Another eminent domain horror story in Colorado

Here’s a companion piece to the Cowmageddon saga in Nevada, where a lot of people showed up to take a stand against government over-reach.  “Eminent domain” abuses are the sort of thing that has these folks worried.  One of the most blatant examples comes from Colorado, where county officials declared war on a couple that dared to use a snowmobile to access a cabin high in the mountains.

Landowner Andy Barrie has been getting a taste of “process as punishment” in his extended court battle against deep-pocketed government, as reported by Fox News:

“Everyone has their special place where they really like to go, and when we came up here the first time we said this is our heaven, this is a special place,” Andy Barrie explained.

Two years ago, Andy and Ceil Barrie bought two pieces of land: a house in an established subdivision, and another piece of property at a higher elevation, accessible by an old mining road.

The isolated parcel is surrounded by 2.2 million acres of White River National Forest, and is essentially an island of private property. It includes an old mining cabin, an outhouse and a shuttered gold mine. The area is popular with hikers.

The couple’s trouble started when the U.S. Forest Service took them to task for using a utility vehicle to drive from their main residence to their cabin. They say they never went off-road, and petitioned for the path to be declared a county road.

The county, though, responded by trying to buy the Barries’ higher-elevation property in order to protect and preserve it as open space. The Barries, who never had any plans to develop it, did not want to sell.

That’s when the county pulled their trump card.

Unbeknownst to the Barries, the previous owner had remodeled the cabin without permits. So Summit County commissioners voted to condemn the property for wiring and plumbing (even though the cabin has none) and filed for eminent domain. 

“I understand that we are all trying to save these beautiful mountains and make them accessible to everyone, but you know that property has been sitting there since President Garfield signed our land patent, and we’re not doing anything bad there,” Ceil Barrie said.

Wiring and plumbing violations in a century-old cabin that has neither, because someone else remodeled it years ago without permits?  (An article at the UK Daily Mail describes the cabin as an unheated structure with “a single light powered by a solar panel outside.”)  I guess they wanted a marginally less flimsy pretext than declaring it a protected sasquatch habitat.  The Barries suspect the county wants the land so it can work out a swap with the U.S.. Forest Service for more valuable property.  Others think it’s more about keeping the area placid for tourists than preserving any alpine habitats.

Mandatory mediation took place a week ago under the eyes of a judge, but the Barries don’t think it amounted to much; Andy flatly declared the county would inevitably take the land.  “Sooner or later, we’re going to run out of money, but we wanted to fight the good fight and let people know our story, and what the government is up to,”  he said.

The Barries have spent $75,000 in their doomed struggle thus far.  The judge warned them to expect another seventy-five grand in costs before it’s over.  According to a February article in The Blaze, they paid $550,000 for the cabin and the land around it.  Unlike the bureaucracy, they don’t get to cover those legal costs by spending other peoples’ money.

Various government entities have been pushing at the boundaries of eminent domain, moving far beyond the popular conception of a process designed to keep landowners from blocking vitally needed public works.  In the most famous case, which reached the Supreme Court as Kelo v. City of New London, a Connecticut city successfully argued that it had the right to seize property from homeowners, because it could make better economic use of the property.  Nine years later, the property in question is a vacant lot.  Bureaucrats certainly are good at creating empty spaces.

In Colorado, a couple innocently purchased a property, made the mistake of asking the county to give them formal permission to access it with an ATV… and found the hellish machinery of remorseless, unstoppable government unleashed against them.  That machine is not interested in reaching any sort of reasonable accommodation with the landowners – they’ve even offered to demolish the cabin and use a tent when visiting their property, but it didn’t make any difference.  Soon they won’t have any property to visit.