Gypsum, biomass plant owners wrangle over proposed land deal | VailDaily.com

Gypsum, biomass plant owners wrangle over proposed land deal

GYPSUM — In a 5-1 vote Tuesday night, the Gypsum Town Council approved an ordinance "approving acquisition or condemnation of certain property" belonging to Clearwater Ventures LLC, the entity that owns the land where the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass plant is located.

Town officials are adamant that the action reflects the "acquisition" language and is intended as a prelude to negotiations to purchase a 69-acre parcel of the 106-acre property. The people involved with Clearwater Ventures are equally adamant that the action is the first step toward condemnation of their land.

"While Gypsum prefers to publicly explain that the ordinance permits the town to 'negotiate' an acquisition from Clearwater, the fact is, it authorizes Gypsum to 'acquire the subject property by exercise of the town's power of eminent domain,'" said Dean Rostrom of Clearwater Ventures. "People should be clear about that."

In response, Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll noted that the members of the Gypsum Town Council hold private property rights in high esteem and have no intention of taking the property. However, he noted there is a debate regarding the property's value and the town must follow a prescribed process to negotiate a deal to obtain the land.

Biomass Background

In 2012, Clearwater Ventures bought the 106-acre site adjacent to the American Gypsum wallboard manufacturing plan for creation of the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass electrical generation plant. The biomass plant only covers 20 acres of the property.

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According to a press release from the town, at the time of the property's annexation into Gypsum, Clearwater Ventures indicated its intent to sell riverfront land to the town and Eagle County for preservation of the area along the Eagle River corridor, including both the natural and wildlife values and the opportunity for future public uses.

In an interview last week, Rostrom said the company is still willing to discuss the town's acquisition of the land, but he said Gypsum doesn't like the price associated with a deal.

Price per acre

As part of its development agreement, Rostrom said Clearwater had to comply with Gypsum's public land dedication requirement. That requirement states that "usable property" or cash in lieu of land must be donated to the town at the time of annexation. The town and the biomass developers agreed to an appraisal price of $22,500 per acre for the land dedication requirement and Clearwater subsequently paid $112,500 to meet the town's regulations.

However, Rostrum said the town has proposed paying only $7,500 per acre for the 69 riverfront acres it wants to buy.

Shroll said the town has not formally proposed a price for the land purchase and that is what the negotiation process will determine. He also maintained that comparing the riverfront parcel with Clearwater's dedication is misleading.

"The land dedication requirement is for usable property," said Shroll. "What we are trying to acquire is non-usable land. It's wetlands. It's comparing apples to oranges."

"Everything we want to negotiate to purchase from them can't be built on," said Shroll.

Town officials insist their actions are not gearing up for condemnation but rather are intended to set the stage for a fair negotiation.

The Clearwater group contends the town's actions have devalued the property.

Eminent domain

"Of course, the moment a government announces its intention to condemn land, the property value plummets and the true open market value can never be realized by the seller," said Rostrom. "But the government shouldn't be able to use that to its benefit."

Rostrom said Clearwater objects to the town's approval of the "acquisition or condemnation" ordinance, calling it "an invasive and unnecessary use of government power."

"The property is for sale, in fact, it was already listed for sale and Gypsum is free to negotiate a fair sale just like anyone else," said Rostrom. "We ask Gypsum to drop the eminent domain action against Clearwater and negotiate a purchase in good faith and in an open, honest and fair manner. We believe that government should act honorably, and not abuse the powers that it has. That's what every citizen and landowner in Gypsum and everywhere else deserves."

Rostrom also said that Clearwater was not notified before first reading of the "acquire or condemn" ordinance earlier this month.

Shroll said Clearwater is unfairly painting Gypsum's actions as secretive and abusive.

"An action to give us the opportunity to negotiate is all we have gone forward with," said Shroll. He stressed Gypsum is also committed to following a fair process for the land purchase.

"The town of Gypsum is pretty easy to get along with," Shroll said.

Tuesday nights vote passed with one dissenting vote from council member Dick Mayne.