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Judge Orders Mediation for Missoula County’s Dispute with Owners of Dunrovin Ranch

Tuesday, January, 15, 2013

Judge Ed McLean of the Missoula County District Court has denied the request for a preliminary injunction against the county’s 12-acre Dunrovin Ranch, a commercial ranch complete with guest apartments and an osprey nest that is viewable on webcam.  According to the county prosecutors, however, the ranch owners, SuzAnne and Sterling Miller, are guilty of sanitary and subdivision violations that should be adequate cause to shut down the ranch’s commercial operations.  Despite these statements, the judge ordered mediation instead. 

According to McLean, the ranch was a reputable and respected tourist-oriented business that had already spent a lot of money attempting to meet the county and state regulations.  However, since the ranch offered horsemanship clinics and trail rides, enforcers for regulations along the Bitterroot River were also put in a tight spot.  He spoke directly to the prosecution’s Deputy County Attorney, James McCubbin, during the hearing and asked, “When we start talking about taking things, what can we do to help our citizens through this process?”  It was a question to which McCubbin replied, “We try to work with citizens.  There’s just only so long we can wait until the county’s facing liability for causing environmental impact or not enforcing our laws.”

SuzAnne Miller, co-owner of the ranch, said in a statement after the hearing, “I really want to compliment Judge McLean.  I thought he did an outstanding job.  I think he clearly saw both sides.  [Mediation] is a good way to help us get through this very complex regulatory web that has entangled us and prevented us from doing things we should do, like the septic system.”

McCubbin sees no issue with sitting down to mediation but stressed that the impasse with the Millers has been present in the county for a considerable length of time.  “Maybe having a formal meeting will be what we need to get us over the hump,” he said.  “The county’s problem is we can’t agree to allow an illegal situation to continue.  We have some sideboards.  What we can do is agree to a timeline for people to come into compliance, and we’ve never gotten there with the Millers.”