Legal threats loom over trail debate |

Legal threats loom over trail debate

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A political decision may be made Thursday over the future of Glenwood Springs’ river trail system, but a court of law could have the final say in the matter.

The City Council is scheduled to make up its mind whether to extend the city’s trail system through the Hager Lane area near the Sunlight Bridge and on to south Glenwood. The issue has raised the specter of possible legal action by both those opposing and supporting the extension.

“Whatever we do, we’ll probably get sued,” said council member Joe O’Donnell, a strong supporter of the proposed trail route.

There’s also a question of whether the city itself is willing to pursue legal avenues. City Manager Jeff Hecksel is asking council to decide whether it supports possible condemnation of property if required to proceed with the trail.

Sixteen Hager Lane residents have hired an attorney over the trail issue. They say building a concrete bike and pedestrian trail between their homes and the Roaring Fork River would harm wildlife habitat, invade their privacy and result in problems such as littering and vagrancy.

In a letter to the city, their attorney, Christopher Coyle, contends that an easement behind their homes allows for a pedestrian trail only, and not a bike path. In addition, a city easement for the Aktinson Ditch is intended for maintenance and operation of an irrigation canal only, and not a trail, he contends.

Coyle said the residents will decide on possible legal action after tonight’s decision.

A petition that Coyle said was signed by more than 150 people opposes paving the primitive trail that now exists on the easement behind Hager Lane.

Meanwhile, city resident Greg Durrett is contending that the city has no choice but to proceed with the trail plan along the intended route. In a letter submitted to the city, he cites two public votes, one in the early 1990s and the other in 1998, that provided funding for the city’s river corridor plan.

Durrett argues that council has no discretion to deviate from the trail’s planned location, even if condemnation is required, and wrote that a lawsuit is likely if the city doesn’t follow through on its obligation.

The Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association also is supporting the trail plan. Its Community on the Move Committee developed the tax issues that were approved by voters. The chamber says the trail is needed to reduce vehicle traffic and provide a safe, nonmotorized link between south Glenwood and the main part of town.

City officials have been trying for years to build the trail by negotiating with landowners rather than resorting to condemnation. Hecksel said he is putting the question of condemnation to council because some of those property owners want to know whether the city would condemn land for an easement if they don’t negotiate.

“It’s not like we’ll run out and condemn a bunch of things. It’s to answer a question that we’ve been asked,” he said.

He said having authority to pursue condemnation would let city staff members negotiate from a position of strength, but wouldn’t relieve them of the responsibility of trying to reach mutually agreeable resolutions with property owners.

The council plans to hold a closed-door meeting with City Attorney Jan Shute Thursday morning over legal questions surrounding the trail issue. Shute said she couldn’t comment on those questions Wednesday because of attorney-client privilege.

Hecksel said city officials are preparing for the possibility of a heavy turnout at Thursday’s meeting. He said the city can open up the municipal courtroom to handle overflow and people there would be able to watch proceedings via a video feed. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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