Thanks to the Montana Standard editorial by David McCumber on the serious dangers of House Bill 550, which he exposed. The bill was sponsored by Alan Redfield from Sweetgrass County. Very few people were able to comment on HB550 because it was heard at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning and dangerous road conditions existed. It sailed through the House on a straight party-line vote of 58 to 42, and the same is expected in the Senate.
The vast majority of the public doesn’t understand that this bill may seriously affect public access to public lands and trails. Under this bill, people using non-dedicated roads throughout Montana would need adjacent landowner permission first, purportedly making them private roads. There are hundreds of miles of these roads throughout the state. County governments have been collecting gas taxes on these roads for decades because all the public, including landowners, are using them and they are essential in our everyday lives.
Counties refer to these roads as “gas tax routes” and receive money annually from the state. This revenue is used for infrastructure and road repair in every county. Passage of this bill by the Legislature would do away with these much-needed revenues.
This bill was amended to allow local governments to make the decisions — i.e. county commissioners. In many rural Montana counties, large landowners are the commissioners, or they are related to seated commissioners. This bill encourages the largest public lands taking since the recent proposed release of Wilderness Study Areas.
Montanans deserve better than this smoke-and-mirrors approach.
Contact the governor for a veto.
Tony Schoonen, director
Public Lands and Water