Road feud heats up |

Road feud heats up

Jeremy Heiman

A disagreement between landowners has resulted in bulldozer diplomacy on the backside of Aspen Mountain.

Stirling Cooper Sr., owner of an unnamed mining claim near Midnight Mine Road, hired a bulldozer operator to clear a private road from Midnight Mine Road to his claim after Ed Smart barricaded an existing Jeep track with an assortment of junked vehicles. Though Cooper and mining claim co-owner John Boslough used the track under an easement granted by Smart, Smart blocked the route, claiming Cooper didn’t keep up his end of a bargain.

Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy George Kremer and Patrol Supervisor Scott Thompson were on hand – strictly in a peace-keeping role – as the bulldozer began to roll Monday. Kremer said the sheriff’s office was notified before the work started. The problem site is located about three miles up Midnight Mine Road.

Kremer said Smart had a written agreement with Cooper and Boslough outlining their easement to use the track to reach their property.

But Lana Lunceford, a caretaker for Smart, said her boss blocked the route when Cooper and Boslough violated a verbal promise to build a locking gate on the track to keep “trespassers” off the road. Cooper did not return a call from The Aspen Times Tuesday.

Lunceford identified one of the trespassers as the owner of a house she said was built illegally on property purchased from convicted swindler Jim Blanning.

The gate was to have been erected within a certain time frame, Lunceford said, but was not, so Smart blocked the road after efforts to talk to the other parties proved unsuccessful. Kremer said the track was blocked by a bus, a car, a pickup truck and three inoperable snowmobiles.

Instead of moving the vehicles, however, Cooper’s bulldozer operator reopened another old road, located nearby, that also provided access to the mining claim at one time. Lunceford said it was a road Blanning originally built – without permission – across Smart’s land.

Smart said the newly bulldozed road is wide enough for two vehicles to pass one another. “They made a scar up there that’s horrendous,” he said.

Deputy Kremer said Smart has at times blockaded Midnight Mine Road itself, most recently on July 4, when he rolled an old trailer (which previously belonged to Blanning) onto the road. Smart claims ownership of the road. So does Pitkin County.

The county has removed Smart’s barricades, including a chain gate, from the road in the past, according to Kremer. He said the placement of barricades across Midnight Mine Road is an ongoing problem.

Smart said the law requires that he close Midnight Mine Road for 60 days each year to prove his ownership.

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