Utility corporation facing civil complaint for removing electrical equipment from Hamilton ranch

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Ray Wagner, 87, stands beside a disconnected electrical box and chopped utility pole in Sept. 2011 at his ranch in Hamilton. Wagner contends Yampa Valley Electric Association unlawfully removed the electrical service from his home, shop and well-house. His son, Jay, filed a lawsuit against YVEA last month in Moffat County District Court.

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“It’s unfortunate we had to go to these extremes, but I strongly feel that they came in and stole from me. This certainly is not a situation of my choosing, this is an issue of principle.”

— Jay Wagner

In August 2011, a highly decorated World War II veteran was moving out of his apartment at Sunset Meadows and back to his ranch in Hamilton.

But when Ray Wagner, 87, arrived at his home there was no electricity.

In fact, the electrical box had been disconnected and the power line pole, which routed electricity to the home, shop and well-house had been chopped down and removed.

On Jan. 23, Wagner’s son, Jay, filed a civil complaint and jury demand against YVEA in Moffat County District Court.

The complaint was served by Ralph A. Cantafio, a Steamboat Springs attorney who is representing the Wagners.

In the complaint, the Wagners contend YVEA with removing electrical equipment from the family ranch at 274 Moffat County Road 39 without prior notification and utilizing the equipment for another YVEA member.

“They are fairly outraged that Yampa Valley Electric would come onto the property without any notice,” Cantafio said. “It’s pretty clear from talking with representatives of Yampa Valley Electric (Association) that they didn’t provide any notice. They just came out and took these things.

“It’s going to be an interesting case.”

The complaint outlines four causes of action and contends YVEA trespassed and committed unjust enrichment, civil theft and conversion.

A trial has not been scheduled nor has a presiding judge been named, according to court records. In civil cases a defendant has an opportunity to answer the complaint before it is sent to trial.

“Their (YVEA’s) lawyers in Denver are in the midst of capturing the file and answering the complaint as we speak,” Cantafio said.

Although the complaint contends the value of the Wagner ranch has been adversely effected as a result of YVEA’s actions, Jay says the lawsuit is not about money.

“It’s unfortunate we had to go to these extremes, but I strongly feel that they came in and stole from me,” Jay said. “This certainly is not a situation of my choosing, this is an issue of principle.”

Prior to serving YVEA with the lawsuit, Jay said the utility corporation had been eager to settle with him and submitted two proposals to install new equipment at the ranch. As a caveat, YVEA wanted Jay to sign a contract stating they could remove the equipment again if the service went idle.

However, Jay said the equipment YVEA pledged it would replace is not of the same quality as what the utility corporation removed in August.

Jay countered with his own proposal, which stated he would accept the new equipment if YVEA would discontinue its practice of removing electrical service from idle customers.

YVEA denied the counter proposal, Jay said.

“They’ve been stealing other people’s property and they’re devaluing people’s real estate,” Jay said. “My proposal had a principle clause that would forbid them from doing this again to anyone, but they won’t bend on that.”

Jim Chappell, manager of consumer accounts for YVEA, denied to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

However, Jay said the lines of communication have been positive.

“They’re definitely not accepting any liability or any responsibility for the devalue of my property, but at least they’re talking to us” Jay said. “Hopefully in time they’ll change their policy of taking people’s electrical equipment.”

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