A request to construct a year-round motorized access road to 58 privately-owned acres surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land southeast of Alberton has prompted the Missoula County Commission to send a letter to the federal agency outlining their concerns.
Tungsten Holdings, which appears to be based in Libby, requested permission to put in the permanent access road, totaling about three-quarters of a mile, across Forest Service land east of Petty Creek Road. Their proposal, if granted, would last for 20 years. The company said it needs access “to conduct land management activities.”
Those activities weren’t outlined, and a representative of Tungsten didn’t return a telephone call seeking comments about future plans for the parcel. The company’s website notes that they have “a unique inventory of recreational, remote, and rural property for sale” from city lots to remote timbered land.
County commissioners wrote that they have “significant concerns” about granting the special use permit for the road, which they fear will be used for residential access in the future. They’re seeking clarity on the future use from the Forest Service.
The commissioners recommended the Forest Service limit access to land management activities, and they discouraged "its potential use for residential development," according to the letter. “Providing services like law enforcement and fire protection for residential use to parcels like these can be very problematic and is something that should be avoided.”
They added that the road is located within a priority watershed for bull trout, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
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“The parcel is in important winter range habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer,” the letter notes. “Allowing year-round motorized use of a currently relatively inaccessible road will result in disturbance to wildlife and impacts to important fisheries.”
Eric Tomasik with the Ninemile Ranger District said requests like this aren’t unusual and typically are granted for inholdings surrounded by public lands. He wasn’t sure what kind of land management activities the company wanted to undertake.
Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, owners of inholdings are provided adequate access for reasonable use and enjoyment of their property.
“We often grant some sort of access,” Tomasik said. “The level of access, the amount of road improvement and whether or not they get across public lands can be worked out on each independent request.”
Public scoping letters were sent to stakeholders on June 17, and comments are being accepted by the Forest Service until July 19. A decision will be made after the federal agency evaluates and considers the public comments, as well as the potential impacts of the projects. The letter requesting comment notes that a locked gate would be placed across the road to limit motorized use.
"Based off comments and this evaluation, we will determine either to make a decision or if the project requires further analysis," Kate Jerman, a spokesperson for the Lolo National Forest, wrote in an email.
Comments may be submitted electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org or hand-delivered/mailed to the Ninemile Ranger Station at 2035 Remount Rd. in Huson, 59846.