Vail Daily editorial: Benefit of the doubt for Gypsum | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily editorial: Benefit of the doubt for Gypsum

the Vail Daily Editorial Board

The power of property condemnation is perhaps the heaviest implement in any government’s toolbox. Citizens should pay close attention whenever those words appear on any board’s agenda.

That said, the town of Gypsum deserves the benefit of the doubt for now regarding the acquisition — or possible condemnation — of a 69-acre parcel along the Eagle River. That parcel is owned by Clearwater Ventures, the corporate owner of the Eagle Valley Clean Energy power plant in town. That plant uses beetle-killed timber to generate electricity, thanks to millions in federal loan guarantees.

The recently passed ordinance regarding the acquisition has drawn heated criticism from Clearwater Ventures representative Dean Rostrom. His comments the previous week — essentially claiming the town was out to seize the parcel through eminent domain proceedings — drew nearly 50 people to the council’s July 26 meeting. Almost all were opposed to any possible condemnation of the land.

Again, citizens are right to be wary of any proposal that includes the possible condemnation of private property, and should ask pointed questions of their representatives.

But residents also need to understand some of the history leading up to the recent vote.

• The plant operated for nearly a year without a town-issued temporary certificate of occupancy, since the plant hadn’t made good on several conditions of its annexation agreement with the town.

• Following a conveyor belt fire in December of 2014, the plant reopened — this time with its town-mandated certificate — in November of 2015.

• The plant’s owners are currently embroiled in a federal lawsuit with the company that built the facility. That suit won’t go to trial until 2017.

• For at least a time, town officials didn’t have a reliable way to reach company officials.

Any one of those facts would put a damper on any business relationship. Taken together, it’s understandable why the town would refer, even theoretically, to its most heavy-handed tool.

It’s also instructive to note that Gypsum’s town government is, by far, the most conservative elected group in the valley. Anyone who thinks council members Dick Mayne and Chris Estes, along with Mayor Steve Carver, would vote to seize a piece of private property don’t know those people very well — or at all.

This isn’t an unqualified vote of support for the council. But, given the known personalities involved, residents need to watch this process, but withhold judgment on their elected representatives for now. This group has a pretty good record over the years.