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The Billionaire with His Foot in His Mouth

Class War on the Ruby River? Bring It On!

by JACKIE CORR

Editors’ Note: In two recent articles appearing in New West Network "Class War Brews Over Conservation," and "Cox Magnate Speaks Out on River Battle") Cox Media’s James Cox Kennedy responded to Montana’s Public Stream Access Float Day,in which CounterPunch writer JACKIE CORR participated. The July 17th float took place on the Montana stretch of the Ruby River that Cox claims as his private property.

It appears multi billionaire James Cox Kennedy of Atlanta, Georgia, has a real gift, one might say an unerring instinct for putting his foot in his mouth.

First, the amazing and tactless letter to the University of Montana a few weeks ago.

"As you may know, many Montana residents are making it known that they are not happy with nonresident landowners in their state. In addition, stream and river access issues are also being raised. Until these issues are resolved and our presence in the state is more appreciated, we have decided not to make any further contributions in Montana."

Not that Mr. Kennedy ever contributed anything in Montana and his use of the word "further" is a little confusing. I mean this is a guy who owes the state of Montana big bucks for illegally privatizing ten miles of one the state’s blue-ribbon trout streams for a dozen years or so.

So, you would think that would be enough out of Mr. Kennedy in one lifetime.

Well, not quite. Apparently Mr. Kennedy is determined to be a household name in the Big Sky, and at that he continues to be very successful.

Now the story line out of Atlanta is of a noble soul who came to Montana just to save a river from the people that live in the state. At least, or not yet, Mr. Kennedy has not claimed it was a call from God.

"This doesn’t have anything to do with stream access," Mr. Kennedy says of his Ruby River problem.

Of course, the problem is how you look at it.

The same tight wired, high-tension fences that the ungrateful of Montana contend are blatantly lawless and illegal, and block county road and bridge right of ways, also keep the Big Sky low-life off the river, which is Mr. Kennedy’s point.

For you see, the visionary Mr. Kennedy now predicts that if he loses the struggle over access at the bridges, initially there would be a more use of the water, "until the fishing is decimated." So the Ruby River, according to Mr. Kennedy, (Is he also the Solomon of the South?) "is not a floatable river." And it is now up to Mr. Kennedy to save it.

In other words, the people of Montana better find another river to float.

Funny how the Ruby survived before Kennedy arrived. And studies by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, come to a quite different conclusion.

Mr. Kennedy also says the bridge fences were already there. Strange how people that have lived in Sheridan and Twin Bridges all their lives can’t remember such fencing..

Nor can anybody remember electric fencing anywhere before Mr. Kennedy’s arrival..

Nor can anybody ever remember seeing Kennedy in Sheridan or Twin Bridges.

Then, there are the two contested bridges and the roads they are on, Lewis Lane and Seyler Road.

Mr. Kennedy glibly disposes of that problem also. "The roads in question are not the kinds of roads that by law have wide rights-of-way." And why is that? The evidence, and the only evidence is, because Mr. Kennedy and his lawyers say so.

But this is Montana where a public road is any road under the jurisdiction of the Montana Department of Transportation, county government or municipal government.

In addition, the width of the bridge right-of- way easement is the same as the public road to which it is attached. Since statehood, 1889, the width of county roads has been 60 feet . But now, Mr. Kennedy has decided to change all that.

And despite the fact that both roads, Lewis Lane and Seyler Lane are two of the oldest roads in Montana, in use long before statehood.

Lewis Lane was part of the old 1860’s stagecoach route from Virginia City to Bannack. Seyler Lane was the original Twin Bridges road to Dillon, in use from 1882 or so.

But what is Montana history, law and tradition when it comes to Mr. Kennedy and his noble pursuit of what is best for the state of Montana?

Then there are the sufferings of Mr. Kennedy.

"I own 20,000 acres in Montana, and as a landowner I have to apply for a [non-resident] hunting license. I have no guarantee that I can even hunt on my own property. That does not seem welcoming."

Not mentioned, of course, is Montana landowners have lived with this for decades and are under the same hunting rules and restrictions as Mr Kennedy. Montana residents also pay income taxes in the state, unlike Mr. Kennedy who visits his trophy ranch for a month or so a year.

Nor, no mention of the blatantly illegal practice of running electric wire over the water and across stream. And how bad is that?

Well, even Ted Turner has never been accused of that little trick. And when you are one up on Turner in Montana, as Mr. Kennedy is, you have truly earned your reputation.

And what about his high priced luxury lodge, Crane Meadows, on the same river on which Montana residents are verboten? No mention of that in the NewWest interview.

Then there is the land trust/conservation easement racket.

Of course, Mr. Kennedy hints that several land trust groups are recruiting him and his Montana Smith River property. "They would love to have me put in an easement."

Well, if you believe that then I will sell you a Ruby River bridge.

The fact is that his conservation easement on the Ruby River is filed under Wetland’s America Trust created shortly before Mr. Kennedy came to Montana.

And Wetlands is a trust of which Kennedy (Atlanta) is president and Ted Turner’s son, Bo (Atlanta) is on the Board of Directors.

So I doubt if Mr. Kennedy was hard to recruit.

And yesterday (Tuesday, July 26) I visited the Ruby with state legislator James Keane who brought his tape measure. Keane was on the assembly committee in 1999, the year the current state fencing law
was passed..

A number of things Representative Keane noted. One being state law says no strand or wire may be below 15 inches from the ground. Yet all Kennedy fencing is not only high but only 12 inches or less above ground at the bottom, a violation of state law and a practice that brings slow death, cruel suffering and starvation to Montana’s far ranging migratory herds of antelope, deer, elk and moose.

Mr. Keane also noted the Kennedy practice of anchoring electric fencing off the public bridges, clearly a violation of state law. Keane also thought the claim that two of Montana oldest and established public roads did not have 60 feet right -of-way rights was "preposterous."

JACKIE CORR lives in Butte, Montana. He can be reached at: jcorr@bigskyhsd.com