Judge says he can’t force CMC to allow compressor station
August 8, 2012
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A local judge has ruled that Colorado Mountain Junior College District (CMC) is a “public entity” under state law, and that the courts cannot force the college to allow construction of a natural gas compressor station on college property.
District Judge James Boyd has not, however, ruled on CMC’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the school by SourceGas, a natural gas distribution company that had hoped to build the compressor station on CMC’s Spring Valley Campus property.
Nor has the judge closed the door for SourceGas to seek damages over CMC’s actions related to the compressor station site.
A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 23 on remaining issues before the court regarding the lawsuit, and possibly to set the matter for trial.
SourceGas has said the compressors are needed to maintain adequate pressure in gas pipelines serving the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys.
The company and CMC signed a 20-year lease in 2011, for a compressor station site not far from the school’s Spring Valley Campus.
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The project won a recommendation for approval from the Garfield County planning commission in March, but at about the same time a loose coalition of neighboring landowners, college faculty and students objected to the deal.
After considerable discussion, the CMC board of directors rejected a second compressor site, offered as an alternative by SourceGas, and declared the contract invalid in a meeting held May 14.
SourceGas and its sister company, Rocky Mountain Natural Gas, filed suit later in May, asking the court to force the school to honor the terms of the contract.
CMC, a nine-county college district covering 120,000 square miles, responded that it is protected from such lawsuits under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act.
The judge ruled that the district, created by the voters and managed by an elected board of trustees with the power to levy taxes, “is a public entity for purposes of the matters at issue in this case.”
Attorney Barbara Green, part of the CMC defense team and speaking from her office in Denver, said that state law also prohibits the school from signing contracts for longer than three years, something that SourceGas should have known before it attempted to make the deal for the compressor site.
“We’ve argued all along that failure to comply with the statute voids the lease,” Green told the Post Independent on Tuesday.
But the judge, in his ruling, left open the idea that SourceGas can recover damages from the school.
The company has argued that it spent roughly $2.5 million on equipment, engineering and other planning for the proposed CMC site, and that shifting to another site will cost considerably more money.
The company now plans to focus its legal firepower on asking a judge to order the school to pay those costs, Knapp said.