Battle Mountain annexation upheld by high court | VailDaily.com

Battle Mountain annexation upheld by high court

The Colorado Supreme Court Monday issued a unanimous ruling upholding Minturn's 2008 annexation of the Battle Mountain Resort property. That ruling allows the town to keep planning ways to spend more than $4 million in escrow funds released recently to pay for a scholarship fund, open space and other town improvements.

MINTURN, Colorado – Town officials Monday engaged in a bit of high-fiving – mixed with some relieved sighing – when the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously upheld the town’s 2008 annexation of the Battle Mountain Resort property.

That ruling means the town and Battle Mountain can continue working on development agreements. But it also means Minturn can keep – and take its time deciding how to spend – about $4.6 million in escrow funds that had recently been released to the town.

Council member Earle Bidez said the legal agreement releasing the funds stated that if the state Supreme Court invalidated the annexation, the town would have to return any portion that hadn’t been spent or appropriated until a new annexation agreement was complete.

“We’d have been able to keep $350,000 for the scholarship fund, $250,000 for Little Beach Park and a little more, but that would have been it,” Bidez said.

With the annexation issue settled, the town can now continue planning how to spend the money – but only on projects needed when the resort is built, including open space, recreation and improvements to the town’s water system.

That annexation had been challenged by Jeffrey Tucker, filing suit as Sensible Housing Co., Inc., which alleged that the town couldn’t bring the property into town because ownership of all the property was still in question in a “quiet title” dispute.

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Tucker and Battle Mountain are still involved in a dispute over one parcel in the 4,300-acre resort property. A District Court judge in Eagle has already ruled in Battle Mountain’s favor in that case, but the Colorado Court of Appeals has sent the case back to District Court for clarification on one of the two disputed pieces of land.

District Court in Eagle had also ruled in Battle Mountain and Minturn’s favor in the annexation case, but that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeals, which ruled the town acted improperly because ownership of the land hadn’t been settled. The appeals court invalidated the town’s annexation, but that was delayed because the town immediately took the case to the state’s high court.

A couple of months ago, Battle Mountain Resort general manager David Kleinkopf had predicted the state Supreme Court would ultimately uphold the annexation. But predictions are always iffy when it comes to litigation. That’s why town officials were celebrating Monday.

“We’re very excited,” town manager Jim White said Monday. “That hurdle has been in front of us for a long time.”

Reached at his Front Range office, Kleinkopf called the court victory “terrific news.”

But, he added, there’s still a lot of work left before the resort has a clear legal and regulatory path to start construction when the national economy improves.

The next immediate step is resolving the ownership dispute. No court dates have been scheduled, but Kleinkopf said Battle Mountain wants the case settled as soon as possible.

Once the legal challenges are handled, and the EPA gives its approval to the Bolts Lake plan, Bidez said the town and Battle Mountain can start work on a revised development agreement for the resort.

“This project is different than it was in 2008 – and more appealing in some ways,” Bidez said, especially the new plan’s reliance on the town to provide the retail services for the resort.

For now, though, Bidez said the biggest part of Monday’s ruling is putting more than $4 million firmly in the town’s hands.

“Now we can plan ahead without any question marks,” he said.