence is in Sperryville, Va. He purchased the former Boadle Ranch from Teton County landowner Robert "Short" Stephens Jr. in 2000. The ranch bears a highly restrictive U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conservation easement that prohibits any new construction of buildings or roads on the ranch. The Boadle Road runs in close proximity to the home on the ranch and Jones initially sought to close the road to protect the buildings from vandalism or burglary during the months when he is not there.

In his motion to dismiss, Jones said a fire in February 2002 destroyed the bridge that existed over the canal when he bought the ranch. In April 2002, Jones said, he purchased and installed at his own expense a flatbed railroad car to replace the bridge that had been destroyed. He said he was never paid by any public or private entity for this expense.

On Sept. 7, 2011, Jones said, at his own expense he relocated the railroad car bridge to another location on his property. He said the PLWA assertion that he "destroyed" the bridge was incorrect. Jones did say that after he removed the bridge from the Boadle Road, he put up warning signs of "bridge out" on the road for motorists' safety. He denied posting any of the other signs as alleged by the PLWA and, in fact, said those signs were posted by a different adjacent landowner.

Jones also said that prior to the District Courtís Nov. 29, 2010, ruling in the Sun River Slope Canal Road dispute, the SRS Canal Road was not legally open to the public nor was the bridge that he installed used by the public.

Jones said the law does not allow a judge to force him to build a bridge for public use. "To the extent that the public had an interest in any bridge over the Sun River Slope Canal, that interest was in the bridge that existed prior to February 2002," Jones' attorney wrote in the motion to dismiss. "The bridge over which PLWA now seeks to assert a public interest is one that Jones installed with his own funds and for his own use. Jones has now removed his personal property from the public right-of-way, and the public can install its own bridge in that right-of-way if it so desires. However, as the public has no interest in Jones' own bridge, Jones cannot be required to surrender that personal property to public use without the due process of a proper condemnation action and compensation to Jones."

PLWA, opposing the motion to dismiss, is arguing that "a property owner cannot interfere with the publicís prescriptive easement. ó Even if Jones does own the bridge, he does not have the right to remove the bridge and intentionally interfere with the publicís prescriptive easement."

During the hearing, Judge Swandal listened to arguments from the Jonesí attorney, Abigail St. Lawrence, and testimony from Jones. He also heard arguments from the PLWA's attorneys, Ben Alike and J. Devlan Geddes, and testimony from Fairfield resident Bonnie Dale.

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Public Land/Water Access Association Inc. or PLWA, is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.

Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice. Legal counsel may be needed in dealing with specific access situations and issues.
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