Judge: Aspen to pay Kinder Morgan fees | AspenTimes.com
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Judge: Aspen to pay Kinder Morgan fees

Greg MasséGlenwood Springs correspondent

The city of Aspen will have to pay Kinder Morgan’s attorney fees and all costs incurred from a lawsuit filed against the energy company by Aspen, a judge has ruled. The amount of those costs and fees, however, has yet to be determined at a future court hearing.The ruling was handed down Nov. 22 by 9th Judicial District Chief Judge T. Peter Craven in the Pitkin County branch of the court. The cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs filed a class-action lawsuit in June alleging that Kinder Morgan and Rocky Mountain Natural Gas had been charging its customers too much for natural gas.Glenwood Springs bowed out of the suit in September.The suit, filed in Garfield County District Court, alleged that “since at least 1980 the natural gas companies have systematically and falsely represented the characteristics and quality of retail natural gas that they sold to plaintiffs and members of the class in order to unjustly enrich themselves.”The suit was based on a claim that because the gas companies failed to compensate for a decrease in air pressure at higher elevations – high elevation naturally decreases the density of the gas – the less-dense gas “had significantly lower heating content.”At Aspen’s elevation, the suit claims natural gas contains at least 23 percent less heating value than it would at sea level.As a result, the suit claims that the two gas companies “knowingly, deceptively and falsely fail to apply the required conversion factor when billing for the natural gas they have sold and continue to sell.”In his most recent ruling, Craven wrote that Aspen’s status as a political subdivision of the state of Colorado does not shield it from attorney’s fees. “Aspen made the choice to prosecute this litigation. [The law] does not exclude any discrete class of litigants from its sweep, and it applies to ‘all actions’ for personal or property injuries based on tort,” Craven wrote.Aspen city attorney John Worcester could not be reached for comment on Thursday.Dan Watson, president of Kinder Morgan’s retail business, said no final price tag has been placed on attorney costs because they are ongoing. And they could mount up substantially if Aspen appeals the court’s original decision that Kinder Morgan did nothing wrong – a move Watson said his company expects.”As we said from the beginning, we feel this is an important part of clearing our name,” Watson said of his company’s decision to seek attorney fees from Aspen. And because the winning of attorney fees – which he guessed will be less than $100,000 – is largely a symbolic gesture, Watson said the money recovered for the fees and costs would go to a charity to be determined later.