Sometimes common sense and fairness prevail.
Such was the case in Sherman County when the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) decided to maintain the existing barbed-wire fence along both sides of the I-70 Highway corridor.
KDOT had been flirting with the idea of widening the right-of-way easements and replacing the existing fence with a cable fence. This proposal was primarily a cost saving measure designed to cut maintenance costs of the existing fence.
Landowners, farmers and stockmen along the corridor heard about the proposal, met as a group and in mid-October visited with KDOT to express their resolve to keep and maintain the original five-strand, barbed-wire fence. They understood cattle, hogs, sheep or nearly any type of livestock are bound to escape on occasion.
The cattlemen also knew and understood that with a single cable, cattle and other livestock were bound to find their way onto the fast-moving interstate highway, says Mike Irvin, Kansas Farm Bureau Legal Foundation director. Not only were they concerned about the safety of those people traveling in cars and trucks, they were also worried about their valuable stock should they be hit or run over on the highway.
"The Sherman County landowners and stockmen also realized that if this proposal moved forward, they would be liable for keeping the livestock off the highway rather than KDOT," Irvin notes.
The livestock producers were convinced a cable would not keep their stock off the heavily traveled interstate. If this idea succeeded, they would be forced to maintain the old fence or build new ones. Building and maintaining a five-strand barbed wire fence is costly and this would have been a major departure from long standing precedent first established when I-70 was originally completed nearly 50 years ago.
"Looking at this fencing issue we felt confident our court system and the state legislature intended for KDOT to maintain this fence line with a five-strand, barbed-wire fence from the very beginning," Irvin says. "Our livestock producers wanted to keep something that had worked in place. They believed in the existing system."
Further precedent for continuation of the existing system was defined in the case of Reynolds v. KDOT that concluded landowners and livestock producers would rely on state fences rather than installing private fences alongside the state fences. And because the state built the fencing, they were responsible for maintaining it.
Fortunately, after the groundswell in Sherman County, KDOT decided the concerns of landowners, farmers and stockmen were valid. They agreed to leave the original five-barbed wire fences in place.
This fencing question represents a classic case where working together and fairness won out. State government, individual landowners and livestock producers found common ground based on understanding, common sense and the best method of ensuring safety for everyone.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.