A landowner's claims that he can keep the public out of a portion of the Ruby River don't hold water, the state Supreme Court said Thursday in a decision upholding Montana's stream-access laws.
The 5-2 decision favored the group Public Lands Access Association Inc. in its legal dispute with James Cox Kennedy, who owns about 10 miles along the river in Madison County.
The group said Kennedy built fences along county roads and bridges next to his land that prevented the public from using rights of way to reach the Ruby River.
Kennedy argued that the state's 1985 Stream Access Law allowing access to streams within the high-water mark and a 2009 law allowing access from bridges are an "unconstitutional taking of his vested property rights."
Kennedy said that because he owns that portion of the riverbed, he has the right to exclude people from wading or floating on the water above.
Landowners may not impede the public's exercise of that right to access state waters, and some contact with the banks and beds of rivers is necessary for the public to recreate in the water, Justice Mike Wheat wrote in the majority opinion.