By Michael Howell
Last November Andy Roubik asked the County Commissioners to establish Portage Routes on Mitchell Slough to allow fishermen access through, over or around fences and other obstructions, such as low bridges, that landowners have placed across the river channel. The 16-mile-long river channel was the subject of a lawsuit that was resolved in 2010 when a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that Mitchell Slough was a natural stream and open to recreational access. Following that ruling, three Portage Routes were established to allow access at Tucker Headgate, Victor and Bell Crossings.
Roubik petitioned the commissioners in November to establish official access routes at over a dozen other fences, low bridges and other man-made obstructions along the waterway. State law allows recreationists to ask for the establishment of an official Portage Route and gives the County Commissioners 45 days to do so following a request.
The Commissioners took no action on the request until this spring, when Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist Chris Clancy brought the request to their attention and noted that the law required action within 45 days and 90 days had already passed. He offered to help arrange a tour of Micthell Slough and discussions with affected landowners along the waterway. The Commissioners took him up on it. As a result, a trip was arranged for the Commissioners to tour the Mitchell from Victor Crossing to Bell Crossing and meet with landowners along the way. The Commissioners took that tour and met with some of the landowners and arrived at specific remedies at some of the sites. Clancy was going to follow up with a few of the landowners that could not be contacted during that tour and also arrange for a tour of the waterway from Bell Crossing north to Stevensville.
Since that time, however, Clancy has not been able to get cooperation from some of the landowners he has contacted and is having difficulty communicating with others. Clancy believes that he has done what he can to help, but the ball, at this point, is in the county’s court.
“I think I’ve done what I can to help the Commissioners with this process, so I asked them to hold a meeting to see how they want to proceed at this point. It is really their job,” said Clancy.
The commissioners have scheduled a meeting for Thursday, August 15 at 10 a.m. to consider the issue.