Carbondale prevails in water-supply case | AspenTimes.com

Carbondale prevails in water-supply case

John Stroud
Carbondale correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

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.

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“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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