Dollars and sense at issue in Basalt condemnation
September 12, 2009
BASALT – A Basalt landowner is fighting the town government’s effort to condemn an easement through her property for a water line.
Landowner Radine Coopersmith claimed up to $1 million is at stake in the dispute. The town said the easement is worth $25,000.
Coppersmith said she is willing to allow use of the land she co-owns with her ex-husband for the water line. She objects to where the town wants to stick it.
The town wants to build a 1 million gallon water tank in the hills southwest of Basalt High School, on property managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The tank is needed to serve the Southside neighborhood of Basalt. The existing infrastructure will be connected to the new water tank by a pipeline running through Coopersmith’s property.
The town’s preferred route cuts through an upper bench of Coopersmith’s land that is valuable as a potential home site. She said the roughly 3-acre site is perfect for a ranchette. Coopersmith contends she will suffer a loss of between $600,000 to $1 million if the town puts the water pipe through that portion of the property.
“Who will pay $1 million for a homesite when there is a water pipeline in the backyard?” Coopersmith asked.
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Basalt Town Attorney Tom Smith was out of the office Friday and couldn’t be reached for comment. Town Manager Bill Kane couldn’t discuss the issue because it is in litigation. The condemnation lawsuit has been heard for two days by Pitkin County District Judge James Boyd and it goes back before him on Tuesday.
The town’s position is that its easement will affect only about 1.5 acres of land, according to Coopersmith. She said the town’s latest offer was for $25,000.
Coopersmith claimed the town’s position misses the point. It isn’t the amount of land directly affected by the pipeline that is at issue. It’s the consequences for the rest of the upper bench and the degradation of the building site.
Coopersmith is the operator of a small lodge in Pagosa Springs. She is representing herself in the condemnation hearing. “I don’t have money,” she said.
She made a direct appeal to the Basalt Town Council at its regular meeting Tuesday night to end the litigation and negotiate a deal rather than spend money on attorney’s fees. Smith advised the council not to discuss the matter because it is in litigation.
Coopersmith wants the town to reroute the proposed pipeline to the base of the hillside behind the high school. That route would also require use of her land, but she said she would grant that easement because the effect is less severe.
Coopersmith said her ex-husband and co-owner of the property, Richard Downey, concurs with that position, as does a group of investors who have an option to buy the property. Basalt businessman David Fiore is part of the investor group.
The town’s engineering plan for the project concluded the proposed route would be best and most economical.
In the court case, she is trying to convince the judge that her alternative is superior to the route the town has selected for the pipeline. If she isn’t successful with that argument, she wants the judge to award funds for the alleged loss of the building site.