The folks who live along Darby Bridge Road took NIMBYism to new heights last week when they vociferously objected to a state plan to improve a public fishing access site on the Bitterroot River.
The access site has been used by anglers, kids, fishing guides and outfitters for nearly two decades, courtesy of the private landowner who has not objected to its use by the public.
But the boat ramp to the river is steep, narrow and difficult to negotiate. And rafters must park their vehicles on the road above the river. The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), recognizing an opportunity to improve the site by creating a dozen parking spaces, an outhouse and a raft launch, moved to buy the 3.75-acre parcel of land from the willing seller. That’s when the neighbors put up such strong objections that FWP regional supervisor Mack Long called for a public hearing in Darby.
As is often the case in controversial public hearings in small towns where most people know one another, proponents and opponents lined up on opposite sides of the room, awaiting their turns to speak.
The meeting got off to a fine start when a state fisheries biologist held up a map of the proposed site. When some folks asked the precise location of the planned outhouse, which was shown on the map, one opponent in the audience shouted out that is was “within shooting range.”
Proponents of the site, mostly anglers and fishing guides, want the site improved because public fishing access sites are becoming rare in Montana. Outfitter Andy Carlson said eight public access sites have been lost in western Montana in the last 15 years. Fish and game officials want the site, too, because it’s about a half-day’s float from the next public access, a situation the department prefers.
Opponents don’t want the access improved because they fear their rural-but-still-in-town lifestyle will be disturbed by trucks pulling boats, RVs, dust, partying teenagers, suicides, litterbugs and sexual predators.
One of the first to speak was Ann Basnaw, who lives on the road. “Every pervert who wishes can stand 25 feet from my baby and I can’t protect her,” she said. “A few fishermen make it impossible for my baby to be safe in her own home.”
To which Stevensville fisherman Dale Burk replied, “I’ve yet to meet a fisherman-pervert on the river.”
One local woman, sobbing loudly, said the access would destroy a cherished way of life. “Our lifestyle is changing and it’s not going to come back,” she wailed.
A decision is expected in about two weeks.