By Rob Everingham
It's been a long, tough road and the end is hopefully in sight.
The subcommittee of the 234 Advisory Committee, the committee that is working for the Hill County Commissioners on proposing a plan for the possible fencing in Beaver Creek Park, will meet tonight at 7 in the Hill County Courthouse Annex.
There are 16 members on the committee who will eventually propose a plan to the Hill County Commissioners.
According to Craig Erickson, the facilitator of the discussion, the meeting tonight will be a working meeting, and limited public comment will be accepted at the end of the meeting.
Erickson said this is a meeting so the committee can speed the process up and get a plan to the commissioners as soon as possible.
The committee does not have a plan yet, Erickson said.
"I would like to stress that the whole committee has not endorsed a fencing plan," Erickson said. "Some people may think
they have and there are some misperceptions but they have not."
Tonight's meeting will entail different committee members proposing their plans to the rest of the members.
Erickson said some are trying to seek a waiver to the fence. He said he has spoken to the legislative services division of Montana about the liability issues with the fence. Erickson said he will report to the committee tonight about those liability issues.
"It's more complex than some people think," Erickson said.
The committee is also under the pressure of finishing a proposal so an environmental assessment can be conducted by Dan Norderud, who will also be presenting to the committee tonight about the assessment.
Other committee members who will present their plans tonight will present plans to work the fence into the park.
Mel Gomke, a member of the committee, will propose a plan that incorporates the fence, while leaving the park accessible.
Gomke said the committee has divided into two groups, with one side wanting to go to the legislature and find a way around the fence. The other side, Gomke said, was against the fence plan at first but realizes the commissioners will most likely take the road improvement funds and there will be a fence.
"I would rather accept a fence under our terms," Gomke said.
The plan would have a partial wood fence nearer to the road in spots and then fall back to a wire fence back in the brush and less noticed areas.
"Make it so the general public won't realize there is a fence," Gomke said.
The committee is trying to satisfy parkgoers, picnickers, campers, berry pickers, fisherman and cattle raisers, said Gomke.
The proposal Gomke's proposing would also look for off-stream water so the cattle would not need to come down to Beaver Creek. Gomke said his plan would lower the proposed number of gates from 48 to about eight.
"Nobody is fond of opening gates and crawling though fences," Gomke said.
The park also would remain 100-percent handicap accessible.
Cattle raisers would lose some bottom area to grazing, but Gomke said the county would not lose money from this land. The county could also have someone come in and hay these areas.
Gomke said there will be little public comment on the fence at the meeting tonight, but encourages the public to contact the Friends of Beaver Creek Park.
The Friends of Beaver Creek Park are also anti-fence and would exchange no fence for no road work and letting the road return to gravel, but Gomke disagrees with that also.
"We can't fall back, we have to progress to the future," he said.
Gomke said people need to look seriously at the fence.
"If we don't do that, then four or five years down the road the legislature could come in and we would have to build a fence for liability reasons," Gomke said.
Gomke also said the public should contact members of the committee and he would accept letters at Mel's Grocery on Fifth Avenue.
While the final plan is still in the future, most of the committee members agree it will still take some time.
Erickson said he would like to applaud the committee on being able to sit down and discuss ideas.
"I would like to commend the committee members who have set aside their personal opinions too find a decision to this difficult issue," Erickson said.