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Utilities seeks OK to use eminent domain in Pueblo West

By: DANIEL CHACÓN
January 24, 2011
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The City Council will decide Tuesday whether to give Colorado Springs Utilities the authority to use eminent domain in Pueblo West to acquire property it needs to build the 62-mile Southern Delivery System water pipeline.

The council meets at 1 p.m. at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

The Gazette will be at the meeting, so stay tuned to gazette.com for updates.

Utilities, which had promised to use eminent domain only as a last resort as it moved forward with the construction of SDS, says it has reached that point with 14 landowners in Pueblo West.

“Despite actively negotiating with Pueblo West property owners for more than eight months, we have been unable to reach agreement with 14 property owners on the remaining 15 easements necessary for construction activities scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2011,” Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said in a memo to council.

Most of the hold-outs want more money, including a couple who want “the offer to be increased to 1200 percent of the fair market value,” according to the memo.

Others are taking a principled stand and refusing Utilities’ offer because they oppose SDS.

The underground pipeline, which has been years in the making, has been a source of controversy.

It is designed to pump water from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs by 2016, and one of the first segments scheduled for construction is a nearly 7-mile stretch through Pueblo West.

Utilities has acquired 118 out of 133 property interests it needs in Pueblo West.

But the clock is running out on a land-use permit that requires Utilities to take “substantial steps” in constructing the project in Pueblo County before April 2012. If Utilities doesn’t meet the terms of the permit, it can be suspended or revoked.

“We concentrated on acquiring properties in Pueblo West, really made that a priority for pipeline construction, so that’s what’s driving this today,” Dan Higgins, SDS construction and delivery program manager, said Monday.

“On a project this size covering that number of miles, it’s reasonable to expect that we would have some need to use eminent domain,” he added.

Utilities will continue to work with Pueblo West landowners refusing to give up their property easements even if council approves the use of eminent domain, Utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel said.

“You can continue negotiating all the way up to the courtroom steps the day your hearing is set,” Higgins said.

Councilman Tom Gallagher, a critic of SDS, said he plans to vote against using eminent domain.

“I predict that (the use of eminent domain) will ignite a firestorm of opposition in Pueblo County,” he said.

Send me a “friend” request on Facebook at www.facebook.com/danieljchacon.

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