Aspenite claims Silverton dispute is ‘bureaucratic chicanery at its finest’
An Aspen businessman was incredulous Wednesday after a judge awarded him $1 this week in a bitter trespass lawsuit involving mining claims and ski terrain in the San Juan Mountains.Jim Jackson and his Silverton Land & Cattle Co. had sued Aaron Brill, who operates Silverton Mountain. The ski area offers guided tours on steep terrain eight miles outside Silverton in southern Colorado. Jackson alleges that Brill’s employees and clients repeatedly trespass on his nine mining claims. The trespasses occur for avalanche control work, but clients have also skied over the terrain, according to the court ruling and news reports.Jackson, who lives in Aspen and the Silverton area, was seeking damages and an injunction to stop Brill’s employees and skiers from coming onto his land. Judge Gregory Lyman of San Juan District Court handed down his decision Tuesday. It included the nominal judgment and a rejection of the injunction request. The ruling has left Jackson “reeling,” he said.”How can the judge do this?” he said.The acrimony began in 1999, when Jackson and Brill competed for a permit from the Bureau of Land Management for their respective ski proposals. Jackson’s plan involved an aerial tramway to accommodate sightseeing tours and “to provide service to all skiable terrain within and around Colorado Basin,” Lyman wrote. Silverton Mountain’s operation, which charges expert skiers around $100 a day for guided tours, and Jackson’s mining claims are in the basin.Jackson, who said he has been vilified in the press during the lawsuit, is a longtime resident of the Silverton area. He founded the World Speed Skiing Championships in 1980, and his company produced the last such event in the Silverton area. That final competition acted as a qualifier for the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.He spent roughly $25,000 on a mapping project for his ski plan, which benefited the county because it produced the area’s first detailed map, he said.Brill’s company, Core Mountain Enterprises, however, got the BLM permit and began identifying the different owners of the acreage Brill wanted to use for his operation, which uses a single chairlift. In March 1999, Brill offered to purchase Jackson’s holdings, but he refused, the judge’s ruling states.Jackson said Brill offered him a “pittance” for his land.One of Brill’s defenses is that his operation has “legislative privilege.” That is, San Juan County has contracted with Silverton Mountain for avalanche-control work to keep its roads safe, and so the ski area operator has a right to go onto Jackson’s land to perform those duties. The judge agreed.”The court finds that entry onto [Jackson’s] properties is required for reasonable avalanche control work that impacts County Roads 110 and 52,” Lyman wrote. His ruling later states that the bombings serve “the purpose of protecting the traveling public.”In a related matter, San Juan County is trying to seize Jackson’s land under eminent domain. The county contends his 155 acres are needed for avalanche-control work to make the roads below safe for not only Silverton Mountain’s clients, but also snowmobilers, snowshoers and others using the backcountry.Jackson contends there is no public benefit of Silverton Mountain’s slide-control activities – “Hell, no” – and the eminent domain action will benefit only Brill’s ski area.Brill, who called the legal fight “a huge waste of time and money,” said he assumed Silverton Mountain would prevail.”I wasn’t that surprised,” he said. “I’m definitely happy.”The judge acknowledged that Silverton Mountain’s clients and employees have trespassed onto Jackson’s land each of the past three winters. This occurred “despite Core Mountain having in place procedures and policies intended to keep recreational skiers off of [Jackson’s] property,” Lyman wrote.Silverton Mountain guides now have a clear understanding of the boundaries of Jackson’s mining claims and “will be able to avoid any recreational skiing entry upon [his] properties in the future,” the ruling says.But even if Silverton Mountain skiers do go onto his land, there’s little Jackson can do about it.”It is virtually impossible to distinguish, simply by looking at ski tracks, whether they were caused by recreational skiing or employees of Silverton Mountain conducting avalanche control,” Lyman wrote.The judge also said the avalanche work did not damage Jackson’s holdings. The landowner disputed that.”I saw a lot of my trees down in the valley floor,” he said. “It’s an aggressive avalanche-control program.”An exasperated Jackson said that because he happened to complain about the trespassing, “I’m about to lose my land. In all, this is bureaucratic chicanery at its finest.” He said he didn’t know whether he would appeal Lyman’s ruling. But he will continue to fight the county’s use of eminent domain on his property.Silverton Mountain’s BLM permit, which allowed 20 skiers a day in its first year in 2002, has been expanded to allow 475 skiers a day next winter, an increase of nearly 2,300 percent. Brill said unguided skiing will begin March 31. Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the decent that poses a challenge.