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Ravalli County Commissioners are trying to sell you a bill of goods with respect to their decisions on Hughes Creek Road.

They want you to believe that they were “blindsided” by a state statute that prevented them from abandoning a county road or right-of-way that provides legal access to public land or waters. The problem with that rationale is that the statements of fact they relied upon to determine that the county road extended 2.8 miles past the gate are incomplete, perhaps even fraudulent.

Who did the research on behalf of the county prior to the commissioners’ decision that the county road, as adopted in 1900, ran 11.8 miles from the junction with the West Fork Road? Was it the commissioners or the county attorney’s office which appears to have cherry picked only those documents that “prove” that the county road extends miles beyond what the historical evidence shows?

We have ample evidence that the statements of fact used by the County Commissioners to make their decision on the length and location of the county road designated as Hughes Creek Road is inaccurate and erroneous. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain much of this evidence before the commissioners made their “findings of fact.”

Some of the public documents were stored in contaminated quarantine before, and for some time after, the commissioners’ decision. The landowners had to have legal counsel fight for access to these documents. Other public documents, including a USGS map based upon a survey of the area in 1899 and patented mining claim surveys, were obtained by the landowners after the commissioners made their determination based upon their “findings of fact.”

What facts did the commissioners have that were different than the previous facts, findings and decisions by prior County Commissions, prior County Attorneys and two different District Court Judges in 1984 and 1993 that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the upper portion of Hughes Creed Road was ever a county road?

The fact is we have ample historical evidence to show that the upper portion of Hughes Creek Road, beginning close to the current gate, was never a county road. It was a private road beyond that point in 1900, and has been ever since. Yet the County Commissioners are refusing to consider this evidence because they have made a decision and their counsel has advised them that even if they made a wrong decision it is now law.

At the public hearing on Sept. 21, when we noted the discrepancies we had found in the historical evidence of where the county road adopted in 1900 began and ended, one of the commissioners actually admitted, “We could have made a mistake.” Yet the commission still refuses to revisit its decision and consider any evidence it did not have when it made its “findings of fact.”

Why? Because they truly believe it was always a county road? Or because they believe their county counsel that they have no alternative? If it was never a county road, the law cited by their legal advisers does not apply. If it was never a county road or a right-of-way used to provide existing legal access to public land or waters, the law cited by the county’s attorneys — and the special interests pushing this agenda — does not apply.

I have reams of data and proof that the County Commissioners have relied upon incomplete and inaccurate evidence to claim that their decision was legal and accurate. I will be happy to share this evidence with anyone in the county who is interested in seeing it to understand the facts. Clearly, the County Commission is unwilling to do the same.

— Jay Bugli, Stevensville

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