Who should fix the fence on a county road addressed at commission meeting

Barbara Anne Greene

Jan Barnett appeared before the Big Horn County Commission at their May 18 meeting to discuss a cattle guard and fence on Davis Lane.

She showed a satellite image of the area. She marked where the cattle guard used to be and where it is now. “The old cattle guard used to sit where it hooked on to what is now Boyd’s (Van Fleet) and Lance Cheatham’s. It was private property. The county couldn’t keep that (cattle guard) in place. They kept moving the cattle guard. They kept having problems with it so they chose to move it up to where the new one is.” explained Barnett.

Later, when prompted by a question from Commissioner Bruce Jolley, she explained that the county had moved the cattle guard decades ago. She went on to note that the problem is the area between the two cattle gates is Bureau of Land Management land. She feels that the county, not the landowners, created a problem. Barnett acknowledged that the county has a policy about not fixing fences but because the county was the one responsible for moving it she feels that it is a county obligation to keep it in good shape. According to South End Road and Bridge Supervisor Shannon Hovey, it needs to be repaired. Barnett noted that prior to moving it, the fence was maintained by the private landowner.

She continued that if it were a private fence she would not be at the meeting. Because the fence is not in good shape, her cows can come down from the hills and go around the cattle guard. They have tried to patch it themselves but it is too far gone.

“If the county isn’t responsible for it, who is? It would be between you guys and BLM. Where it is a county lane and a county cattle guard.”

Commissioner Felix Carrizales asked Hovey and county engineer Willie Bridges what it would take for the county to make the fence right. Hovey said that the costs of fencing supplies are up and he has concerns about the county setting a precedent regarding fixing fences. Barnett reiterated the fence is not on private land and the county is the one that made the fence in the first place. She asked if the county damages a fence while they are working on the roads do they leave it or fix it. Hovey said fix.

Bridges asked who fixes the fences on BLM leased land. Barnett said the leaser but that this is along a county road, not on the land that is part of the lease. Also that the owners of the cows would be the ones held liable if the cows got on the road and caused an accident because of the downed fence.

Commission Chair Dave Neves said, “We have sheep. We have a lot of areas that the fence might not be good along the highway. We either fix the fence or we herd the sheep not there. Probably the situation here would be if the county decides to fix it, then that solves that problem. If the county doesn’t fix it the fence is either going to stay down or the permit holder would have to fix it if they want it fixed. That’s the way I see it.”

Barnett again made the case that the county created the issue when they moved the cattle guard and the county is the one that put up the fence at that time. This is a unique situation. Fixing the fence would be an easy fix, she said.

Jolley said that fixing the fence would be less expensive than moving the cattle guard. He believes the county should fix the fence and because of the uniqueness it would not set precedent. North End Road and Bridge supervisor Eric Mann pointed out that the issue was created prior to the county putting in the policy of not fixing fences.

Bridges said that if the county fixes the fence they should be prepared for calls to come in asking for the county to fix other fences. He wishes that someone who was with the county at that time was still around to expound on what happened.

Carrizales suggested that the county move the cattle guard since doing so is within the scope of things the county does. He is concerned that not everyone who has a fence issue will be as respectful as Barnett has been.

Jolley asked Hovey to go look and see if there is a feasible place to move the cattle guard. Hovey noted that years ago the county didn’t build a base to put the guards in. Perhaps now they can do that. He will talk to the bentonite companies as well since they maintain the haul road that can be accessed by Davis Lane.

Bridges and Hovey will go to the location, access the issue and come back with a recommendation.

A public hearing on Lane 17 was the first item on the commissioner’s agenda. The hearing was to vacate the lane. No public comment was received. Carrizales and Jolley both noted that this has been a lengthy process and that commissioners have gone to the site themselves to review. The motion to vacate passed.

In other news:

• Access permits on Orchard Bench, Lane 37, Road 10 and Lane 8 were approved.

• A letter will be sent to two landowners on the mountain regarding improvements on a county road. The letter will ask for a time and place to meet to review the proposed improvements.

• Bridges is reviewing the BLM’s 90% complete plans for Leavitt Reservoir.