GarCo steps up effort to get disputed land for runway

RIFLE — Garfield County wants to expedite condemnation of land standing in the way of completing a $33 million airport runway project on schedule.

The county is trying to reach an agreement under which it would gain immediate possession of 10.6 acres at the west end of the facility near Rifle. The question of how much it would have to pay property owner Continental Rifle would be settled later in court.

The county is realigning, lengthening and leveling its runway to allow use by bigger corporate jets. It hopes to finish the project by 2011.

The county has done a lot of work on the runway’s east end, but west-end work has been held up by the refusal of Continental Rifle to sell its land. The land is needed for relocation of Airport Road, and it has power lines that must be moved.

Continental Rifle is associated with Minnesota developer Brad Hoyt’s Continental Property Group. It paid $2.6 million to buy 77 acres near the airport in 2006. The land the county wants is part of that larger parcel.

Last year, Hoyt said property values had risen and the 10.6 acres had gravel deposits, road frontage and the most development potential on the parcel, making those acres worth $3.5 million. He said the county offered about $480,000, which the county has not publicly confirmed.

The county filed suit this year to take the property by condemnation. Assistant County Attorney Carolyn Dahlgren said the county has been negotiating with Hoyt over an agreement for immediate possession. It would let the court put county money in an interest-bearing account and enable Hoyt to take out some of that money immediately. Dahlgren said part of the negotiation is over how much Hoyt would immediately receive.

Meanwhile, Hoyt has asked that a trial to determine the property’s worth be heard not by a jury but by a three-person commission, Dahlgren said. She said the commission members would have to be landowners with knowledge of land values, and that they would be chosen by a district court judge.

Dahlgren said the county had hoped to acquire the property in time to move the power lines this year, but that appears unlikely.

“At the moment, we’re thinking the only thing we can get done this year is design work,” she said.


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