Bridge plan sparks controversy
By Roberta Forsell Stauffer,
of The Montana
property rights an issue when a ranch-owner wants to install a
private bridge over a public waterway?
That question hung
in the stuffy air of Wednesday night's public hearing that
drew more than 80 peo ple to Butte-Silver Bow's council
Retired doctor Pete Kamperschroer has adopted the
old Melrose Bridge and wants to install it across the Big Hole
River on his ranch east of Wise River.
supporters, nine of whom spoke, the answer is clear: `` This
is a private property right,'' said Beaverhead County
Commissioner Garth Haugland. `` Mr. Kamperschroer owns the
property on both sides. If he chooses to use his own resources
to build a bridge to access his own property, he has every
right to do that.''
In the minds of opponents, 12 of whom
spoke, private property rights have nothing to do with the
issue since the river itself is public prop erty. Putting the
bridge across the Big Hole would be like creating `` a swath
of private land across public property'' said opponent Pat
Kamperschroer told those gathered that he views
the 241-foot bridge instal lation as a `` great conservation
project'' that would be an improvement over dri ving cattle
through the river. In addi tion, it would be crossed at least
once daily during winter to feed livestock on the Silver Bow
County side of the ranch, and twice daily in summer to
irrigate a hayfield. Also, heavy equip ment would be driven
across to install fences and maintain irrigation ditches.
Public benefits from the bridge include emergency access
it would pro vide in case of a forest fire or an acci dent,
`` We want to be good stewards of this
land and in order to be a good steward, you have to have
access to your land,'' he said.
Both sides brought up
knapweed. Kamperschroer said the bridge would make it easier
for him to control weed problems, and opponent Dave Carter
said he thinks the bridge would spread weeds further on the
hooves of live stock that would otherwise get a wash in the
river and on the tires of heavy equipment.
dismissed floater safety as an issue, saying the bridge was
purposely placed along a quiet stretch of river, and opponents
said accidents were inevitable and could even lead to deaths.
`` This bridge is not in the public interest,'' said Steve
Luebeck of the George Grant chapter of Trout Unlimited. ``
It's wanted, more than needed.''
The spectre of future
subdivisions was raised, with opponents saying they didn't
want the Big Hole to go the way of the Gallatin or Bitterroot
valleys with rampant unregulated development. And while
Kamperschroer said the pur pose of the bridge was `` basically
for agriculture,'' he added that he's a `` very, very big
proponent of property rights'' and wouldn't rule out future
Before the hearing started, council Chairman Mike
Kerns firmly laid down ground rules for behavior: Personal
remarks would not be tolerated; propo nents and opponents were
not to address each other; no clapping, cheer ing or booing
And although emphatic views were sometimes met
with quiet mutterings of disgust from those seated, civility
reigned throughout the 90-minute, standing-room-only
The job now falls to Butte-Silver Bow Planning
Director Jon Sesso and Floodplain Administrator Russ Connole
to sort through the issues and analyze them in the context of
county floodplain regulations. They hope to announce a
decision by the end of January.
If granted a Silver Bow
floodplain development permit, Kamperschroer will next have to
seek an easement from the Montana Department of Natural
Resources and Conservation since the riverbed is public
-- Reporter Roberta Stauffer may be reached
via e-mail at roberta.stauf fer(at)(at)mtstandard.com.
Commissioners voted to allow people one more week to
submit written com ments on Pete Kamperschroer's request for a
floodplain development permit to install a bridge on his ranch
east of Wise River. Comments are due Jan. 16 to the
Butte-Silver Bow Planning Department, County Courthouse, 155
W. Granite St., Butte 59701.
Private bridge over
Debate flows on; decision