House committee kills State Land Board bill
A bill that would enable Eagle County residents to preserve 1,280 acres of public land as open space died Friday morning on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 104 was killed on its second reading when Weld County Republican Bill Webster re-inserted a Senate amendment that would have validated a 1996 contract between prospective buyer Robert Brotman and the Colorado State Land Board. That contract was declared invalid by both the Denver District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, said the bill, as amended, would have taken the issue away from the courts, where the matter has languished since 1996, forcing all negotiations through Brotman, a former Beaver Creek resident who told state lawmakers he plans to develop 35-acre parcels on the 640 acres near Arrowhead.
“There’s no way we should go forward with the bill under those circumstances,” said White. “Anything Eagle County does would have to be done apart from court. They wouldn’t even have the right to let the court decide.”
Webster, who also heard the bill in the House Agriculture Committee, told House member that the state made a bad deal.
“The state made a deal and the state needs to stick with their deal,” Webster said.
Not so, White replied.
“I assert that it’s an illegal deal and the state has no obligation to honor it,” said White. “At least killing the bill allows Eagle County to go back and seek remedy through the courts.”
Locals outraged, dissappointed
Local environmental activist Andy Wiessner was outraged.
“That’s a disgrace,” said Wiessner. “Every elected official from the governor on down to the county and towns supported this. I know they were swamped with calls from Eagle County residents asking them to back this.
One guy and a bunch of lobbyists got the state Legislature to back down in the face of all the support,” said Wiessner. “They did their dirty work with great efficiency.”
Wiessner said the battle is far from over.
“Brotman’s in for a long battle,” Wiessner said. “We’ll fight him every step of the way.”
Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Cindy Cohagen called Friday’s action extremely disappointing.
“The next move is something the Land Trust board and the executive committee will have to decide what steps they want to take to help protect these two valuable and pristine pieces of property,” said Cohagen. “As we demonstrated in our effort to support SB 104 for the past three or four months, protecting this property is a top priority for the Land Trust.”
Back to court
The issue will now likely head back to court, where it was before the Legislature took up the cause.
Brotman and neighboring landowner Dick Scudder have been locked in lawsuits over the property since Brotman’s $3 million deal with the Land Board in 1996. The Land Board manages 3 million acres of public land in Colorado, with the money going to public schools. After the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Scudder had no standing to sue because he wasn’t associated with schools, the Eagle County School District took up the cause, suing Brotman with Scudder paying the legal bills.
Scudder said Friday if the school district decides to go back to court, he would again pay the legal bills.
“Certainly, if they want to,” said Scudder.
Eagle County School Superintendent said the school board would have to decide whether to jump back into the courts. The school board put the lawsuit on hold when the Legislature took up the matter.
Brotman and his attorneys contend that the statute of limitations has expired, something else that will be sorted out in court.
“If the court finds that to be true, they’ll close the negotiations Brotman and the land board will finalize their sale,” said White. “Either way, it will no longer be decided by the Legislature. It’s up to the courts to decide.”
Citing the two court rulings handed down, Wiessner said the statute of limitations is a non-issue.
“I don’t think there’s a statute of limitations because it’s an illegal contract,” Wiessner said.
White said despite Friday’s setback, the battle goes on.
“It’s not over until the fat lady sings, and she doesn’t sing until the courts are finished,” said White.
The story so far …
? Feb. 6, on a 6-3 vote, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed Senate Bill 104, sending it to the full state Senate. The bill paves the way for Eagle County residents to put conservation easements on the 1,280 acres of public land.
? The bill did not seek funding to purchase the conservation easements. Money to buy conservation easements for the property would have to be raised locally.
? Former Beaver Creek resident Robert Brotman signed a contract in 1996 with the State Land Board to purchase the property. He told the state Senate Ag Committee he wants to develop 18 35-acre parcels on the 640-acre Arrowhead parcel, next to Arrowhead in Edwards. He said he wants to trade the Berry Creek parcel, 640-acres above Singletree, to the Forest Service.
? Public outcry in Eagle County led Colorado Department of Natural Resources Greg Walcher to invoke a 1973 law that allows him to stop any State Land Board deal that he doesn’t believe is in the public’s best interest, or is environmentally damaging.
? Among the issues to be sorted out in court is whether Brotman’s contract is valid.
? The State Land Board manages 3 million acres of public land in Colorado, with the proceeds helping fund public schools. The land board did 50 deals across the state similar to Brotman’s, planning to buy office buildings, parking lots and other revenue-generating commercial properties.
? Prior to 1996, the Arrowhead parcel was leased to neighboring landowner Dick Scudder for $416 a year. Now it’s leased to no one.
? Brotman has said the state has held $1.4 million of his money in an escrow account since he and the State Land Board reached their 1996 agreement.
? On Feb. 22, the full Senate passed the bill with an amendment that would have validated Brotman’s contract with the State Land Board.
? On March 13, the House Agriculture Committee stripped the amendment and passed the bill.
? Senate Bill 104 moved to the Capital Committee on March 28, where it was heard by three House members and three Senate members. They moved the bill to the full House.
? On April 5, Senate Bill 104 died on the House floor after an amendment was attached that would have validated the 1996 contract between Brotman and the State Land Board, taking the courts completely out of the picture.