Allen family to receive $40,000
Following a recent settlement agreement, the Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District will be able to access land owned by the Allen family to conduct geotechnical studies for a proposed reservoir.
A signed order from Water Judge Robert Brown dated January 22 affirms that the district will be able to access the site, but must pay the Allen family $40,000 in compensation.
"In the long run it’s a good thing. I hope it created some good will between ourselves and the Allens with regard to not having to go through a condemnation," Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District board president Bill Racek says.
The Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District had filed a petition in condemnation in Gunnison District Court on Thursday, September 6, 2007 in hopes of getting a court order that would allow them to access the property to conduct geotechnical studies.
The property is just past the northwest edge of Mt. Crested Butte at the base of Snodgrass Mountain.
According to the district’s original petition, the geotechnical studies are necessary to proceed with the establishment and construction of a reservoir for which the district holds a conditional water right to build.
A conditional water rights decree was issued in 1984, granting the district the right to build a reservoir with a total water storage capacity of 700 acre-feet and a surface area of 35 acres.
The decree also approves the general location of the proposed reservoir, part of which is on property owned by Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR). However, the majority of it is on property owned by the Allens.
According to Racek, the district has forecasted a water supply shortage in the future if the Town of Mt. Crested Butte continues to grow as expected.
State law gives the district the power of eminent domain, through which property can be condemned and forced to sell for public purposes. A common example would be the government condemning a property in order to build a highway. But when property is taken through eminent domain, the owner is entitled to compensation.
After refusing offers of $5,000 and $20,000, the Allens disputed the district’s authority to condemn for a temporary easement. An all-day hearing was set for January 23 to determine the district’s authority to condemn the land for a temporary easement.
According to the district’s general attorney, Jill Norris, a settlement agreement was reached a few weeks prior to the scheduled hearing, following extensive negotiations. Norris says her party is pleased with the outcome and the hearing was cancelled.
An attorney for the Allens, Amanda Bradley, says the judge’s order is beneficial in several respects. "It has avoided what could have been a costly hearing. It also allows (the Allens) a little bit more control over the work the district is going to conduct on the property," she says.
According to Judge Brown’s signed order, "The parties agree that the (district) shall be entitled to a two-year temporary easement over the property… In exchange for such temporary easement, the (district) shall pay the Allen family just compensation in the amount of $40,000."
Additional details provided in the judge’s order state that the district must provide a detailed plan of the geotechnical work that will occur on the property, and following the initial drilling all access to the site must be by all-terrain vehicle, snowmobile, horseback or foot. Furthermore, the district agreed that the site will be fully restored after the testing is done, and there will be no permanent damage to the land.
The district was also given the option to extend the temporary easement for another two years, but it must compensate the Allens with $20,000 for each additional year.
Racek says, "It’s a possibility that we might engage the Allens in a conversation to acquire the property (permanently) based on what we find. But it also may end up allowing us to stop considering that site for a reservoir."
The judge’s order gives the Allens the right to challenge future condemnations, but they cannot object to the district’s 1984 water right. Also, if a condemnation is ultimately necessary to acquire the parcel needed to build a reservoir, the current settlement monies will count toward fulfilling just compensation for the entire parcel.