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Butte chief executive addresses ADA ramp dispute in Uptown Butte

ADA in Uptown Butte
Posted at 6:16 PM, Apr 10, 2024

CORRECTION, April 12, 2024: Our original story (published April 10, 2024) mischaracterized the position of Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher and Deputy County Attorney Sean Peterson. Gallagher was misquoted as saying he supports denying an easement for an ADA-compliant ramp at Top Deck Medical Aesthetics. Gallagher has clarified with MTN News that the decision to grant the easement does not come from his office. Peterson explained in an email to MTN News that only the Council of Commissioners is empowered to grant the easement sought by Top Deck Medical Aesthetics. A revised version of the article is below.

BUTTE — Butte’s chief executive is speaking out regarding a new medical practice’s request for an easement to install an ADA-compliant ramp that would encroach on the public right-of-way. The owner of the medical practice says this position goes against federal law.

Late last month, Jamie Decker, a Montana board-certified nurse practitioner and owner of Top Deck Medical Aesthetics, said she is facing a roadblock from the county and claims Butte-Silver Bow officials came to the conclusion that the county could not recommend her request for an easement when she brings the issue before the Council of Commissioners.

This frustrates Decker because without a recommendation from the county, she feels it is unlikely that the Council of Commissioners will approve her request.

"There’s a little misconception. A lot of blaming at Butte-Silver Bow, but Butte-Silver Bow—that’s Butte-Silver Bow’s property that we have to make sure that we protect the public, and so when we’re protecting the public that means liability," says J.P. Gallagher, chief executive of Butte-Silver Bow County.

In an email to MTN News, Deputy County Attorney Sean Peterson clarified that only the Council of Commissioners is empowered to grant the easement sought by Decker.

Gallagher says the issue could have been avoided in the design process before the business owner moved forward with upgrades to the interior of the medical practice.

Holding a photo of the original building where Top Deck is now located, Gallagher says, “This is the historic building. There’s a double-door that was historically there that we identified—and our historic preservation officer identified—that there could potentially be ADA accessibility there.”

Decker says that according to an engineering firm, any adjustments to the interior would be destructive to the 125-year-old building. She says her only option to serve her patients is to build a ramp on the exterior of the facility.

Gallagher says he and other Butte-Silver Bow officials want to support Decker, but the decision to grant the easement does not come from his office, or from the office of any other Butte-Silver Bow official. Peterson stated in his email that Butte-Silver Bow is currently in the process of hiring an ADA consultant to review all policies and procedures as they relate to the ADA.

At the beginning of March, the county put out a request for proposals for a plan that they hope will clear up the issue of not having a proper policy in place. They acknowledge it’s a slow-moving process.

"I hate it when patients call and the first thing like, 'Yes, we can help you but are you ambulatory?' I mean, that’s not a question you want to ask anybody. Like, can you get in the door, can you get in the stairs?" says Decker.

Recently she spent time in the county land records office digging through documents to find information on existing ramps in Uptown Butte.

"Nothing else has a right-of-way easement so, the water company doesn’t have anything. The rest of these don’t have any easements. The CCT buildings have the most documentation, but there’s nothing on easements with those ramps," says Decker.

Decker and her attorney say the lopsided approach by the county to provide access to some facilities but not Top Deck is in violation of federal law.

"Titles II and III from the ADA simply state that if there isn’t another way, if the business has gone out of their way to show that there isn’t another way then the county must make room for a policy or procedure to then request an easement," says Decker.

MTN News asked Gallagher, since ADA is federal law, why can’t the city go ahead and create a policy without Decker going through the hoops to get her ramp.

"You are throwing two things together. And so, it’s federal law for ADA but federal law also mandates that she has to do ADA accessibility and she needs to identify that in the beginning of her architectural drawings," says Gallagher.

Decker plans to go before Butte's Council of Commissioners on April 17 at 7:30 on the third floor of the Butte-Silver Bow County Courthouse.