Easement situation still in limbo
by Mark Reaman
The local district attorney has dropped both the trespassing and tampering charges against Irwin resident John Biro in a case initiated by the Eleven Group.
Biro had pled not guilty to the charges in Gunnison County Court on November 12. While admitting that he had removed a rock barrier and gate put in by Eleven at the entrance to the old Irwin Lodge parking lot, he contended that the barrier was installed on a public easement and that it blocked allowed public access to the Scarp Ridge trail.
Sherry McKenzie, spokesperson for the Seventh Judicial District D.A.’s office, said, “Because of the ongoing boundary line dispute, the D.A. felt it would be difficult to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The trespassing charge was dismissed in December. The remaining tampering charge was dismissed February 25.
Eleven claims the public easement to the Scarp Ridge trail ends at the entrance to the parking lot. The Lake Irwin Coalition (LIC), a consistent critic of Eleven, maintains the public easement goes well into the parking lot and up to the old Irwin Lodge building. Eleven had a private survey done last summer while the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the easement, conducted its own survey last summer as well. Neither survey has yet been made public.
Biro said the whole affair has been somewhat disappointing and feels the decision to drop the charges reflects, “Truth, justice and the American way,” referencing the opening of the old Superman television series.
“I went up there last summer and saw the road and the parking lot were a mess. A woman was at the gate and was scared to turn her car around. So I did what I thought was a good deed and took down the gate so she could go into the parking area and turn around,” Biro explained. “And then unfortunately it got political. In retrospect, I’m glad the preservation of our public easement will be helped by these results.”
The LIC lauded the decision. “Without a doubt, Mr. Biro is a legend and hero for many in the Irwin community,” an LIC press release stated. “There is a reason the 35-year resident is called the ‘mayor of Irwin’… and when it comes to Chad Pike and his company Eleven Experiences illegally obstructing the 826.1c ROW, the mayor of Irwin has spoken!”
The LIC press release states local law enforcement did not handle the situation properly. “The Mt. Crested Butte Police Department neglected to conduct a thorough review of the easement deed 500246 (filed on 3/13/2000 with Gunnison County) and the USFS survey conducted on July 9th, 2015,” the release stated. “The LIC provided information on both of these to law enforcement prior to the incident, which clearly showed that Mr. Biro was well within the 826.1c easement when he removed Eleven’s illegal chain gate obstruction. Instead, law enforcement chose to pursue the unsupported claims of the Scarp Ridge LLC owner who through his attorney provided inaccurate and misleading information to the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department and is believed to have not provided to law enforcement (or the public) the survey conducted by Norman C. Whitehead around June 30th, which was never registered and was the basis for Scarp Ridge LLC’s boulder placement and subsequent criminal complaint.”
District attorney’s office spokesperson McKenzie said the actions by the Mt. Crested Butte police department did not play a role in making the decision to drop the case. The continuing boundary dispute motivated the D.A. to drop the charges.
The LIC, through its president David Gottorff, plans to meet with the D.A. in mid-March to encourage possibly pursuing charges against Eleven over the whole trespassing incident. “…on March 16th the LIC will meet with the Gunnison County district attorney’s office to discuss criminal charges against the owner of Scarp Ridge LLC and its attorney, as we believe they have violated CRS 18-8-111 (II) (b) & (c), filing a false report to authorities, a class 3 misdemeanor. Emails the LIC received directly from Scarp Ridge LLC’s attorney, emails obtained via FOIA requests and statements made in local newspaper articles support such a charge,” the LIC maintains.
Gottorff and the LIC also feel the Forest Service is ready to uphold the public easement as the organization believes it stands.
The LIC release said, “Scott Armentrout, GMUG supervisor, has indicated to us that the survey plat conducted last July is complete, finalized and will be filed soon. He agrees that the 826.1c easement boundaries shown in the plat reflect the survey markers that were placed by USFS surveyors on July 9th, 2015. Once the plat is filed, it will be indisputable that the public has a legally-granted right to use the trailhead parking area adjacent to the Old Irwin Lodge for access to USFS trails 419, 421, and 426 without obstruction or threat of criminal prosecution by the owner of Scarp Ridge LLC or their representatives.”
The Forest Service has not yet filed such a plat based on the summer survey and a USFS spokesperson said this week they have not set a time when that plat will be filed.
“The Forest Service will have a final discussion with Scarp Ridge LLC [Eleven Corp.] on the road easement for road 826.1c to preserve public access to the F.S. trails that surround the Irwin Lodge. These trails include 419, 421 and 426,” said Forest Service public affairs specialist Anne Janik. “The Forest Service intends to file its plat of the road easement [FS Road 826.1c], at which time the public will know where the FS road easement ends and the trail easements for 419 and 426 begin.”
Janik said the document signed in 2000 refers to a road right-of-way—which includes a 60-foot right-of-way with 30 feet on either side of the center line. “The Forest Service is validating that by filing a recorded easement plat for the road and trails,” Janik said.
Janik did confirm the easement would likely go past the entrance to the lodge parking lot. “With the plat we intend to file, the road easement will extend slightly into the existing parking lot—just to where the trail 419 easement starts,” she said. “The 419 trail splits into 421, which is the Scarp Ridge trail. We are unsure when the plat will be filed at this time.”
Representatives of Eleven did not wish to comment on the matter at this time.