They say a man’s home is his castle. But after Missoula mega-developer Scott Cooney installed surveillance cameras on a county recreation easement to monitor vandalism at his Rattlesnake home several weeks ago, his neighbors are beginning to question just how robust those castle walls should be.
“I just now noticed them, and was wondering why they’re there,” said Molly Immen after seeing the blinking red lights of four cameras mounted overhead as she crossed Rattlesnake Creek over the Pineview Park bridge. Under the cameras, a 7-foot-tall chain link fence, dense wall of thick Arbor vitae, and second electrically charged fence protect the northern edge of Cooney’s property. “If they’re going to film you, they should tell you why,” Immen says. “Or at least have a sign letting you know you’re on camera.”
Cooney says five years of persistent noise, trespassing and vandalism, along with apathy from local and county officials forced him to put his family’s safety first. “I’m not into fences,” Cooney says, acknowledging how the barrier must look to outsiders. “But we’re dealing with things we shouldn’t have to deal with.”
Although these modifications to county property seem unusual, Cooney’s cameras—and the barrier below them—pose little concern to Missoula County officials, who say they’ve only fielded a handful of inquiring phone calls. Until Cooney’s actions impede bike and pedestrian travel, or threaten public safety, they’re as legal as a news photographer shooting runners going over the bridge, according to Deputy County Attorney Mike Sehestadt. “It’s hard to see how the existence of cameras interferes with our use of the easement as it was originally granted, which was as a bicycle and pedestrian walkway,” he says.
And while Cooney claims he received permission from NorthWestern Energy—owner of the telephone poles on the easement—to mount the cameras, Claudia Rapkoch the company’s director of communications, says he did not. Rapkoch says the company is “in the process of determining” whether to pursue the issue.