04 April 2007

Montana Bridge Access SB 78: Sunk by Republican Committee

Montana anglers and others who value stream access need to hold their House Representatives accountable for sinking the Bridge Access Bill (Senate Bill 78). I attended the committee meeting yesterday and was appalled to see elected officials act against the public interest. It was bad enough that the committee chair, Mike Milburn (R-Cascade), played with the agenda so as to delay the hearing by an hour and to trivialize the time available for public comment. Milburn and his cronies (as we later learned) had already prepared a secret set of amendments earlier that afternoon, and they attached them to the bill later that evening: thus the entire public hearing was a sham.

Representatives Chas Vincent (R-Libby), Ernie Dutton (R-Billings) and Ken Peterson (R-Billings) led the effort to amend SB 78 so that it catered to wealthy nonresident landowners and worked against the public. Their effort was supported by John Ward (R-Helena). While it might be understandable for rural representatives such as the committee's chairman Mike Milburn (R-Cascade) to vote against public access, it is unbelievable that representatives from urban constituencies did so.

The amendments would have required the public to get landowner permission to access a stream from a public road at a bridge crossing! Common sense tells us that public access should exist where two public right-of-ways (the road and the stream) cross.

The Bridge Access Bill – SB 78 – received broad bipartisan support and passed out of the Senate on a 34 to 16 vote. The bill would simply clarify the state attorney general's legal opinion that the intersection of two public right-of-ways (a stream and a public road) constitutes legal public access to and from the stream.

In the House Fish & Game Committee, however, a narrow interest representing the Montana Stockgrowers Association lobbied against SB 78. The lawyers and other speakers for the stockgrowers also seemed to be representing millionaire media mogul James Cox Kennedy—the Atlanta, Georgia, resident who owns 3,200 acres on the Ruby River in southwest Montana. Kennedy has been the leading advocate of closing public stream access at bridges along public roads.

Luckily, Reprentative Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings) was able to command a vote to table the amended and now terribly flawed bill.

Because Representatives Vincent, Dutton, Peterson, Ward, and other Republican representatives failed to support the public interest and pass a law that would ensure stream access from public roads, this issue will probably need to be resolved in the courts and at great expense to everyone.

I hope Montana voters remember this when Representatives Vincent, Dutton, Peterson, and Ward run for re-election. When it comes to public stream access, they represent the wishes of wealthy nonresident landowners. They do not represent you—the angling and recreating public that elected them.

[Note: After initially posting this, I realize that we should hold legislators praiseworthy as well as blameworthy. Some of the good guys, in this case, include Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings), George Groesbeck (D-Butte), Arlene Becker (D-Billings), Gary Branae (D-Billings), and the other Democratic Party representatives on the committee. After seeing the good bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate, I was bitterly disappointed to see SB 78 ruined on a straight party line vote in the committee. Thank you to the Democratic members of the House who are "endeavoring to persevere" (quote from Little Big Man) in a very difficult session.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hope you don't get sued for slander. i was there too and you got it right. wasn't pretty, was it?