Montana law on public use of waterways is upheld

Friday, December 27, 2002

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

HELENA, Mont. -- A 17-year-old state law that guarantees Montanans the right to use the state's rivers and streams for recreation has survived another legal challenge.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a lower-court ruling that threw out a lawsuit claiming the stream access law violated several landowners' constitutional rights.

The three-judge panel unanimously agreed with U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena that the complaint was technically flawed, so it had to be dismissed.

Amanda Koehler, an attorney for the landowners, did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment on whether an appeal was being considered.

"It's nice Christmas news for the recreationists of Montana," Jim Goetz, a Bozeman attorney who represented conservation and sportsmen's groups defending the law, said yesterday.

The lawsuit was filed by the Denver-based Mountain States Legal Foundation on behalf of three Montana landowners who argued the 1985 law deprives them of liberty and property without due process.

The law says the banks of streams and rivers -- from the water's edge to the high-water mark on the banks -- must be open to the public, even when the river or stream cuts through private property.

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