Carbondale prevails in water-supply case
DENVER ” The Colorado Supreme Court in Denver on Monday ruled 7-0 in favor of the town of Carbondale in its six-year-old case against a Nettle Creek landowner regarding the use of pesticides near the town’s main water supply.
The ruling by the state’s high court overturned a Colorado Court of Appeals decision sending the case back to trial, and reinstated a 2003 Pitkin County District Court judgment in the town’s favor.
In that ruling, then-9th District Chief Judge Thomas Ossola, who has since retired, found Garry Snook and his GSS Properties LLC negligent in damaging the town’s water supply. Snook’s 55-acre Hanging Valley Ranch is located immediately above the town’s Nettle Creek water treatment plant on the western flank of Mount Sopris.
Ossola also upheld Carbondale’s watershed protection ordinance, ordering Snook not to store, mix, apply or dispose of any pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or chemical compounds on his ranch in a way that could pollute the town’s water supply. Shortly before that trial, GSS Properties LLC filed a motion attempting to change its defense, asserting the town’s ordinance was in conflict with various state statutes. Ossola denied the motion before proceeding with the trial. GSS Properties later appealed the ruling on the grounds that Ossola abused his discretion in denying the pre-trial motion.
“Because the town would have been prejudiced by the untimely defense, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in not allowing GSS to proceed with the defense at trial,” the Supreme Court wrote in its decision.
“We’re delighted with the ruling,” said Carbondale Town Attorney Mark Hamilton, who was assisted in arguing the case before the Supreme Court by Boulder attorney and former state Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky.
“It was a good result for the water users and taxpayers of Carbondale, and it was a long time coming,” Hamilton said. “Now the town can move forward and continue to protect the Nettle Creek drainage from pollution.”
Snook’s Colorado Springs attorney, Walter Sargent, declined to comment on the Supreme Court ruling, which essentially signals the end of the line as far as Snook’s legal challenges in the case.
The town’s legal battle with Snook began in June 2001, when Carbondale filed the lawsuit seeking $8,389 in connection with three construction-related incidents at the ranch that clogged the water plant with mud, forcing the plant to shut down temporarily.
Town officials later learned that Snook’s crews were also applying pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on the land in a way that could pollute the town’s water supply.
Snook is the owner of Performance Bicycle, which started in 1982 as a mail-order business. The company is now the largest specialty retailer of bicycles and bicycle accessories in the United States with stores, catalog sales and a dominant presence on the Internet. He bought the Hanging Valley Ranch property in 1999.
Colorado’s Watershed Protection Act allows cities and towns to control land use within five miles of their water source.
After the town filed suit in District Court, Snook filed a counter lawsuit against the town in U.S. District Court, arguing that the town violated federal equal protection laws and that he was being singled out for enforcement. That case was later dismissed, and the Colorado case was allowed to proceed.
Ossola also originally awarded the town of Carbondale $ 8,389 worth of compensation for the damage Snook caused to the town’s water-delivery system.
Hamilton said the town is also now seeking to be reimbursed by Snook for approximately $50,000 in court costs associated with the case, not including attorney’s fees.
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The city of Aspen’s land use code says that only single-family homes can be built on lots smaller than 6,000 square feet in certain neighborhoods. That might change if Aspen City Council allows a proposed change that allows multi-family buildings to be developed.