Pueblo rancher gets windfall from Springs water users

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Pueblo County Rancher Gary Walker has settled with the city for damage to his property caused by the city's pipeline project. Walker is a conservationist who's won numerous awards for his stewardship. - COURTESY GARY WALKER
  • Courtesy Gary Walker
  • Pueblo County Rancher Gary Walker has settled with the city for damage to his property caused by the city's pipeline project. Walker is a conservationist who's won numerous awards for his stewardship.
Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo County rancher Gary Walker have come to terms to settle a lawsuit over land needed for the Southern Delivery System water pipeline.

The city-owned utility will pay Walker Ranches $7.1 million, ending litigation that led to a jury award of $4.75 million earlier this year and subsequent appeals filed by both the city and Walker.

The city's news release:
Colorado Springs Utilities and Gary Walker, a Pueblo County rancher, have reached a settlement agreement to determine the final compensation for easements acquired across 5.5 miles of Walker Ranches property for the installation of Southern Delivery System (SDS) pipeline.

On May 6, a Pueblo County jury awarded Walker $4.75 million for the easement and damages to his land, plus interest, bringing the total to about $5.78 million. Both parties disagreed with the result and the City of Colorado Springs filed an appeal on May 7, followed by Walker Ranches’ appeal on May 14. As part of the settlement, both the City and Walker Ranches will dismiss their respective appeals.

The final agreement reached by the parties on June 16 calls for the payment to Walker Ranches of $7.1 million in full and final settlement of all claims. Under the settlement, Utilities will also install fencing on Walker Ranches to protect recently revegetated areas from cattle disturbance and erect berms on the property, in cooperation with Mr. Walker, to reduce erosion across the easement. The agreement also acknowledges the commitment of the parties to work together in the future to manage and maintain the right of way.

The settlement provides Colorado Springs Utilities additional certainty surrounding ultimate project costs, thereby minimizing financial risk to ratepayers. An appeal process could have lasted for years and would have required costly legal fees for both sides.

“It has always been our intent when working with property owners to use the court process as a last resort,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “By successfully resolving these issues with Mr. Walker, we can focus on completing the required revegetation on his property and finishing the SDS project on time and under budget.”

SDS is scheduled to begin water delivery in the first quarter of 2016. The project is currently about $156 million dollars under budget. The project will supply water to Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security.  
Utilities says the news release was approved by both parties, "and neither can comment further than what is already included."

The pipeline is expected to begin delivering water to Colorado Springs from Pueblo Reservoir next year.
 

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