Commissioners reject county road abandonment petition

By 
Hunter Herbaugh Ranger-review Staff Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2022
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Commissioners Brad Mitchell and Dennis Zander listen to public comment concerning the petition to abandon Road 525 during a county commissioners’ meeting Tuesday evening. Hunter Herbaugh photos

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The blue line represents the portion of Road 525 that is the subject of the abandonment request.

A request to abandon a portion of Road 525 was rejected as no motion to approve it was made during Tuesday’s meeting of the Dawson County Commissioners. However, those who originally filed the petition have argued to the commissioners that the process was done incorrectly and needs to be done again.

The petition filed was for the abandonment of a 2.75 mile long portion of Road 525 to the northwest of Glendive. It was filed by Frank Eaton and Sons and Triple N Inc., another landowner who has so far not made any public comment on the issue.

A public hearing on the issue was held last month where Shane Eaton, representing Eaton and Sons, outlined why they would like the road abandoned, noting the desire to better manage and protect their property while also expressing liability concerns for the county due to the poor condition of the road.

Eaton reiterated those maintenance concerns during Tuesday’s meeting.

“That is one of the big reasons we want to close that road, to get rid of that liability to the county. (The county) is not capable of maintaining it to remove the liability from Frank Eaton and Sons and the rest of us,” he said.

Last month’s public hearing drew plenty of people in opposition to the road closure, with the main arguments against doing so being centered around access to other areas.

Access is ultimately what led the commissioners to deciding against abandoning the road, citing Montana Code Annotated that states a public road cannot be abandoned if two or more landowners benefit from it, which the commissioners felt applied in this situation.

“The committee has made a thorough investigation and it is my opinion that there are two or more private landowners that benefit from this road,” Commissioner Joe Sharbono said. “According to MCA law, I don’t know how we can abandon the road with those facts as they are.”

Commissioners Brad Mitchell and Dennis Zander agreed with Sharbono’s statement, with Zander adding that he has also heard Eaton’s concerns about road maintenance, agreeing that the county should address those conditions in some way.

“I think for me, I’ve taken Mr. Eaton’s comments to heart as far as not keeping it in shape and at least would like to see us get some culverts in those small holes or something so that it can be travelled in adverse conditions without tearing up personal property and people going around mud-holes,” Zander said.

Ultimately there was no motion in support of approving the petition and the proposal died without a vote.

However, during the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, Eaton argued that due to a procedural error, a new petition process was warranted. This would include a new public hearing on the current petition, as well as a new vote.

The error Eaton pointed out was with the notice requirements of the initial public meeting last month.

“It was incorrectly noticed to the public, and as such the commissioners will have to run a new petition process,” Eaton said.

County Clerk and Recorder Shirley Kreiman said that the error Eaton mentioned was corrected in the second notice sent to the paper for the public hearing.

Eaton also objected to the commissioners reasons behind not abandoning the road, saying that there are other roads in the area that provide similar access and arguing that all landowners who benefit from use of the road signed the petition in support of the abandonment.

Sharbono responded that the State of Montana, which owns land accessible via road 525, does not support abandonment. He noted that in its response to the situation, the state wants to maintain at least two access points to the land it owns.

Eaton, however, argued that it doesn’t matter what the state wants, as the law says they only need one accessible route, which he believes is fulfilled by another road in the area.

“It doesn’t matter, it’s in the code. A bureaucrat can tell you what he wants, the code trumps bureaucrats,” Eaton said.

Sharbono also noted that there are additional landowners who have spoken to benefitting from the road even though they don’t live adjacent to it.

The commissioners said they will seek legal counsel for Eaton’s objections and will follow-up on the matter at later time.

Reach Hunter Herbaugh at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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