07 January 2009

Big Hole River: Private Bridges over Public Water?

Here we go again--bad ideas just never seem to die. You think they're dead with a stake through the heart, and then someone resurrects them... We're talking about modern carbetbaggers: developers that want frontage property, complete with bridge access, on a pristine Montana river.

Around the year 2000, private landowner Pete Kamperschroer wanted to put in a bridge across the river next to his ugly trophy house:

The idea, it seems, was to access additional land for development. We beat that one down, thanks to the stalwart conservation-minded Butte-Silver Bow council of commissioners.

Then came the Meriwether "ranch" project--several bridges proposed by developers Dave Ellingson & Emily Ellingson so they could build on an island in the river near Melrose:

Sadly, both BSB county and (on the south side of the river) Beaverhead County permitted them:

But BSB subsequently passed a strict ordinance to limit such bridges in the future.

Now it is developers KL Spear & Jane Spear, wanting to put bridges in for real estate development near LaMarche Creek. Anaconda-Deer Lodge County denied the initial application, but Spears are asking for a variance and there will be a public hearing Thursday, 08 January 2009, at 7 pm at the Wise River Fire Hall.

The Big Hole River is a public resource, a public right-of-way, and a navigable river. Structures -- including bridges -- built in the flood plain impair natural hydrologic functions or aesthetics. The Big Hole is a laterally dynamic river--i.e. it meanders across its flood plain. Bridges lock the river into a particula channel, and lead to future rip-rap and other channel constraints.

Landowners like the Spears purchased the property knowing the natural limitations, and should not expect to be allowed to construct an intrusive private route across a public resource.

Our grandchildren should not have to accept a Big Hole River lined with ugly houses, bridges, and other structures.


EcoRover said...

Excerpts from a public letter of comment for the Conservation District "310 Permit" from George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited (from chapter president, Josh Vincent):

We are very concerned about the potential impacts of bridges across the Big Hole River. Bridges even when spanning the high water mark, there is still significant risk of substantially impact to the hydrology of the river, which may cause impacts to the fisheries habitat and potentially increased erosion. Our main concern is with the potential of ice jams at the Lamarche location and the impacts ice jams may have as a result of blocking significant portions of the floodplain with road fill and bridge abutments where flood and ice flows would likely move through. This area of the river is very prone to ice scour and ice jams. Notably, this spring when the ice began to move a jam formed approximately 2-3 miles downstream of the proposed bridge site. The river was dammed off completely by ice and the water and ice flows spread across the floodplain. Grass from river flows was deposited as high as the top wire on barbed wire fences along the highway. However, because the river had an undisturbed floodplain at this location, there was very little damage to the bed and banks of the channel and the natural hydrology of the area where the jam occurred was unchanged. The only damage noted was the scarring of willows along the riverbank. In contrast, constructing a bridge and blocking off or filling floodplain areas where traditional ice and flood flows have occurred could substantially increases the potential for flooding, erosion and alteration of the natural state of the river channel. The formation of ice jams and ice flows are unpredictable as are their impacts. Because of this unpredictability and the propensity of this area to form ice jams, we feel strongly that this project has a strong potential to significantly increase the risk of erosion and hydrological changes in the event of an ice jam at the bridge crossing. Such impacts could negatively impact the fishery of the Big Hole River, particularly for artic grayling.


The Big Hole River, particularly through the upper reaches where the bridges are proposed, is very pristine. There are very few places like the Big Hole valley left in Montana or in the lower 48 states where traditional practices have been maintained and the landscape is very similar to what it looked like 100 years ago. We are adamantly opposed to the construction of any bridge because of its impacts on the visual quality of the river corridor and for other potential recreational related reasons. We fish this particular reach of river, not because the fishing is better than any other reach of the river, but because the river is so pristine and natural. While it is duly noted that new developments have been made up and down the Big Hole River, actions by local governments, aided by locally based conservation and sportsmen’s groups have pushed for laws and ordinances to reduce development impacts on the aesthetic quality of the river corridor and other related impacts. Because of the size, location and extent of the bridges, we feel these bridges will take away from the natural beauty of the river and will reduce the quality of experience for recreational users of the river.

Anonymous said...

This is ignorant. Both you and the trout people ignore private property rights. You are putting your nose in people's private affairs by posting pictures of there private property. If the ice jams up somebodies house or bridge what do you care? Its not your propery and its not your money.

Gregg P said...

That is poor policy to allow development on public water, let alone building private bridges limited to only the wealthy and most influential.

Washington is fairly liberal about allowing only private access to water, but private property advocates are too powerful in states like Montana. Anyone that can defend these types of restrictions need to take a look at life and resources through other eyes.

Here is my take on this subject

katty said...

This blog is amazing!!!I love to drive by a bridge, actually there are bridge beautiful for their structure or their size. simply love it. I´ll approach
costa rica investment opportunities in this country there are land that need big bridges.