Buyout offer raised fivefold

Photo by The Gazette, Jerilee Bennett

Owners of roughly 6,500 properties in the proposed path of the Super Slab toll road are likely to get their property titles cleared, although the road could still be built.

The House on Monday gave unanimous preliminary approval to a measure by Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, to clear property titles of all mention of the proposed road and ban future toll roads from designating corridors without a lengthy approval process.Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Energy Committee will hear another bill by Rep. Debbie Stafford, D-Aurora, later this week that would strip toll-road companies of their ability to designate themselves as railroad companies and use eminent domain to claim land.

But Stafford pulled a key component of House Bill 1343 that would have wiped existing toll road proposals off official records and make proponents restart applications under stricter conditions. She removed the provision late last week after Super Slab representatives and some House members said the retroactive legislation was unconstitutional.

If Looper's HB 1007 continues to receive support and Stafford's proposal can do the same, groups such as the High Plains Coalition for Responsible Transportation Policy will have ensured that other residents won't face the battles that they have fought. But they will have done little to increase their own deflated land values or remove the perpetual claim that Super Slab owner Ray Wells holds over their properties, said coalition activist Robert Thomasson.

"We are being left out in the cold, and I would desperately love to do something for the people who have been living out here and been damaged - damaged in ways you cannot measure," Thomasson said.

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About four years ago, residents of seven Front Range counties discovered they were sitting in a 3-mile-wide, 210-mile-long corridor that had been claimed by Wells as part of a potential toll-road path. They got a bill passed in 2006 that required toll-road organizers to inform affected homeowners but found afterward that when Wells filed the proposed corridor with county clerks, it clouded titles and cut property values by some 25 percent.

Efforts since then have been focused on removing the corridor from official records and making Wells get myriad approvals before being allowed to get vested rights to the potential path. But they have been shot down in the Legislature two years in a row.Looper and Stafford question the constitutionality of granting Super Slab owners the right to hold an exclusive interest in the land, but Looper said she believes that is a question that must be resolved by the courts. Stafford said it appeared to be too much to win this year.

Thomasson said he is happy to see the legislators' measures moving through, but he does not think they offer enough protection. For example, while Looper's bill clears property titles, a potential buyer of the land would just have to go to county transportation department records to see where the proposed Super Slab road lays, he said.

He and others hope to come back with legislation aimed at clearing Super Slab off the map.

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