In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Blaine County commissioners ordered the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to file a lawsuit against the Flying Heart homeowners association to enforce a requirement that parking be allowed on Aspen Lakes Drive for public access to the Big Wood River.
At issue is a 1979 subdivision agreement that states the public “shall have access to the roads and river.” As part of that agreement, the county maintains a 15-foot easement parallel to the east bank of the Big Wood, with two public paths to get there. But signs posted on private property in the development say otherwise and at least one car has been towed from Aspen Lakes Drive, causing a public outcry last month.
The commissioners ordered that the two signs be removed and two parking sites identified. The Flying Heart Homeowners Association responded with an offer to remove parking areas at two-tenths of a mile and a half-mile from the public access points. In a letter to the homeowners association, the commissioners ruled that unacceptable.
“Public access is critically important, and this would not meet the need for parking,” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said Tuesday.
Flying Heart Homeowners Association representatives failed to appear Tuesday at the county commissioners’ meeting as requested.
“So far we are not being heard,” Commissioner Dick Fosbury said.
About 40 county residents were at the Old County Courthouse on Tuesday to defend easy public access to the river.
“This could go to the scope of hunting and biking access [elsewhere] too,” said county resident George Rizzo. “Where would it stop?”
Flying Heart residents have complained about litter and trespassing, especially at specific times of the year.
“Fishermen have never bothered me,” said Flying Heart resident Patty Walton at the Tuesday meeting. “But during mushroom season, people are all over our yard. People come dressed in camo looking for elk antlers. When I say they’re on private property, they tell me, ‘I’ve been doing this for 30 years.’”
Fosbury called such issues “management problems” remedied by a call to the Sheriff’s Office, and separate from a public access issue.
Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said it was time to “get back on track” with litigation. He said the county could play a role in helping to delineate private property boundaries, and appeared willing to leave the door open for resolution of the dispute.
“We don’t want to spend taxpayer dollars on this,” he said. “I would encourage the homeowners association to keep an open mind.”
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim Graves said the homeowners association would be sued for being in violation of a subdivision plat.
“This is not for a criminal action,” Graves said, adding that civil penalties could be levied against Flying Heart, including towing costs and lost profits for outfitters and guides.
“Fishermen are welcome to join me in this lawsuit,” he added.