The Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners and the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. will go to trial in July to determine which entity is responsible to pay to replace aging culverts.
Lawyers for the two entities appeared in 22nd Judicial District Court on Friday for a status conference. The crux of the case is whether the definition of “maintenance” includes replacement. Colorado statute states that bridges constructed over ditches and flumes crossing public roads will be maintained by and at the expense of the county but does not mention replacement.
Chief Judge Douglas Walker said he would like to determine whether the case needs to go to trial or can be handled through briefs. After a short hearing, he determined there are allegations of facts that need to be considered, which would require a trial.
The matter began in August when MVIC filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against the Board of County Commissioners. The complaint asks the court to decide whether the county or MVIC is obligated to replace an aging culvert maintained by the county and used by MVIC to convey water underneath County Road W to its shareholders.
Karoline Henning, an attorney representing MVIC, said in court by phone Friday that an action is needed not only regarding the culvert underneath County Road W, but also any future culverts that need to be replaced.
“It is our position that any past activities or agreements between the county and MVI are irrelevant to that, so we could just resolve this through briefing,” Henning said.
Ian MacLaren, an attorney representing Montezuma County, said an evidentiary hearing is needed because state statue references maintenance, which he argued is a very specific term in the construction industry.
“Maintain means just that – maintain,” MacLaren said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean replace.”
Walker then asked how much money it actually took to replace this one culvert, which the county purchased and installed in early 2018.
County Attorney John Baxter, who appeared in court by phone, estimated the cost at $10,000. Walker asked both parties whether this battle was worth $10,000, noting that a trial would include depositions, subpoenas and attorney fees.
MacLaren said the case was about more than just one $10,000 culvert – it’s an issue that needs to be hashed out now as there are several culverts throughout the county and the issue will come up again. Henning said she agreed with that, but said it could be resolved without spending time and money on a trial.
MacLaren, on the other hand, argued that experts in the county road department and throughout the state should be called in to testify about the meaning of maintenance as it relates to culverts. He said they need witnesses to appear in a trial to determine that.
Walker decided a one-day court trial would be needed. It is set for 8:30 a.m. July 31.