By Martin J. Kidston
The County Commissioners and a handful of citizens sat in on the Beaver Creek Road Advisory Committees first meeting held Wednesday night in the crowded chambers of the countys annex building.
The committee, comprised of 16 members, was headed by facilitator Craig Erickson, who told the members they were there to find options and look for ideas pertaining to the road project.
Obviously, were here to talk about the Beaver Creek Highway, and to find options to this project, Erickson said. As everyones aware of, we have this road in line for reconstruction and, as part of that project, a fence has to be built.
Beaver Creek Highway, properly known as Secondary Highway 234, runs directly through the center of Beaver Creek Park and crosses Beaver Creek several times. The road offers access to recreation and camping areas within the park.
However, the park serves as an open range for cattle grazing from September to December and numerous car/cattle collisions during those months have prompted the state to spend nearly $3 million to improve safety. Because the improvements will be made using state funds, the highway department is mandated by law to fence the road in order to keep cattle off the road.
Montana Department of Transportation Design Supervisor Ross Gammon told the committee that his agency was not the enemy instead they should focus on the law which requires the fence.
Its basically a law like any law, Gammon said. When the Legislature convenes, you can ask them to change it.
The law Gammon referred to is section 60-7-103 of Montana Code Annotated which requires the Department of Transportation to fence the right-of-way of any part of the state highway system that is reconstructed through open range where livestock present a hazard to the safety of the motorist.
The law applies to all highways constructed or reconstructed after July 1, 1969.
The DOT reports that cattle on the roadway are responsible for causing a disproportionate number of accidents, while Fish, Wildlife and Parks also blames the cattle for stream bed degradation.
State law says cattle should be kept from making it to the fence, Gammon said. And the FWP says the cattle should be kept from reaching the creek.
As comments were passed about the room, the committee broke into two groups for a 40-minute brainstorming session. Upon their return, they announced the results of their session exactly how to keep cattle off the road and avoid the fence.
The ideas presented varied in approach and began with the idea of developing off-site water, which was suggested under the premise that cattle cross the road en route to drink from the creek.
Other ideas followed: Pioneer a new route for the highway above the creek bottom; limit fencing to the more dangerous portions of the highway, such as the stretch below Rotary Hill; develop a managed grazing plan along with east-west fencing and gate adjustments; build stock passes under the highway; reduce speed limits, and get a waiver for the fence from the Montana Legislature.
These are all good ideas, Erickson said. We are not here to criticize anyones ideas were here to exchange ideas and find solutions.
Before the next meeting, the committee was asked to go home and summarize the issues at hand, make a list of existing problems, find points that should be discussed, and recommend a course of action. Each committee member will be given a copy of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks report on how cattle are responsible for the degradation of water quality in Beaver Creek.
They are expected to comment on the issue during the next session, which is set for Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. in the countys annex building.