Rail authority ousting Garco | AspenTimes.com

Rail authority ousting Garco

Jeremy Heiman

The Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority yesterday filed suitto oust Garfield County from the RFRHA board of directors.RFRHA filed the action because Garfield County has chosen to supportefforts by a private railroad and salvage company to take overthe valley rail corridor purchased by RFRHA.Garco’s backing of that attempted takeover is in conflict withthe position the county took in joining RFRHA, a consortium ofvalley governments, when Garco officials agreed to support publicownership of the corridor. But RFRHA officials say they still want to work with GarfieldCounty.The suit, filed in Garfield County District Court, requests aformal judicial acknowledgement that Garfield County has breachedits contractual obligation to support public ownership and publicuse of the rail corridor. Glenwood Springs attorney Bob Noone, who represents the authority,said RFRHA intends to have a court declare that Garco has forfeitedits right to participate in decisions that affect the rail corridor.The suit is based in Garco’s expression of support for an “offerof financial assistance,” filed last October with the federalSurface Transportation Board, which regulates railroad transactions.Through that offer, Morris H. Kulmer and Kern W. Schumacher expressedtheir intention to purchase the rail line between Glenwood Springsand Woody Creek from the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority.Garfield County commissioners have professed a desire to see freightservice offered on the rail line, and Kulmer and Schumacher’soffer states an intention to operate a freight line in the corridor.But, though Kulmer and Schumacher do operate a small railroadin California, they have sold steel rails for salvage from otherrail lines they have acquired.The suit alleges that Garco’s breach of its contractual obligationswas in bad faith and that Garco officials have actively interferedwith the efforts of other RFRHA-member governments to protectpublic ownership of the corridor.Tom Newland, RFRHA executive director, said Garfield County agreedthe property was to remain public when county officials signedan intergovernmental agreement that binds Garco to support publicownership and use of the corridor.Second, Newland said, Garfield County applied for and receivedan Energy Assistance Impact grant from a pool of state money,which it put toward the joint purchase of the corridor. With thatgrant, Newland said, Garco signed an agreement that the moneywas for public transit.”In going against that agreement,” Newland said, “we feel GarfieldCounty is going against their word.”The active interference to which the suit refers concerns thefilings the county placed with the Surface Transportation Boardsupporting private ownership by Kulmer and Schumacher, Newlandsaid.Noone said Garfield County’s membership in RFRHA may have beenbased on a false premise. “Had Garfield County disclosed it wasopposed to public ownership at the time it became a member,” Noonesaid, “it would not have been accepted.” The county’s right toa vote on the RFRHA board was conditioned on support of publicownership of the railroad, he said.Both Newland and Noone expressed hope that Garfield County wouldreturn to the fold.”We would hope that Garfield County would reconsider its position,”Noone said. “It would be welcomed back on the board with the samerights other members have.” The RFRHA board is made up of representatives from Aspen, SnowmassVillage, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Pitkin County,Eagle County and Garfield County. The Pitkin County Open Spaceand Trails Board, on the basis of a contribution toward the purchaseof the corridor, is represented by a nonvoting member.”We’re not trying to slam the door on Garfield County,” Newlandsaid. But he noted that as keeper of the corridor, RFRHA has obligationsto the governments involved as well as to funding sources suchas Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

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