Sewer-line squabble backs up development

The Craig City Council is considering whether to claim the sewer lines that serve Country Club Heights on E. 7th Street, which means the city would have to take responsibility for future problems and there will be problems, according to Public Works Director Bill Earley.

Those problems could cost the city up to $40,000 money that will benefit a small number of people, Earley said.

Not claiming those lines means adjacent land might never be developed, promoting the image that the Craig City Council doesn't favor growth, said Mayor Dave DeRose, which is not true.

Country Club Heights homeowner association board members say the lines belong to the city. City Attorney Sherman Romney said there is no record of the city ever accepting the lines and, by law, the burden of proving the city accepted the lines is on the homeowner's association.

Country Club Heights consists of 46 townhouses in three rows.

The question of ownership came to light when developer Tom Mileski bought property across the street from Country Club Heights.

Mileski plans to construct a single-family dwelling, a shop building with a second-story apartment, a 12- to 15-unit storage facility and a four- or five-unit multi-family development on the property, but does

not have easy access to any sewer lines than those in Country Club Heights.

When Mileski requested permission from the city to tie onto those lines, the city told him that the

CCH Homeowner's Association owned the pipes. When he approached the homeowner's association, he was told the lines belonged to the city.

Two and a half years after he purchased the property, he says wants a resolution.

"It's Country Club Heights' contention that the lines belong to the city and have for 20 years," said CCH Homeowner's Association member Ed McIntyre. "We've paid close to a half million dollars in water and sewer fees in 20 years."

The lines are not service lines, they are sewer mains, further proof they belong to the city, he said.

McIntyre scoured city records trying to find documentation that the city accepted the lines, but only found one document that addresses those lines. The document, signed by then-Mayor Jerry Thompson, dedicated the right-of-way that contains the sewer lines to the city.

Romney argues that the document accepts the easement, not the lines.

"I maintain it is a private line that's never been accepted by the city," he said. "According to Colorado law, there has to be clear, convincing evidence that city accepted the lines."

The problem, both sides agree, is that many city records from that time period are missing, so proving ownership either way is difficult.

"If the city can't provide records of the initial development, which should be permanent records,

then how can we make a case?" McIntyre said. "It's like the city

is saying 'We can say anything

we want because there are no records.'"

The city has cleaned the lines twice "by accident," Early said, but, according to McIntyre, that only supports his argument that the city owns the lines.

"If we've been maintaining that thing, I'd think by law they're our lines because you don't just go in and maintain someone else's

property," Councilor Carl Chapman said.

The homeowner's association has hired attorney Tom Thornberry to represent them and possibly bring a lawsuit against the city.

"If we can avoid some legal battles and use some logic here, we should," Mileski said.

The lines are in bad shape, Earley said. The line to the east has eight low spots areas where sewage can easily settle causing the main to clog and the line to the west has a 100-foot low spot.

"One of the problems I have with accepting them is they don't meet our minimum specifications," he said. "It's quite a liability for us to take them. We would only be able to provide service to a very limited area."

There have been no problems with the line to date.

"The only benefit is development and very little of it," Councilor Bill Johnston said. "It's risk versus benefit."

DeRose said he favors accepting the lines.

"It's my opinion that we'll spend more money on our lawyer and (the homeowners on their lawyer) than we would if we allow [Mileski] to tie in and accept those as city lines," he said.

The homeowner's association has verbally agreed to pay for new pavement over the lines should the lines ever be replaced, Earley said, minimizing some of the cost to the city.

"I think the homeowner's association should take some of the cost of repairing those mains," Councilor Tom Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist said he wanted the city staff to negotiate an agreement between the city and the homeowner's association and then bring it before the council at a

regular meeting.

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