Letter to the editor: Condemnation threatens protection programs across nation
Others have pointed out some important repercussions of the county’s proposal to extinguish the conservation easement on the Fiester Preserve. I practice law in the public sector outside Colorado, and I have a professional gripe to throw in. Around the country, many state and federal agencies rely heavily on the integrity of permanent property protection instruments, especially conservation easements, to carry out legally mandated government environmental protection programs. Without a truly reliable mechanism to protect critical “mitigation properties” against future development, these agencies may in many cases be unable to justify the development-enabling decisions they make and permits they issue, making those actions highly vulnerable to legal challenges.
Generally speaking, properties encumbered by conservation easements lose much of their market value to those encumbrances. And entities with the power of eminent domain are a very small and exclusive group. If they can extinguish conservation easements through condemnation, then the easement-encumbered properties become uniquely vulnerable to exercise of this power. They become a sort of bank of cheap properties reserved for these specially empowered “buyers.” This unique vulnerability to taking rather ironically threatens public environmental protection programs across the nation that in many instances have been a driving force behind the evolution of conservation easement laws in the first place.
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