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The longstanding issue of portage routes on the controversial Mitchell Slough may finally be nearing an end.

Ravalli County commissioners have honed the latest requests for portage routes down to nine fences that cross the slough between Victor and Bell crossings.

And within the next month and a half, the commission hopes to hold a public hearing before making its final determination on how the portages at the fence lines will be structured.

The two initial portage requests from an individual and the Bitterroot River Protection Association identified about 30 different barriers, including bridges and culverts.

Commission chair Jeff Burrows said the decision was made last week to remove the bridges and culverts from the portage review because state law allows recreational users to go over or around those barriers.

The fence lines that remained were an issue because boaters said they were unable to get their craft over and or under the fences, which were often constructed of barbed wire, Burrows said.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said they would pay for the necessary structures to allow passage over or under the fences, Burrows said.

Three of the fence lines are south of Bell Crossing and the other six are north.

Over the last three weeks, Burrows said he visited seven of the nine sites. One fence identified in the portage request couldn’t be found. Burrows couldn’t visit the second site because the land manager was out of town.

Each of the remaining seven fences will be studied and the best portage routes will be determined before the commission signs off on its recommendations.

Burrows said the river protection group was opposed to a situation where floaters would have to find a way through barbed wire. Landowners didn’t like the idea of in-stream gates and preferred that recreationists either go over or around the fences.

“We have been told by FWP that they would foot the bill to pay for any portage structures,” Burrows said. “Per statute, the landowner is normally responsible for construction and FWP pays for the maintenance.”

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The hope is FWP’s decision to pay for the construction will be enough of an incentive to landowners to move forward and get the issue resolved, he said.

The commission will host a public hearing in the next 45 days to allow the public an opportunity to weigh in on the portage recommendations. Burrows said the date for that meeting has yet to be set.

If people are interested in learning more about the proposal, Burrows said they can contact the commissioners’ office for information.

“From what landowners have told me, there are really very few people who float it,” Burrows said. “Most people see guys walking to fish or hunt near the access points. In the middle sections, they just don’t see that many people.”

That’s probably due to the large number of barriers along the slough, he said.

“There are probably three times as many bridges and culverts as there are fences,” Burrows said. “It’s not a real pleasurable float. Most people probably do it one time and that’s enough.”

Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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