Gypsum condemnation threat draws heated opposition
GYPSUM — People get angry at municipal governments when actions related to condemnation or eminent domain are in play, as Gypsum officials learned Tuesday.In a 5-1 vote, the council passed an ordinance approved acquisition or condemnation of property belonging to Clearwater Ventures LLC, the entity that owns the land where the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass plant is located. Town officials insisted their intention is to launch a negotiation process that will determine a fair market price for 69 acres located along the Eagle River. Once that price is determined, the town will either proceed with a purchase or walk away from a deal, Gypsum officials stated.
The crowd at Gypsum Town Hall wasn’t buying that explanation.
Dean Rostrom, of Clearwater Ventures, said the town could characterize its actions differently, but argued Gypsum was actually embarking on an eminent domain taking.
“It’s not right to just go around and take private property when you can otherwise get it through normal channels,” Rostrom said. “As you probably know, the property is currently listed for sale, so if Gypsum wants the property, we invite you to come and negotiate a purchase in good faith just like anyone else.”
Rostrom said in its Notice of Intent to Acquire the Property, Gypsum indicated it wanted to pay $506,000 for the 69 acres — $7,600 per acre.
“That’s a very different price per acre than what Clearwater paid to the town just six months ago to settle a public land dedication obligation,” said Rostrom. “At that time, Gypsum required Clearwater to pay the appraised value of $22,500 per acre to settle the public dedication.”
He called on town officials to negotiate in a fair and open matter for the land purchase and to drop the condemnation action.
“There is no need to push this ordinance through,” said Rostrom.
Nearly 50 people attended Tuesday night’s session and the crowd was vocally and passionately on Clearwater’s side of the debate. Numerous speakers took time at the podium to decry the town’s actions.
“It’s wrong and you all know its wrong,” said Jody Horn. “How can you folks look in a mirror or sleep at night if you vote yes on this eminent domain?”
“I can read about eminent domain cases in Chicago and Los Angeles, not here in Gypsum,” said James Bair. “I am really disappointed to see this get pushed through and if it does, I don’t think that’s what this town is all about. It’s not what our values are.”
“Honestly, I am just disappointed. I don’t know how things have gotten this far,” said Clayton Gerard. “Taking this land isn’t going to help the town, it’s not going to help anyone.”
While noting that the property is listed for sale, Rostrom also said that the 69 acres earmarked by the town are important to both the operation of the biomass plant and to Clearwater Ventures.
“The property is currently being used for two purposes: Ranching operations and to source water for the biomass plant,” said Rostrom. “The property has numerous streams, springs and irrigation ditches across it, and these waterways are used by the biomass plant to source, or extract, much of the water it needs for its operations. The biomass plant buys its water rights from Gypsum, but it has to collect and extract the water from where it can find it, which is from this property that Gypsum now wants to take.”
Rostrom said Clearwater has asked for assurances that the biomass plans would retain access to water on the property if Gypsum was successful in acquiring the 69 acres. He maintained the town has refused to give any such assurances.
“This is the first time we have heard that this property is critical to the biomass plant operations,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll. He said the property is located in the floodplain and encompasses wetlands, and it was Gypsum’s understanding that the land was not part of the biomass operation.
“What we would like to do is negotiate for the property. We are not shutting the plans down. We want to make that clear,” said Shroll. “We are not interested in shutting the plant down. We are not interested in shutting off your water.”
Town Council members said they have a four-year history of difficult negotiations with both Clearwater Ventures and the biomass operation and the ordinance to acquire or condemn is intended to force the parties to participate into negotiations.
“When you have made us promises and we try to make good on them for four years, what would you have us do?” asked council member Tom Edwards.
“I have never worked with anybody who is as hard to work with as the biomass plant. I am not sure what the problem is,” said council member Dick Mayne. He said he personally tried to resolve the issues between the town and the operation to no avail.
But Mayne was the sole dissenting vote for the ordinance on Tuesday night. “I am in favor of acquiring the property. I am not in favor of condemnation,” he said.
“A lot of you guys who know me know that the thought of eminent domain makes me ill,” said council member Chris Estes. He argued the ordinance action was not a prelude to condemnation but rather an attempt to spur negotiation with the court acting as a neutral, third party. The court will determine the proper price per acre, for land that Clearwater has listed for sale, said Estes. He said if the price is agreeable to everyone, the town will move forward. If not, Gypsum won’t pursue the purchase.
“This action will move the issue along,” said Estes.