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A local property owner is suing Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks to eliminate a one-acre easement providing access to the East Gallatin River near the Cherry River fishing access north of downtown Bozeman.

Susan Gianforte, wife of RightNow Technologies CEO Greg Gianforte, is listed as the registered agent of East Gallatin LLC, the company filing suit to yank the easement from the northwest corner of its Manley Road property, which runs alongside 75 acres of Fish Wildlife and Parks land.

Because several people owned the property when the easement was inked in 1993, and only one of the owners, David H. Manley, signed off on it, the transaction was not legal, East Gallatin LLC attorneys argue in the suit filed in District Court on May 21.

There are several other points to access the river in that area, said Art Wittich, the Bozeman attorney representing East Gallatin. So the easement is not necessary for public recreation needs, and, he said, his client's property is being harmed by public wear and tear.

"There's been damage to the property, and what they want to do is avoid that," Wittich said.

FWP has refused to terminate the easement and will fight the suit, said an attorney representing the agency, Becky Jakes Dockter.

Because much of the East Gallatin River is flanked by steep banks, the Manley Road access plays a significant role in ensuring public access, she said.

"It's important to the department, and it's important to the public," she said.

And because the 1993 agreement enabled Manley Road property owners to run utility lines across FWP land in exchange for the easement, retracting the agreement would leave FWP empty handed, she said.

A fence runs alongside the easement, too, Jakes Dockter said, so the public cannot get to East Gallatin's private property.

"So, it's somewhat surprising that they have this damage," she said.

FWP has yet to be served with the lawsuit.

Jessica Mayrer can be reached at or 582-2635.

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