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Bridge plan sparks controversy

By Roberta Forsell Stauffer, of The Montana Standard

Are private 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 meeting.
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.
To Kamperschroer's 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 Munday.
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, Kamperschroer said.
`` 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.
Kamperschroer 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 uses.
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 allowed.
And although emphatic views were sometimes met with quiet mutterings of disgust from those seated, civility reigned throughout the 90-minute, standing-room-only gathering.
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 property.

-- Reporter Roberta Stauffer may be reached via e-mail at roberta.stauf fer(at)(at)mtstandard.com.

Break-out:
Public comment
period extended
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 public water

Debate flows on; decision
expected by month's end



 

 

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