County Posts Plum Creek Easement Information

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Missoula County officials concerned about road-easement discussions between Plum Creek Timber Co. and the U.S. Forest Service have received some easement details from the company, which says more information will be provided.

Deputy County Attorney D. James McCubbin said the information, posted Friday on the county’s Web site, is relevant to an underlying Freedom of Information Act request the county submitted to the Forest Service this summer. The material Plum Creek supplied includes an easement map and spreadsheet, and is separate from the Forest Service’s previous FOIA response.

Earlier this year, county officials expressed alarm about a tentative easement amendment that they say could lead to increased development of Plum Creek lands in remote areas and perhaps drive up the cost of providing public services, such as fire protection.

Plum Creek, the largest owner of private land in Montana and the nation, and Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey find concern about the amendment overblown. They said the company has long had use of Forest Service roads in Montana to access Plum Creek lands for any purpose. County officials contend the easements traditionally were only for Plum Creek access to its timberlands so they could be managed.

A Plum Creek manager, Lorrie Woods, sent the county a letter Wednesday stating that work to provide easement information is incomplete and will continue so that “all appropriate easements are accounted for.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was disturbed that negotiation of the amendment by Plum Creek and federal officials occurred privately. At his request the Government Accountability Office is investigating the closed-door discussions.

County officials sought to shed light as well, by filing the FOIA request. County officials said information the government provided in response was inadequate, and last month they filed an appeal seeking more information through the FOIA process.