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Float for your right

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The latest salvo in the battle over public access to Montana’s waterways will launch this Sunday on the Ruby River south of Butte. Billed as the “Montana Public Stream Access Float Day,” the event will feature an organized flotilla of protesters floating a section of the Ruby River that flows through controversial millionaire media mogul James C. Kennedy’s ranch.

According to Tony Schoonen, president of Montana Coalition for Stream Access, Kennedy has electric and barbwire fencing attached to bridge abutments along the Ruby, cutting off public access to the river on all sides.

Kennedy, chairman of the Atlanta-based media company Cox Enterprises Inc. and vice president of the James M. Cox Jr. Foundation, wrote a letter to the University of Montana Journalism School that touched off an editorial firestorm earlier this year.

“[M]any 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,” Kennedy stated in the letter.

Float Day organizers are hoping this weekend’s event will draw statewide attention to the issue of private landowners blocking public access to streams.

“Basically, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of public stream access laws in Montana,” says Schoonen.

Schoonen says all Montanans, including current and prospective politicians, are invited to take part in the float, which he says will encompass the entire stretch of river bordered by Kennedy property.

Sunday’s float is already grabbing the attention of at least someone at the Kennedy ranch. On Monday, float organizer Tom Malloy, of Butte, lowered his 12-foot aluminum boat off the Lewis Lane bridge between Sheridan and Twin Bridges to do a “reconnaissance” float along Sunday’s route.

Malloy told the Independent that he was tailed by two pickup trucks on his 5 1/2-hour float. One of the drivers appeared to be video recording his every move.

“They never said a word. I just waved and kept going,” says Malloy.

For more information on the Montana Public Stream Access Float Day contact Tony Schoonen at (406) 782-1560.

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