Money awarded to the city of Durango to help fund the northern extension of the Animas River Trail is under scrutiny from Great Outdoors Colorado after a resident alleged the city used the threat of condemnation to complete the trail.
GOCO began probing the city earlier this month after Tim Wolf notified the state agency of what he perceived as a threat of condemnation directed toward property owners along the proposed path of the river trail extension. The “threat,” he said, is contained in a contract between the city of Durango and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that, in part, grants the city use of the railroad easement for the trail.
“Should the Railroad need to condemn property interests in order to remove encumbrances or title issues relative to the granted easement, the City agrees to cooperate in any such condemnation proceedings, including allowing such condemnation action(s) to be pursued in the name of the City ...,” the 2009 contract says on page 2.
GOCO does not award grants when the threat of condemnation exists.
GOCO asked the city to provide clarification if the condemnation, or threat of condemnation, existed as the Parks and Recreation Department planned and implemented the project to extend the Animas River Trail from Memorial Park at 32nd Street to Oxbow Park and Reserve, said Jackie Miller, director of grant programs at GOCO.
The city received about $1.4 million from GOCO to fund the $8 million, 4,600-foot trail extension.
GOCO was established in 1992 “to preserve, protect, enhance and manage the state’s wildlife, park, river, trail and open space heritage,” according to the Colorado Constitution. GOCO receives its money from state lottery proceeds. Section nine of the constitutional article says, “No moneys received by any state agency pursuant to this article shall be used to acquire real property by condemnation through the power of eminent domain.”
Miller said the constitutional rule means the program cannot grant money when condemnation or the threat of condemnation exists. It’s a “hard-and-fast rule,” she said.
Miller declined to describe what constitutes threat of condemnation, saying she wants to review material from the city before she makes any statements about it.
“If it comes up that condemnation was on the table or used, we want to give the city the opportunity to reconsider alignment,” Miller said. “If it’s possible to realign (the trail) in a way that doesn’t use condemnation, we’d be willing to do that rather than take the money back.”
But GOCO hasn’t come to any conclusions. It’s in the “information collection stage,” Miller said. The agency is awaiting a response from Durango’s Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.
Metz, who said contractors have begun moving snow in preparation to begin trail construction, declined to comment about the GOCO inquiry and directed requests for comment to City Attorney Dirk Nelson. Nelson did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.
Wolf, whose property on Silverton Street will be bisected by the trail, said the city has been trying to take his property for years. In reviewing GOCO application materials, he learned government entities can’t use eminent domain or the threat of eminent domain when receiving grants, he said. He believes the city committed “fraud” by signing the application, which stated no threat of eminent domain was used in developing the project.
“The city was authorizing the railroad to condemn property in the name of the city,” Wolf said. “The city was really trying to hide behind the railroad, so if the condemnation was done, the city wouldn’t be directly involved.”