Ravalli County Commissioners approved three proposed portage routes on Mitchell Slough in a 3-1 vote yesterday. The decision is a considerable victory for the Bitterroot River Protection Association (BRPA), who originally requested two of the three routes before the Bitterroot Conservation District in 2003.
Landowners contested recreational access to Mitchell Slough for years, claiming the waterway was a man-made irrigation ditch. A Powell County District Judge Ted Mizner sided with landowners in 2006 and rendered the BRPA's request moot. But the Montana Supreme Court unanimously overturned Mizner's decision in Nov. 2008. The slough is now considered a natural flowing stream. As such, streamside access laws apply.
Commissioner J.R. Iman was the sole voice of dissent in Thursday's vote. Landowners and others who disagree with the proposed routes can appeal the commission's findings to a district court-appointed arbitration panel. Look for a wordier story in next week's issue of the Independent.