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News from the San Luis Valley

By Patty LaTaille

Solar Damages?

Is Ron Briggs in a position to claim property damages due to Saguache County’s decision to permit California-based SolarReserve to build a concentrated solar power planet directly across from his property north of Center? Saguache County courts are willing to consider his case against the county, and it could be on its way to trial.

Attorney Jessica Muzzio, representing Saguache County, has filed a motion to dismiss, claiming Briggs is not entitled to the $7,500 in damages he is seeking on the basis of the county’s sovereign immunity and his failure to file a complaint in district court within 28 days of the re-zoning decision. The county authorized the SolarReserve 1041 permit on April 3.

Briggs argues that the county waived its rights to sovereign immunity when it offered to trade him county-owned properties of “higher or equal value,” and the “Colorado governmental immunity act does not apply to inverse condemnation claims,” according to Briggs’ response to the motion to dismiss. He added, “There is no contest to the re-zoning determinations and jurisdictions for the court to decide.”

This statement, however, has the courts and the defense confused about what exactly it is that Briggs wants to resolve in the situation. According to the Valley Courier, Judge Patrick Hayes said “I’m not crystal clear, Mr. Briggs, what you are seeking,” and questioned how Briggs came up with the $7,500 figure.

Briggs said he calculated the amount based on the project’s damages to his property value and the time and effort he has put into fighting for his rights as a property owner.

“I have quit all of my jobs to prosecute this,” said Briggs, who has been teaching himself law in a Denver University library. “A corporation has somehow absorbed my property … My complaint is that they damaged my property and that is a fact.”

The SolarReserve project consists of the construction of a 200-megawatt solar power-generating facility consisting of two 100-megawatt, 656-foot-tall solar thermal power-generating units based on emerging concentrating solar-thermal power technology. The project area is approximately 4,000 acres of a 6,200-acre area of privately owned county land – located north of Center between Saguache County Roads D and G and 53 and 57.

Two Wrongs Still Not Making a Right

A mom who decided to bail her son out of jail by using stolen money was charged with three felonies: theft, conspiracy to commit theft, and tampering with physical evidence. Using the plea bargaining system, the district attorney’s office dismissed those charges after Ernestine Bernadette Gallegos, 42, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two misdemeanor offenses.

Gallegos was arrested at the Alamosa County Jail in early October as she tried to bond her son Anthony out of the facility using stolen cash. The $6,500 bail amount and an additional $1,701 equaled the $8,201 amount which allegedly came from Alta Fuels/1st Stop, where Anthony Gallegos’ girlfriend, Loren Gutierrez, worked as a manager.

Gutierrez initially reported to authorities that her vehicle was broken into, and an individual had stolen three deposits she’d planned on taking to the bank. Inconsistencies with her initial version of events led to a subsequent police report, in which Gutierrez allegedly admitted that she met Ernestine Gallegos at a local hotel and gave her the money, and then Gallegos arranged for an unknown person to break her car window.

Anthony Gallegos is still in jail on numerous charges, including criminal attempt to commit murder in the second degree.


Alamosa County’s Only MMJ Dispensary Closes

Sensitiva, Alamosa County’s only medical marijuana dispensary, in business for three years, closed down on Dec. 7 after months of battling with the Alamosa County Commissioners over their compliance with medical marijuana zoning regulations. The Bustos brothers, Brian and Mark, decided that they had no faith in local government, could no longer tolerate or afford the “nit-picking” and made arrangements to close up shop.

Although they are out of a job and almost $200,000 spent to open the business, pay for licensing and legal representation, the Bustos brothers are more concerned with the well-being of their 63 patients, about 25 percent of Alamosa County’s registered medical marijuana users, than their own livelihoods.

They will no longer have their store on U.S. Hwy 160, but Brian said he intends to operate within the limits of the law and provide medical marijuana caregiving services. According to the Valley Courier, “It, these decisions, are almost discriminatory,” he said. “I feel my rights and my patients’ rights have been violated. We have been constantly harassed. I am going to take care of them, my cancer patients that are 70 years old, as long as they are here.”


Land Donation Increases Preservation in San Luis Valley

166,000 acres of land between La Veta Pass and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve will be protected from development as a result of a deal between billionaire Louis Bacon and federal wildlife officials.

A Dec. 4 meeting was held in Ft. Garland where Bacon and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a donation of 90,000 acres into a conservation easement. This is in addition to an additional 76,000 acres which was declared off-limits earlier in 2012, according to The Denver Post.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall all praised the deal which will protect the vast tract of land consisting of forests, tundra and grassland.

Said Salazar in a statement, “Mr. Bacon’s long-term vision for this spectacular property will help protect the natural and wildlife resources that are so important to Colorado’s economy and way of life.”