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Pueblo West landowners refuse to sell land for SDS

Pueblo West landowners refuse to sell land for SDS

Springs City Council tells utility to keep negotiating with landowners.

  Colorado Springs Utilities will have to take another crack at negotiating agreements with a group of Pueblo West property owners who refused to give up their land to make way for the 62-mile Southern Delivery System water pipeline.

  Colorado Springs City Council on Tuesday refused to give Utilities the authority to use eminent domain to acquire 15 property easements in Pueblo West that are standing in the way of a nearly 7-mile stretch scheduled for construction this summer.

 The council voted 8-1 to postpone the decision until Feb. 22 to give Utilities more time to try to reach a compromise with property owners, many of whom were holding out for more money.

 Council members Bernie Herpin and Jan Martin voted in favor of the delay but expressed concerns about sending Utilities back into negotiations with property owners who had received offers based on what the city’s real estate manual allows.

  ‘‘I fear that we’re setting a bad precedent on this project, that all you have to do is hold out,’’ Herpin said.

  While Utilities has acquired easements on about 167 properties, it has a long way to go.

  Utilities needs to acquire about 300 property interests to build SDS, a pipeline designed to pump water uphill from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs by 2016.

 Utilities focused on acquiring property in Pueblo West first to meet the conditions of a land-use permit that expires next year. The permit requires Utilities to take ‘‘substantial steps’’ to build SDS in Pueblo County by April 2012. The permit can be suspended or revoked if the terms are not met.

 Four Pueblo West property owners facing condemnation raised concerns Tuesday about such things as dust and debris from the project and what they characterized as low-ball offers.

 ‘‘It’s not just the money, folks,’’ said Dwain Maxwell, who was offered $2,200 but is asking for $10,000.

 ‘‘It’s what they’re going to do to our property,’’ he said.

 Martin said she hopes Utilities and the Pueblo West holdouts can find ‘‘common ground’’ in the next month.

 ‘‘I’m willing to let us take another couple of weeks and see if there is some maneuvering we can do here,’’ she said.

 ‘‘But I agree. I think it’s a very dangerous precedent to suddenly say, ‘Well, that manual works when it works, but when it doesn’t, we just won’t use it.’ We have asked our staff, not just asked our staff but expected our staff, to follow the real estate manual from the city, and that’s exactly what they have done,’’ she said.

 ‘‘The value of the easements was determined after diligent evaluation and consideration of the sales of comparable properties throughout Pueblo West, where many properties are currently listed for sale,’’ Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said in a memo to council. ‘‘The listing prices and final purchase prices for those properties consistently support the underlying values used in determining the compensation offered for the easements.’’

 The manual gives Utilities little flexibility on how much money it can pay landowners.

  Mayor Lionel Rivera and some council members said they might be willing to give Utilities more latitude on how much they can pay landowners, raising concerns among Utilities officials that land acquisition costs will go up.

 ‘‘I certainly don’t want this to seem like an open-ended check to the people out here in the audience,’’ Rivera said. ‘‘Someone who was offered $2,200 and wants $10,000, I think that’s a little bit unreasonable, so there has to be some kind of middle ground that’s based on sound logic, fairness and within the confines of the real estate manual.’’

 John Fredell, SDS program director, said Utilities would take another stab at negotiations.

 ‘‘I think the direction is to go back, talk to the landowners, negotiate further and come back with what we think is a possible settlement,’’ he said.

 ‘‘We may or may not be able to get there,’’ he said.