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Madison County / Seyler Lane
Ruby River Stream Access Victory
PLWA, once again, has been victorious in the battle for the public's stream access on the Ruby River, from the Seyler Lane Bridge, likely the original stagecoach route from Salt Lake City, north to Virginia City and Helena.
It has been over a decade that PLWA (formerly known as PLAAI) has been involved in a lawsuit over public access to the Ruby River from Seyler Lane and the Seyler Bridge, a public prescriptive easement right-of-way in Madison County.
In PLWA's January 2014 victory, the Montana Supreme Court reaffirmed Montana's Stream Access Law, clarifying that the public may use the entirety of the public prescriptive easement right-of-way for all lawful public purposes. It also remanded the Ruby River action back to the District Court to determine the "definite width of a single, unified" public road right-of-way that was not determined at the previous trial. Per the Supreme Court, the width must include whatever land is "reasonably necessary" to maintain and support the established public road and bridge and the land that has historically been used by the public.
Which brings us to the present District Court ruling. In the June 27, 2016 filing, District Court Judge Loren Tucker determined the easement widths over the various parts of Seyler Lane and the bridge. From Judge Tucker's ruling, "Now therefore it is hereby ordered as follows: 1. The width of the county road known as Seyler Lane at sections described and shown on Exhibit 1-A are as follows: A-A 50 feet, B-B 50 feet, C-C 39 feet, D-D 47.5, E-E 47.5 feet, F-F 44 feet, G-G 65 feet, H-H 50 feet, I-I 50 feet."
PLWA's attorney, Devlan Geddes explained, "We asked for 47.5 feet and 46 feet in width at the ends of the Seyler Bridge. He granted us 47.5 feet at both ends (see decision at D-D' and E-E'). The other widths are mostly irrelevant to our concern of access to the river."
"This is a victory for PLWA, because the Court confirmed that Montanans may lawfully access the Ruby River from within the Seyler Lane right of way. The 47.5' width determination provides a sufficient path at the corners of the bridge that members of the public may access the river," stated Geddes.
When the Montana supreme court remanded the case back to district court they said: 'We further determine that the scope of use of the public road right-of-way is not limited to the adverse usage through which it was acquired and that any foreseeable uses of a public road right-of-way, including recreation use, is allowed ……..,' Thus the final element is now in place for the recreational stream access law – both statute and case law. It now applies to bridge access at all bridges on county roads and public roads created by public prescription.
The long and hard fought access battle against Madison County and Intervenors: Montana Stockgrowers Association, Hamilton Ranches, Inc., and Atlanta billionaire, James Cox Kennedy, who stated he owns the air space above the river, that stream access was a "taking", and that Montana's Stream Access Law was "unconstitutional", makes this victory all the sweeter.
SEYLER LANE BRIDGE
SEYLER LANE ABUTEMENT