Carlson speaks against county aid to FWP

Big Timber resident Ron Carlson expressed his concerns regarding possible county involvement in the Boulder Forks Fishing Access improvement project to commissioners Aug. 6. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing the relocation of the existing boat launch ramp in light of the escalating tension between river-users and adjacent land owner, Shawn Titeca. The 20-foot easement that travels through the fishing access to Titeca’s property has been the source of many conflicts. Titeca said recreationists have blocked his right of way or let their dogs run off-leash, free to harass his livestock. 

In early July, FWP Landscape Architect Bardell Mangum emailed a potential site improvement plan to Sweet Grass County Public Works Director Cory Conner. The document outlined prospective improvements for the ramp area and camping loop to the tune of up to $72,000. FWP Fishing Access Site Coordinator Allan Kuser said the majority of the cost is associated with constructing a road to reroute the access 400 yards away from its current location. However, Kuser said that cost could “go down substantially” with help from the county in the form of equipment, manpower and gravel. 

Sweet Grass County Commission Chair Bill Wallace said he thought the county road department would be able to “carve out a week in the fall where we could probably go help them,” but has yet to meet with FWP. 

Carlson was unsure if helping FWP with the fishing access project would truly be in the best interest of Sweet Grass County. He was especially leery of using taxpayer dollars to help FWP manage their own access, stating: “If they need help money-wise, get it from Trout Unlimited; get it from the guys and the outfitters that are using it. Period. Bottom line ... If I had my way, they wouldn’t get five cents.” 

The commissioners didn’t mention offering any kind of financial assistance — only the use of county equipment.  

“We were thinking more in the line of equipment, in-kind stuff, like a grader to go out there and blaze a path. Then they want the Taj Mahal instead,” said Commissioner Bob Faw, who was surprised by the estimated cost of improvements. 

FWP Design and Construction Supervisor Paul Valle said his department was hoping to hire the county road crew to complete the project, rather than an outside contractor. However, since the two entities have yet to converse on the issue, nothing is currently finalized.

“We were going to put some funding into it, but we were trying to coordinate with the county road folks to see if we should be running the project through the county and contribute to them, if they had the time,” Valle said. “If they didn’t have the time then it’s something we’d have to look at putting out to contract ... We just don’t know until we talk with them if that’s going to be a possibility or not.” 

Kuser said FWP does have some money set aside for the Boulder Forks Fishing Access, but there is still some debate within the department about whether or not improvements should be made at all. 

“I’m just not sure that everybody in the department is still fully on-board with going through with this yet ... it’s one avenue that we’re looking at in trying to deal with the problem,” Kuser said. “I guess the only alternative would be try to work with the neighbor differently than we have been in the past. We haven’t really explored those options ... That’s the other issue that people are concerned about — they’re not sure that this is going to solve the problem.” 

If the project were to move forward, Kuser said FWP would have to finalize an environmental assessment, notice the project for public comment for 30 days and reach an agreement within the department. Once construction begins, Kuser said, projects like Boulder Forks are typically completed within 30 to 45 days.

By Mackenzie Reiss / Pioneer Staff Writer