Colorado Trail controversy returns

Efforts to extend the Colorado Trail into downtown Durango are heating up again. Next month, La Plata County and the Colorado Division of Wildlife will have a day in court trying to settle whether the county owns two roads bisecting the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area. However, a judge has already ruled in the DOW’s favor on a crux piece of the case.

Fully linked-up in the mid-’80s, the Colorado Trail traverses nearly 500 miles on its winding route from Denver to Durango. Remarkably, the trail stays within national forest the entire way, crosses six wilderness areas and rarely even emerges onto jeep road. However, the trail ends 3.5 miles short of Durango along Junction Creek Road. Safety concerns and aesthetics have pushed several local agencies, including La Plata County, to advocate a solution to the Colorado Trail dilemma.

La Plata County has stated its claim of ownership over “the old wagon road,” also known as Dry Gulch Road, that crosses the wildlife area. Extending from the Rock Ridge development, the road cuts a straight line through the wildlife area. The county attempted to exchange this right-of-way for one along the area’s edge. A new trail would have been built along the edge and brought the Colorado Trail into downtown. However, the DOW has been unwilling to budge. Consequently, La Plata County’s claim of ownership will be weighed in court Sept. 12.

County Commissioner Bob Lieb commented, “Dry Gulch and Dry Fork were long-time established county roads. Our position is that we still own them.”

District Court Judge Jeffrey Wilson may not share that position, however. Earlier this month, Wilson ruled on the State of Colorado’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Citing the 1991 case, “The City of Lakewood v. Mavromatis,” the judge said that the county failed to record pertinent ownership documents, and consequently, he sided with the DOW. However, Wilson said that he would wait until the trial date to make an actual determination. Lieb said that the county intends to be in court Sept. 12.

On the flip side, opponents of extending the Colorado Trail into downtown Durango are celebrating an early victory. Renee Parsons, of the Coalition to Save Perins Peak, commented, “This is a victory for the open space and wildlife at Perins Peak.”

Ski resort involved in tax dispute

Durango Mountain Resort and San Juan County are currently at odds over how much tax the resort should be paying on 153 acres. DMR straddles the line between La Plata and San Juan counties, and San Juan County has a bone to pick with the resort.

Several years ago, DMR took advantage of exemption under Colorado law and classified 153 acres of its property as forest agriculture. As a result, the resort only has to pay $153 in taxes to San Juan County on that land. However, San Juan County has countered that the acreage is actually slated for development, and DMR should be paying $55,000. Two weeks ago, the San Juan County commissioners voted to revoke the forest agriculture designation. The resort concurs that the land is planned for development, but only in 10 to 15 years.

At issue is the intent of the law that was designed to provide a tax break for owners of land who produce wood products for profit. DMR contends that the property was properly classified as forest agriculture and the resort is following the letter of the law.

“We’re just trying to follow the law,” said Gary Derck, DMR chief executive officer. “That’s all we’re trying to do.”

Whether the case will end up in court remains unclear.

LPEA issues $2 million in refunds

Members of the local electrical cooperative, La Plata Electric Association (LPEA), are getting a bonus in the mailbox this month. LPEA is refunding $2 million to local electric customers. The refunds will either be credited to electric bills or mailed as checks throughout the month of August.

When times are good for the coop and equity requirements are met, LPEA is able to refund excess capital back to the customer. Refunds will show up as a credit on the electric bills of most members. Members with refunds of more than $250 and members with inactive accounts will receive checks. Applying the refund as a credit on most bills saves approximately $15,000 per year in printing and mailing costs.

Greg Munro, LPEA Chief Executive Officer, said that the refunds are evidence of the utility getting back on solid financial ground. As a result the utilities owners, its customers, are reaping some benefit.

“These refunds are a major point differentiating us from other types of utilities,” he said. “We give the money back to our members instead of giving it to investors. Our sound fiscal policies combined with strong growth have allowed us to return to a positive financial position. As a result, we’re able to refund patronage capital to our members.”

Since incorporation in 1939, LPEA has refunded more than $21 million.

The case of the missing money

Honesty is alive and well in Durango. The Durango Police Department is presently trying to locate the person who lost several hundreds of dollars in the Town Plaza parking lot over the July 4th weekend. The money was less than $600 and greater than $300 and inside a local bank money envelope.

To claim ownership of the money, a person must be able to identify which bank the money envelope was from and the amount of money that was lost. To claim the missing dollars, call 375-4748. If the envelope is not claimed within 90 days it will be returned to the citizen who found it.

– compiled by Will Sands


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