Livingston developer sues Park County for libel

By: 
Jasmine Hall

A Livingston developer is suing Park County after he claims building officials wrongly halted his work to move a historic cabin onto Ninth Street island.

CARTER BOEHM

Carter Boehm, Park County resident and property owner, recently filed a libel suit against the county after it ordered him May 27 to stop relocating his family owned cabin to a new foundation on the island.

Boehm claims he began work to move the cabin after Barbara Woodbury, the then-Park County flood plain administrator, designed and approved a septic system for the cabin’s new location. He stated in the suit a cease and desist order issued by the county’s Environmental Health Department wrongfully accused him of fraud and slandered his reputation.  

But the county claims in its cease and desist order that Boehm misrepresented or failed to make facts or circumstances known on his septic permit application, which warranted the order.

As a result, Boehm is suing Park County for libel and the removal of the order to complete the relocation of his family’s Urbach Cabin — an 1889 building listed on the National Park Service National Register of Historic Places. 

The cease and desist order, issued by Craig Caes, director of Park County’s Environmental Health Department, who replaced Woodbury, states Boehm’s septic permit was voided because the cabin’s proposed drainfield — used to remove contaminants from septic tank substances — was improperly defined in his application as a “replacement system” when there was no existing septic system and, therefore, should have been defined as a “new system.” 

In addition, the order alleges Boehm further misrepresented information in the application because he failed to disclose that the drainfield was within a 100-foot distance from the floodplain boundary.

Boehm’s attorney, Karl Knuchel, said Monday that Caes’ cease and desist order was libelous since the letter is a public document and accuses Boehm of fraud by abusing the septic permit application process.

Knuchel said Boehm was not at fault for the application’s inaccuracies because Woodbury — who retired in early May — filled out and approved the septic permit. He added Boehm had a right to rely on Woodbury because she was the employee in charge of enforcing floodplain regulations and issuing septic permits. 

“Woodbury did the whole application, filled it out and just had him sign it,” Knuchel said. “So I find that a little offensive … They didn’t do a very good investigation before they sent that letter. 

“They probably should have talked to Barbara Woodbury to find out how it got to where it got, but they were really reckless and went ahead and sent that letter out.”

When the order was issued on May 27, Boehm had already spent money to prepare the cabin and build a foundation, and was in the process of establishing a septic system designed by Woodbury when construction was halted, Knuchel said. 

The construction halt has caused Boehm to incur $1,000 in expenses daily, which will continue for an uncertain amount of time until the case is resolved, the attorney said. 

 “I spent a bunch of money,” Boehm said Monday. “It’s a tough situation … I don’t want to be doing (the lawsuit) — it’s the last thing in the world I want to do.

“All I’m trying to do is save the old cabin that was in the floodplain, falling down and about to get decrepit and would no longer be, or restore it, and that’s what I’m intent on doing.”

Knuchel is asking the county to reverse its cease and desist order, and pay Boehm damages for the $1,000 daily expense of halting construction as well as legal fees from the suit.  

Both Caes and Woodbury declined to comment Monday. Park County Attorney Shannan Piccolo also declined to comment, since she said the Park County Attorney’s Office had not yet spoken with the county’s insurance provider, the Montana Association of Counties.

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Jasmine Hall may be reached at jhall@livent.net.