Gypsum eyes purchase of river frontage land | VailDaily.com

Gypsum eyes purchase of river frontage land

GYPSUM — Now that the town of Gypsum and the operators of the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass plant are back on speaking terms, the town hopes to make the jump to dealing terms for 68 acres of property along the Eagle River.

Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll noted that since 2012, the community has pursued acquisition of the riverfront property, which has substantial value to the Gypsum community, including numerous potential public uses.

"It was certainly identified in our Eagle River Master Plan as something the town wants to do and that the public wants us to do," said Shroll.

The property is identified in the Eagle River Area Plan as being important for recreational activities and also as a possible site for a future sewer treatment facility. Shroll said portions of the property are identified in the plan as "a gem of the Eagle River corridor," highlighting its significance to the Gypsum community. Shroll said the town envisions a public access east of the biomass property that could include passive recreation and a boat ramp.

"We haven't done any planning on it yet," said Shroll. "The town's acquisition of this property will ensure the preservation of this area of the Eagle River corridor, including both the natural and wildlife values and the opportunity for future public uses."

Intent to sell

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At the time of the property's annexation into Gypsum in 2012, Shroll said property owner Clearwater Ventures LLC indicated its intent to sell the bulk of the riverfront to the town and Eagle County. That sale did not occur, but the town has continued to pursue acquisition of the property for public use.

For the past few years, the town has been working with Clearwater and the operator of the biomass plant, Eagle Valley Clean Energy, LLC, on compliance with its annexation and development obligations. During these discussions, the town renewed its request to acquire the property.

With the recent resolution of the annexation and development issues, the town believes this is the appropriate time to return to the property acquisition discussions.

"We are pretty optimistic that we can negotiate a good deal for Gypsum," said Shroll.

The details of the negotiation are not yet public, but Tuesday night the Gypsum Town Council agreed to engage appraisers, engineers and other professional consultants and to send a notice of intent to acquire property from Clearwater.

Compliance issues

Earlier this year, the town and Eagle Valley Clean Energy, a Provo, Utah-based firm, resolved a dispute regarding the plant's operation. The plant had been shut down for nearly a year before it resumed operations in November 2015, but the town maintained its operators never met the terms of the annexation agreement signed before the facility was built.

Eagle Valley Clean Energy agreed to:

• Convey water line main and hydrants along with easements to the town.

• Provide a fishing easement.

• Provide cash ($50,000) instead of building a bike path through the property.

• Provide cash ($105,000) instead of land for public purposes, in this case 4.6 acres. It is required in all town subdivisions.

• Pay fees owed the town.

Issues remain

In response, the town issued a temporary certificate of occupancy. But larger issues face Eagle Valley Clean Energy in a federal court battle with Wellons Inc., the Oregon company that built the $56 million biomass plant.

In a lawsuit, Wellons claims that Eagle Valley Clean Energy still owes the company more than $14 million.

Wellons is also accusing insiders with Eagle Valley Clean Energy of pocketing $18.5 million in federal tax credit subsidies, calling it "fraudulent transfers" and "civil conspiracy." In its lawsuit, Wellons claims the $18.5 million went to "insider" parties, and alleges that Eagle Valley Clean Energy was trying to hide the money.

Eagle Valley Clean Energy returned fire with a $19.3 million countersuit against Wellons, claiming shoddy construction caused the Dec. 13, 2014, conveyor belt fire that idled the plant for a year. The federal court jury trail is scheduled to begin in January 2017.