Humble Ranch litigation costs city $104K | SteamboatToday.com

Humble Ranch litigation costs city $104K

Case continues with city appeal of trail ruling

Mike Lawrence

The city has spent more than $104,000 in legal costs since 2007 in its unsuccessful effort to provide public access to trails on Humble Ranch. Landowners Ed and Cheri Trousil say they are defending their property rights and preserving wildlife habitat.

— The city has spent more than $104,000 on litigation unsuccessfully attempting to provide public access to trails on Humble Ranch, where ranch owners say they are defending their private property rights and working to preserve wildlife habitat.

Court proceedings related to the issue are continuing.

Documents provided by Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Franklin show that the city paid $94,600 to the Denver law firm Hall & Evans through Feb. 28, beginning in 2007. The city also paid $9,928 to the Steamboat Springs firm Lettunich & Vanderbloemen, for a total of $104,528.

"Any time money is spent on litigation, it's an unfortunate expenditure, but sometimes it's necessary," City Manager Jon Roberts said.

The city is maintaining employee furloughs and other budget cuts amid continuing impacts from the economic recession.

Devi Yorty, an associate attorney with Hall & Evans, said Wednesday that the firm has filed a petition on the city's behalf for a re-hearing with the Colorado Court of Appeals, on a secondary issue related to the dispute between the city and Humble Ranch co-owners Ed and Cheri Trousil. The overall, larger dispute involves land conservation, private property rights and efforts that began more than a decade ago to increase public access on the south flank of Emerald Mountain.

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The state court of appeals on March 11 upheld a July 2007 trial court decision that the city of Steamboat Springs does not have the right to build a public cabin on private property at Humble Ranch, off Routt County Road 14 south of Steamboat Springs.

Three judges concurred on the agreement, which also stipulated that Humble Ventures LLC is not obligated to build the cabin within any certain timeframe and can do so at its own discretion. The ruling, by extension, does not require Humble Ranch to open certain trail segments on the property to the public.

The city is not contesting that ruling at this time.

The petition for a re-hearing regards another March 11 ruling, about whether the city must close its Humble Ranch trail easements to the public when the state Division of Wildlife closes access to the Emerald Mountain wildlife area. The appeals court reversed a ruling that said the city did not have to follow the DOW closures but remanded the issue for further proceedings.

"We don't agree with the court's interpretation," Yorty said.

Yorty declined to comment as to whether the city, through Hall & Evans, would petition for the Colorado Supreme Court to rule on the cabin and trail access questions. Yorty noted that the state Supreme Court accepts less than 10 percent of the cases for which it receives petitions.

Attorney Colin Deihl, representing Humble Ranch, could not be reached Wednesday.

The Trousils said they think the courts already have ruled decisively on the case.

"We have litigated this case for 2 1/2 years," Ed Trousil wrote in an e-mail. "During the litigation, the city had every opportunity to produce any evidence it had concerning the use of the Humble Ranch property. Not once did the city produce any evidence that we broke any promises about the use of Humble Ranch."

Those calling for more public access on Humble Ranch say building the cabin and opening trails to the public were key components of correlated efforts a decade ago by the Yampa River System Legacy Project and the Emerald Mountain Partnership.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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