Commission looks into potential Blacktail road easement

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The county is considering taking over a bridge easement to ensure shed hunting season goes off without a hitch.

One of two old bridges on the East Fork of the Blacktail Road has been deemed dangerous to use by U.S. Forest Service engineers. The forest service holds the easement to use and maintain those bridges, and the road is currently closed for the winter. Engineer estimates to fix both bridges for use are approximately $250,000 each, Forest Service Madison District Ranger Dale Olson said previously.

But if the road easement is transferred to another entity, the bridge replacement price tag drops, Beaverhead County and forest service officials said previously. Bridge and road replacement requirements are more stringent on federal land than those on state or county land, which add to the price tag. Beaverhead County Road Supervisor Scott Jones said previously he estimated the bridge replacements could cost $40,000 each if they were under the county’s jurisdiction.

Forest Service officials have been discussing transferring the road easement to state or county control for the first of the two bridges. Beaverhead County Commissioner Mike McGinley asked the other commissioners at their Feb. 19 meeting if the county is interested in taking over the easement.

Officials want to get the road easement transferred and the bridge fixed up before May 15 for the opening of shed antler season.

“The goal is to not have (the road) closed,” McGinley said, adding other agencies such as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks or the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation might also take the easement, if the commission decides against it.

Commissioner Tom Rice said he needs all the specific details ironed out about the size and width of the easement, as well as enforcement options for closing the road.

If the commission decides to take the easement, they would also have to do some repair work on the bridge before opening it, McGinley said. That might involve redoing the decking on the bridge for the short-term.

The commissioners approved continuing to investigate the possible easement transfer for the first bridge on the road. The county, Forest Service and other officials will next discuss the potential transfer in a conference call on Feb. 22.