RFTA cracks down on private use of old railroad corridor | AspenTimes.com

RFTA cracks down on private use of old railroad corridor

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Roaring Fork Transit Authority officials are sick of real estate agents using the old Rio Grande Railroad right of way to hawk property.

RFTA is also fed up with landowners who construct things in the corridor, like a fence to provide illegal access for their horses to water that belongs to someone else.

The agency is even a little unnerved that some fun-loving property owner at Satank has rigged a homegrown amusement ride off a railroad bridge. A handswing was created from three steel cables and a handgrip. The grip glides on the cables via a pulley.

The agency’s board of directors directed the staff last week to get tough on those encroachments and several others. After all, board member and Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris noted, the railroad corridor has been in public hands now for seven years.

“There is an attitude that you do what you want then ask for forgiveness or battle it in the courts,” said Farris. “I, for one, am sick of that attitude.”

Two years ago there were 30 known encroachments into 17.5 miles of the corridor where conservation restrictions exist, according to a report to RFTA by consultant Tom Newland. Last year 17 of those violations still existed and five new ones appeared, Newland said.

Some of the offending encroachments disappeared without action by RFTA. Others were solved with a simple call from RFTA officials. Three real estate “for sale” signs, which referred to property adjacent to the corridor, were pulled out of the ground, and the agents were called to pick up their property.

In many of the remaining cases of violations, RFTA needs to investigate who is encroaching in the corridor, according to Mike Hermes, RFTA director of trails, properties and facilities.

Farris initially suggested that RFTA institute a cheap but effective way to deal with trespass problems. She said a “chain saw brigade” would work wonders ” chopping down fence posts, for example. She invoked the spirit of legendary former Aspen Mayor Bugsy Barnard, who clandestinely cut down billboards along Highway 82 before they were banned.

She later backed off the vigilante approach in favor of a more formal approach by the government.

The rail corridor isn’t used by trains but some stretches contain a trail. Although the encroachments don’t really harm the public, Farris said there is a principle involved: Public land shouldn’t be used for private purposes. “It’s an injustice to the people who purchased the corridor,” she said.

RFTA director and Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said the longer RFTA goes without enforcing its ownership, the tougher it may be to correct some of the violations. RFTA attorney Renee Black clarified, however, that a private landowner cannot win possession of public land, via a process known as adverse possession, simply by using the property.

Nevertheless, the RFTA board agreed that its staff should start enforcing the trespasses more diligently. The board couldn’t decide, however, if it should sit as an appeals board when a private landowner feels the staff is taking an incorrect or draconian step.

Some board members said hearing appeals was their responsibility as elected officials. Others argued that would undermine the staff and that appeals should go directly to court.

The decision on an appeals process will be made at a future meeting.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]