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Bridge Access Bill Passed in 2009
An Important Part of Stream Access

A river runs through Cox land

Ruby River

Creative Loafing Atlanta

A river runs through Cox land

And the AJC's (Atlanta Journal Constitution) boss fights for billionaires' right to steal public land and water in Montana by John F. Sugg

Way out west, the mountains are towering and the sky is big and blue. It's God's country, where men are men and women are women, a darn good arrangement. And it's where a fellow who has been called "the most hated man in Montana" rides the trails, hunting little furry and feathered critters.He's a media mogul and he's from Atlanta.

No, it's not Ted Turner, who has had critics in Montana where he owns hundreds of thousands of acres of ranch land and wilderness. "Ted has turned out OK," says Montana state Rep. Jim Keane. "Turner will meet with people, work out issues with the people who have lived here all their lives. Once he learned how people are here, he gets along."

The gent who has caused such ire is James Cox Kennedy – "Jim" to his billionaire buddies, "sir" to his 80,000 media-empire serfs, and unprintable names to many in the Big Sky state. Kennedy is the son of one of two Cox sisters, Barbara Cox Anthony (estimated worth: $12.5 billion). The family controls Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, which includes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the WSB television and radio stations, plus about 17 other daily newspapers, 14 additional TV stations and 80 radio stations. And a lot more. In Atlanta, Cox squats over the city like a gargantuan dung beetle with dysentery.

Kennedy has been accused of waging class warfare by attempting to warp Montana's laws to suit the megarich tycoons and celebrities who are turning ranch lands into what one critic, Jackie Corr, calls "billionaire boys club" playgrounds, complete with captive herds of game animals and luxury castles the elite call hunting and fishing lodges.

Ted Turner's business deals, personal peccadilloes and land holdings often catch the eye of the AJC. Not so with fellow media potentate Kennedy. The AJC did once mention that Kennedy owned some land in Montana. And there are a few instances where the right-wing Kennedy is quoted praising liberal icon Turner. The two men, united by wealth if not politics, occasionally hunt together.

But for the most part, Kennedy is an invisible man on the pages of his own newspapers. The high-profile dispute over Kennedy's Montana land isn't chronicled in any Cox newspaper. Meanwhile, the feisty Montana press blazes with reports and commentaries about Kennedy.

So, here's what you won't read in the AJC about its owner, a guy considered a scoundrel by virtually an entire state.

Montana has the most liberal river-access laws in the West. Common folk have the right to use waterways and adjoining land up to the high-water mark on riverbanks. Public-access sentiments are codified in laws and the Montana state Constitution. Turner learned that lesson when he tried to block a road that went right through his sprawling ranch to a trailhead in a national forest. After Turner got a bit of a bruising, the road is now open.

Kennedy, who put up fences on public land blocking access to public land and water, filed a lawsuit last month that claims anglers and "floaters" – people riding inflatable rafts down rivers – should not be allowed to walk on the public right of way next to public bridges to get into the public water.

"What part of 'public' does he not understand?" chided the (Butte) Montana Standard in an editorial on March 25. Additional legislation is working its way through the Montana Legislature. It "preserves the public's right to enjoy the state's bountiful blue-ribbon streams," the Standard commented. "Kennedy has every right to enjoy the privacy of his pristine Ruby Valley ranch, but he has to share the Ruby River that runs through it with us all."

Kennedy's aspirations to become a true land baron may be influencing his Atlanta paper. Although generally good on environmental issues, the AJC hasn't reported or commented on a burning issue in North Georgia, where wealthy landowners are claiming the public has no right to canoe on the very public Chattahoochee River.

Kennedy, who owns 30,000 acres in Montana including eight miles of land along the Ruby River, doesn’t like the idea of public acces. He has run fences – electrified fences – across public lands to connect his fenced-in property with bridges that span the Ruby River so no one can reach the water.
He even ran electrified wires across the Ruby to zap floaters. Kennedy is probably unaware that it's considered bad form to kill or injure plebeians.

Angry Montanans two years ago gathered by the dozen to float down the Ruby through Kennedy's kingdom to teach him a little about Montana law and custom.
Kennedy, in public statements, retorted that his actions "don't have anything to do with stream access." Rather, he disputes whether the roads crossing the Ruby are the "kinds of roads that by law have wide rights-of-way." That's not the case, of course. There's a 60-foot public right-of-way on roads and bridges crossing the Ruby.

"He's the poster boy for the type of rich guy who has so much money, he buys something and thinks the laws don't apply to him," says Corr, a retired Butte taxi company operator who is part of a group fighting for public access to public lands. "Many folks will tell you Kennedy is the most hated man in Montana."

Kennedy isn't shy about using the awesome pressure of his media empire to intimidate Montanans. As CL (but not, of course, the AJC) reported two years ago, when a dean at the University of Montana asked for support from a foundation Kennedy controls, the press lord castigated the state in a letter that sneered there would be no "further" contributions (there hadn't been any to begin with) to the school until Montana allowed him to commit grand theft of public land.

Tony Schoonen, another of the public access group's members and a retired school administrator, says, "With Kennedy, it's just greediness. He ignores the law and has contempt for the people who have lived in Montana for generations. Most of us here in Montana like to share the things God gave us."

The Helena Independent Record summed up the dispute last month: "Kennedy claims that his property rights are being violated, but isn't it his goal to deny the public the right to its property?"
Silly newspaper. Don't you know the rich are different?


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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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