Editorial: A slippery trail in Silverthorne
December 1, 2011
We love trails in Summit County, and we’ve spent a lot of time and money building them hither and yon. Our country recpath system allows us to bike from Keystone to Breck, from Frisco to the top of Vail Pass and beyond, and from Dillon down to Silverthorne. One missing link has always been through the town of Silverthorne itself, where, to be quite honest, it can be worth your life trying to navigate all those parking lots, intersections and traffic signals. No wonder, then, that the town has quite understandably tried to rectify this situation with construction of its Blue River Trail.
But there’s a hitch: A number of property owners along one section of the trail aren’t interested in having a busy recpath through their backyard, and they’ve sued the town to prevent it from happening. Are these folks spoil sports bent on denying a crucial link for local cyclists, or are they justified in standing up against the town in defense of their private property rights?
It’s a complicated situation, made even more so by recent news that the town is looking hard at what to us is the nuclear bomb of community governance: eminent domain. In short, this process allows governments to take property they could not get through other means, with the justification being that it serves the greater good. Regardless of how the judge in the recent trial rules, it may well be this is the direction Silverthorne takes. In this case, we believe the Town of Silverthorne and its citizens would be ill served by using this tactic, and here’s why:
> Yes, it would be nice to have a recpath along the river, but the town has survived many years without it. This is an amenity, not critical infrastructure, negating the argument that the nuclear bomb of eminent domain is justified to serve the community in this case.
> We’re not convinced the town has exercised all avenues of working with these homeowners on alternate proposals or explored other routes for this section of path. It may not be as scenic, but a detour route along Mesa Drive or even Rainbow Drive could work just fine while keeping the peace.
> The town will lose $500,000 in Great Outdoors Colorado grant money if it exercises eminent domain. That’s no small chunk of change, and added to the legal bills all this has already costs, any “victory” in this case is looking pretty thin and costly.
> Finally, once a town government resorts to fighting its citizens in court or exercising eminent domain, it has lost some percentage of its good will with that community. We urge the Town of Silverthorne to seriously reconsider the application of eminent domain to build this section of the Blue River Trail. No recpath is worth the damage this kind of action will bring.
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