The Agate Creek Trail, on Humble Ranch property near a gate to Emerald Mountain State Wildlife Area, offers a view of the valley that relatively few have seen — public access to adjoining trails is closed and likely will not open in the near future, according to statements by Humble Ranch owner Ed Trousil to lawyers in November 2008.

Photo by Matt Stensland

The Agate Creek Trail, on Humble Ranch property near a gate to Emerald Mountain State Wildlife Area, offers a view of the valley that relatively few have seen — public access to adjoining trails is closed and likely will not open in the near future, according to statements by Humble Ranch owner Ed Trousil to lawyers in November 2008.

Steamboat's Humble Ranch land deal based on faulty trust

Purchase involved numerous entities, unfulfilled plans

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— After a land purchase boosted by $950,000 in public funding and despite revenues from 16 lots created through a public land preservation process, Ed Trousil cited a lack of money as a potential reason for not building a cabin that would increase public access to trails on his property on the south side of Emerald Mountain.

“There could be issues of finance, money, timing,” Trousil said in a November 2008 court deposition to Denver lawyer Thomas Lyons, of Hall & Evans. Lyons, representing the city of Steamboat Springs in litigation against Humble Ventures LLC, the legal entity for Humble Ranch, had asked Trousil what kept him from building the cabin.

When Lyons asked how much money a cabin might cost, Trousil replied, “I don’t know.” When Lyons pressed the issue, Trousil stated, “We are not ready to spend money on a community cabin today.” When Lyons asked whether Trousil had no obligation, ever, to build the cabin, Trousil replied, “That is correct.”

Construction of a public cabin is necessary to open public access to trails that were a key piece of a massive, collaborative land conservation effort more than a decade ago. Courts have ruled that the construction is at Humble Ranch’s discretion, based on language in real estate contracts related to the land’s purchase. Judges with Routt County District Court and the Colo­rado Court of Appeals have ruled in Humble Ranch’s favor.

Trousil’s deposition indicates that decision to build likely is not coming in the near future.

“One of the highlights was to open the ranch up to the public — to a public trail system, including the construction of a community wilderness cabin in the uplands, do you see that?” Josh Marks, a lawyer for the Yampa Valley Land Trust, asked Trousil in the November 2008 deposition. Marks was referring to language in a letter Trousil wrote to nearby homeowners in March 1999, asking for their support before he closed on the Humble Ranch purchase.

“No, I think you left out the word future construction,” Trousil replied.

Court trail

The ongoing litigation involving trail access at Humble Ranch, off Routt County Road 14 south of Steamboat Springs, has infuriated former city and county officials, cost the city more than $100,000 in legal expenses and spurred debates about private property rights versus the trust and vision behind a deal created through groups including the Emerald Mountain Partnership and the Yampa River System Legacy Project.

“It’s obvious to everyone that was involved in the process that Humble Ranch, Ed Trousil, bought that piece of property knowing about the community trails, knowing about the community cabin, and he’s using the legal system to get out of those things,” former Routt County Com­mis­sioner Ben Beall, a former chairman of the Emerald Moun­tain Partnership, said this week.

The city has a pending petition filed with the Colorado Supreme Court, asking it to review a ruling in favor of Humble Ranch made in Routt County District Court and upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

“Two courts have ruled in favor of Humble … (and) nothing, frankly, has changed,” attorney Colin Deihl, of Faegre & Benson in Denver, said Wednesday. “I don’t see why the Supreme Court would be any different.”

Deihl represents Humble Ventures. Trousil declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.

He has said the trails closure is to protect wildlife habitat — the state Division of Wildlife closes the Emerald Mountain State Wildlife Area, at the top of Agate Creek Trail, from Dec. 1 to June 30 because of elk concerns — and to prevent impacts on the Humble Ranch Education & Therapy Center.

Money trail

Trousil gave lengthy depositions to lawyers including Lyons, Marks and Brad Cameron, representing the DOW. Devi Yorty, of Hall & Evans, said this week that Trousil’s November 2008 statements have not played much, if at all, into the legal proceedings.

“It’s pretty much, ‘I don’t remember,’ ‘I don’t remember,’” Yorty said.

That’s true — as Trousil tried to recall specifics about a land deal nearly a decade in the past, comments including “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember” are common in the transcript. But his words do indicate his mindset toward the land purchase negotiations and what has unfolded since.

In the late ’90s, Trousil was one of several candidates who submitted a proposal for the purchase and use of about 1,800 acres south of Emerald Mountain.

The site was part of the 4,000-acre Yampa Valley Land & Cattle Co. property, which the Yampa River System Legacy Project was working to preserve through transactions and land conservation efforts worth more than $10 million.

Beall, former Steamboat Springs City Council President Kevin Bennett and a Land Trust official have said that a Legacy Project committee chose Trousil as its buyer because of his stated commitment to open space and a public trail system, along with his idea for an on-site therapy center for people with special needs.

Bennett wrote in a November 2008 court affidavit, and Trousil said in his deposition, that Trousil received $950,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado when he closed on land for Humble Ranch. Great Outdoors Colo­rado, GOCo, uses a portion of state lottery revenues to fund grants supporting Colorado’s natural environment.

The GOCo dollars were channeled through the Legacy Project and went to Trousil as payment for a conservation easement. The money went toward Trousil’s down payment for the land purchase, Bennett wrote, and enabled Trousil to sell 16 lots at what became the Agate Creek Preserve land preservation subdivision. Sue and Ted Swain, for example, bought their lot in June 1999 — a month after Trousil closed on Humble Ranch — for $325,000, according to county records.

Marks alluded to those revenues in Trousil’s deposition nearly two years ago.

The conversation, as recorded in the deposition, went as follows:

Marks: “You subsequently went and developed the Agate Creek Preserve, correct?”

Trousil: “That’s correct.”

Marks: “OK. And you received revenue from that project?”

Trousil: “Yes.”

Marks: “Did you ever take any of the monies from that and throw it into a fund for the construction of the community cabin?”

Trousil: “No.”

Marks: “Why not?”

Trousil: “We didn’t feel it was necessary.”

For more

Links to previous stories about the city’s litigation with Humble Ventures, and a letter to the Steamboat Pilot & Today from Ed and Cheri Trousil.

■ Thursday — Steamboat's Humble Ranch trail debate illustrated along Agate Creek

■ June 18 — City asks for state Supreme Court review of Humble Ranch dispute

■ April 15 — Humble Ranch litigation costs city $104K

■ April 4 — Letter from Ed and Cheri Trousil

■ March 31 — Letter from Gloria James

Coming Monday

Routt County Riders, which has no position on the city’s litigation with Humble Ranch, is encouraging mountain bikers to respect private property rights and is building new trails on public BLM land adjoining the Emerald Mountain State Wildlife Area.

Comments

Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago

And didn't the City try to build the cabin that Mr Trousil says he lacks the money to build only for the Trousils to go to court to stop construction?

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Paul Hughes 4 years, 1 month ago

Setting aside considerations of motives about which I know nothing, I have an elementary question: Shouldn't someone among the City's platoon of lawyers have noticed that a contract that provides for "future construction" -- without "future" being defined and specified -- is a lousy contract? I would think that's taught in first year law school. And now the City is paying those same lawyers more money to try to fix their mistake. Good contracts, like good fences, make good neighbors.

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mtroach 4 years, 1 month ago

Comming Monday... Why do the Routt County Riders not have a position on this issue? RCR/Robin care to chime in?

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la_opinion8rix 4 years, 1 month ago

Ed Trousil also sits on the Board of Trustees as Treasurer of Yampa Valley Medical Center. What ‘Visions’ did Ed promise in responsibilities to the hospital that have since been aborted for Ed’s convenience because he ‘didn’t feel it was necessary’ or ‘Can’t remember’?

All I’m sayin’, Ed, is it’s hard to trust you now…

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago

So has Humble Ranch staff ever stated their specific concerns on how trail use would impact their clients? I think it is safe to say that trail users would not want to adversely impact Humble Ranch clients. So presumably it would be possible to work with Humble Ranch staff to find a way to at least partially open trails with rules so that it didn't impact Humble Ranch. And I think the trail plan was created prior to Humble Ranch operations so it is conceivable that the original trail plan would better serve all if it was modified to deal with Humble Ranch's concerns.

But, of course, that assumes that Ed Trousil isn't hiding behind Humble Ranch clients to cynically justify his personal agenda of keeping others off of his property after accepting $950K of public money to open his property to the public.

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jeff roman 4 years, 1 month ago

this looks like just another botched deal our great city has messed up again.

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Colette Erickson 4 years, 1 month ago

It is just sooooo hard to imagine how all the many lawyers who had to have been involved in this (and no doubt highly paid....) could have let documents w/ this ambiguous and impossible to enforce language get past them?!

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Chris Peters 4 years, 1 month ago

Just give the $950,000 back + interest, Ed! We could use the money to put some teachers back to work. Sincerely, Your creditors

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sledneck 4 years, 1 month ago

Government, lawyers and more regulation can save us. I just know it!

It's worked everywhere it's been... oops

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mtroach 4 years, 1 month ago

Still no comment from RCR(robin). What's the problem, no thoughts on anything that isn't BTUSA? IMHO just another reason to shelve the BTUSA effort. How can anyone at RCR feel that we are a BTUSA when our city spends $100,000 on trails, all the money goes to lawyers, no trails are built, and the major voice for cyclists has "no comment". How can RCR expect anyone to support being named a bike town if the only bike advocacy group does not at least take a position (any) on important, and expensive trail access issues?

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago

Paul Hughes, Yes, it was obviously abysmal legal work by the public agencies that purchased the property.

But it was not just the lawyers fault. The agencies involved fundamentally screwed up by even allowing the cabin to enter into the discussion when the goal was public trails and not the impact of a cabin.

There are two things to think about when reading a contract: the terms and conditions, and how those will be enforced. If the trails were such an important part of the deal then they should have been made public immediately. The only reason to make the trails dependent upon building a cabin is if the cabin is such a benefit to the owner that it wouldn't normally be allowed except for what the public gets in return (ie the trails). But, the point of the public funds was to get the trails, not to balance out the benefits of letting them build a cabin.

I have come to the conclusion that the only reason the cabin came into discussion in the original contract was as a means of snookering overeager public agencies. That there was probably never intent to build it, but actually the original intent was to never build it and thus never have to allow public access to the trails.

Personally, I am surprised that none of the public officials involved in this deal are so ashamed of being taken for fools and are so angry for largely wasting $950K that they decided to openly run a public relations campaign to get the Trousils to change their minds. If I had wasted $950K of public funds then I'd be buying a monthly large ad and occasionally setting up an informative picket line at their driveway so that the public shame of ripping off the public was worse than opening the trails.

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John Fielding 4 years, 1 month ago

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Scott, if your theory is correct then one must admit it was artfully done. A guy with that kind of motivation and talent cold have been another Bernie Madoff or Ken Lay.

The difference here is that those guys eventually got busted, and thus far the legal tactics employed by our side have not been effective. I wonder if we may benefit by a change in representation and strategy.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago

John F It is primarily two facts that make me think the cabin was just a ploy by Mr Trousil to take the money without providing access: 1) The excuse that he lacks the money to build the cabin. If he wanted to adhere to the spirit of the agreement then he'd ask for a long term vested right to build the cabin and then allow trail access. If he wanted a cabin but lacked the money then he'd let the City or whomever build the cabin and then provide trail access.

2) He claims the trails would impact Humble Ranch's clients, but has not suggested any modifications to the original trails plan that would give access without impacting Humble Ranch.

Thus, I think he had no intentions of providing trail access.

And that should serve as a huge lesson of what happens when making a complex agreement with a real estate developer that won't need City approvals again.

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Jonathan Casson 4 years, 1 month ago

I'm curious to see the original GoCo grant application. Who applied for the grant and what exactly was it for? On who's behalf was the grant submitted? If part of the grant stipulations were to provide access through the Humble Ranch property, then GoCo has every right to demand that money back if those parameters are not met. Can the Pilot obtain this document and make it public?

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kathy foos 4 years, 1 month ago

Scott is making sense to me even though its so complex....I know that this is a dumb question,but what kind of a cabin?How big and what uses were being planned for it?Just a shelter with two sides for storm protection .or a sleepable unit for people to sleep in?Who would get to stay there?It just seems that a compromise should come of this.Has their been mediation?What about building permits plan approval by the county,impact study,road for building construction.Its just not planned out enough on any sides part ,how about a modified trail on the outskirts,with no cabin?Somethings got to give here,its not right,and people on both sides better work together,dont just butt heads.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago

Sun, I believe the City not only offered to build the cabin for free, but actually tried building it only for the Trousils to go to court to get a ruling that the City had no right to build on the Trousil's property. So it is not obvious what more the City could do to address the Trousil's stated reasons for not building the cabin or opening the trails. Obviously, the given excuse of a lack of money to build the cabin is disingenuous because they are not being asked to spend any money to build the cabin. All they are currently being asked is to give permission to allow others to build the cabin.

I think currently it is up to the Trousils to say why they won't let others to pay to have the cabin built. I think the Trousils should ask Humble Ranch (which claims to be independent of the Trousils) to state why opening the trails will affect their clients and to work with the City on modifying the trails plan to not adversely affect their clients and for the Trousils to commit to agreeing to the modified plan.

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boater1 4 years, 1 month ago

agree w/ jon. what does the grant say? goco is about providing public access. dig that info up. i'm sure goco is not happy either.

good for the paper for printing all this and showing to everyone what a bs'ing farce ed trousil is. even if he is able to litigate his way out, the writting is on the wall and the whole town knows his shame.

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Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago

And btw, this contract was maybe 1% of the complexity of SB 700. Can you imagine the horrors of haven given those developers approval for the entire parcel covering 20+ years of development?

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John Fielding 4 years, 1 month ago

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In all fairness let's remember that the 700 agreement was reviewed and negotiated by the leading annexation consultants of this state.

I'm interested in what review process occurred for the Humble Ranch deal. I often have such documents to review, and while I do not claim status of a leading expert, I hardly think I'd have overlooked this particular omission.

Is there a liability for this omission by those who crafted the agreement? One would think it would extend at least to the cost of our legal fees.

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dave fisher 4 years, 1 month ago

when i was growing up. if a person received something that they did not earn nor pay for, it was called stealing. i guess it is different today, and it seems that the larger the theft, the more likely that the perpetrator(s) will get away with it. at least in this case.

the 2nd thing that comes to mind is what a huge benefit that the Humble ranch (Trousils) are realizing, at the expense of the tax-paying public. the private sector profits from public sector funding... again. this is welfare at it's very worst.

where is the outrage from the mighty tea party? why the silence? i would think that there would be a lawnchair rally at least once a week at the gates of the ranch until this matter is resolved and the money is returned, plus interest, plus legal fees.

i am of the opinion that the Trousils had no intention whatsoever to open the trails to the public, right from the beginning. their disgusting behavior demonstrates a complete lack of integrity and total contempt for the community as a whole.

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