Blue River homeowners sue to block road project citing threat to trees, wetlands | SummitDaily.com

Blue River homeowners sue to block road project citing threat to trees, wetlands

Blue River resident Kori Powers discusses about the drainage flow towards her home, which is eroding the 100-year old timber on her property, Wednesday, Aug. 2, in Blue River. A group of Blue River residents has filed an injunction to stop a badly-needed road erosion mitigation project claiming that the town is not following the state and federal permitting regulations as well as taking of private property without just compensation.

A group of homeowners is suing the town of Blue River to temporarily block an important drainage project on the notoriously potholed Blue River Road, claiming the project could flood their homes, destroy more than a dozen old-growth trees and adversely impact wetlands.

While they acknowledge the need to improve drainage on Blue River Road, which is at times rendered almost impassible by potholes, they say the town's plan would funnel floodwater to their small, one-lane road, Mariposa Place, and could wreck their properties in the process.

In a request for an injunction blocking the project, they also argue that the town "lacked diligence, standards of compliance with local, state and federal permitting, land surveying and civil engineering and most importantly good faith in proceeding with public improvements contrary to the best interests of its residents."

Two of the homeowners are also fighting eminent domain seizures that would allow the town to build a drainage ditch on their land. They say the project would cut through old-growth trees and send floodwaters into the wetlands that back up against their properties.

"It feels like this is a Blue River Road improvement project at the expense of Mariposa Place," said Kori Powers, who temporarily moved from California three months ago to dispute the seizure on behalf of her father, Jack Cooper. He built his ski cabin in 1964, and Mariposa Place was originally his driveway.

Tom and Barbara Schmidt, who live full time on the property next door, are also contesting an eminent domain seizure for the drainage ditch. They say they already have to use a pump to keep their crawl space from flooding and fear the drainage plan would turn their backyard into a swamp.

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A hearing on the cases is scheduled for Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Summit County Court. A judge has yet to rule on the injunction request or motion to dismiss.

Blue River's town administrator, Michelle Eddy, said she couldn't comment on the pending litigation nor discuss alternative drainage routes proposed by the Mariposa homeowners.

Mayor Toby Babich said he could not comment either, citing the pending litigation. He offered the following statement in an email:

"We still hope to come to a resolution that allows us to complete this drainage project for the benefit of the hundreds of residents who travel Blue River Road every day."

In a recording of a May 16 meeting, which included two hours of the homeowners discussing their issues with the project, the town's trustees expressed reluctance to go forward with eminent domain proceedings but said that the strategy is sometimes necessary.

The town has filed a motion to dismiss the injunction request, arguing that the Mariposa homeowners don't have standing to block the entire project, which affects 41 other homeowners.

The filing does not discuss the allegations in the injunction request, which outlines regulations that it argues the town is skirting, including federal rules for impacting wetlands and disturbing sensitive creeks.

"Just a little bit of due diligence would've avoided all of this," said attorney Ruth Borne, who is representing the homeowners. "I just can't believe this is the way the town is choosing to do business."

The homeowners say they have spent thousands of dollars trying to resolve the dispute, hiring two attorneys, a civil engineer, a tree appraiser and a wetlands expert.

Their engineer designed an alternative water-routing plan, but it was rebuffed by town officials, who said it would adversely impact another homeowner and face other complications.

"Unfortunately, the alternatives had other concerns involving wells, septic, length of culverts, needed maintenance, and whether or not the alternatives would actually improve the situation on Mariposa," Eddy said in an email to Mariposa homeowner Scott Nicholson.

The town's proposed project would take out several trees that line Nicholson's property and potentially cut into his septic leach field, he said.

The not-in-my-backyard dynamic has complicated the issue, as it seems there is no clear way to drain water off Blue River Road without impacting private land. Still, the Mariposa residents argue that installing a large culvert on their narrow road and wiping out the trees that line it doesn't make sense.

"Every single one of us agrees that this project needs to be done," Powers said. "We're not trying to stop the project, we're trying to help the town solve a problem. But the impact of what they're about to do would change all of our properties."