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Court battle continues to stop state land trade

Brief by Central Staff

State Land Board – November 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

The lawsuit to prevent the exchange of the Little Cochetopa School Section will continue.

The issue then will be a permanent injunction forbidding the Colorado State Land Board from making a land trade with Thomas and Majorie Smith of Kansas City.

The Smiths own a 3,080-acre ranch near La Jara Reservoir in Conejos County, and wanted to trade it for 640 acres of state land along Little Cochetopa Creek on County Road 210 in Chaffee County.

The trade, with limitations on development rights, was approved by the land board in July, but the opponents (several neighbors organized as Friends of the Little Cochetopa School Section) had by then obtained a temporary restraining order that kept the trade from being consummated.

[New signs on the school section]
[New signs on the school section]

Proceedings in Chaffee County District Court since then have concerned whether a temporary injunction order should be granted, pending a full hearing on a permanent injunction.

On Sept. 15, District Judge Ken Plotz granted the temporary injunction, ruling that the Friends have “a reasonable chance, or, idiomatically, a fighting chance” of success in persuading the court to grant a permanent injunction that will forbid the trade.

Plotz ruled that there were valid reasons to question whether the land board would have received fair value for a state asset if the trade had been allowed to go through.

The land board had appraised the Little Cochetopa Section at $1.3 million, although comparable property in Chaffee County was selling at considerably higher prices, and as for the La Jara parcel, Plotz said “the fact that a survey was not completed suggest to me that … the defendant land board did not follow its own procedures.”

Patrick Wilson of the state attorney general’s office represents the land board, and he has asked the court to “consolidate” its proceedings on the permanent injunction with the hearings already conducted.

In a consolidation, the testimony already given would be used, and no new testimony or evidence would be presented to the court.

Alison Maynard, one of the Friends attorneys, said she will oppose consolidation so that more evidence can be developed.

At press time, the court hadn’t ruled on the consolidation request; if that is denied, then a hearing for the permanent injunction against the trade will be scheduled, assuming that the land board decides to pursue the trade with the Smiths.