The city of Thornton formally went to court against the Weld County Board of Commissioners after the board denied the city's application to build a water pipeline through the county. The board's …
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The city of Thornton formally went to court against the Weld County Board of Commissioners after the board denied the city's application to build a water pipeline through the county.
The board's decision, “exceeds its jurisdiction and/or is contrary to law, misinterprets and misapplies its criteria, and was arbitrary and capricious because its findings lack competent evidence to support the BOCC's denial,” read the complaint filed June 2 in Weld County District Court.
As Thornton nears its deadline to construct a pipeline from a reservoir near Fort Collins, the quickest and most direct way for the city to get approval for a Weld County pipeline is through the courts, rather than submitting a whole new application. The city asks in the complaint for a district court judge to intervene and overturn the board's decision.
Thornton started the process for the Weld County section of the Thornton Water Project in 2015. In 2018, the city formally submitted its application to build a pipeline through 34 miles of unincorporated county land. The city then went before the county's planning commission twice and the board of commissioners four times. That fourth meeting, May 5, is when the board unanimously voted to deny the application.
The denial and the court proceedings are additional setbacks for Thornton in its effort to complete the pipeline's total 75 miles from a Water Supply and Storage Company (WSSC) reservoir by 2025. The city is engaged in a separate legal battle — currently in the Colorado Court of Appeals — with the Larimer County Board of Commissioners, who denied a similar application from Thornton in 2019. The complaint Thornton filed in Weld County is the same kind that it filed in Larimer.
The city has already installed six miles of pipeline in other municipalities it has reached agreements with, including Windsor and Johnstown.
In both the Larimer and Weld County cases, Thornton argued the boards of commissioners didn't have the jurisdiction to deny the city's application because it has owned the WSSC rights for decades. What's different about Thornton's argument against Weld County is that it's simpler, according to legal filings.
Weld County staff, the planning commission and the board initially told Thornton to not construct the pipeline in the right-of-way, or literally underneath county roads. Instead, they suggested planning to build on privately owned land next to the road. However, the planning commission and board later asked the city to consider areas for the pipeline in the right-of-way. Thornton did that and over time, submitted several amended applications.
The board asked also Thornton to obtain more construction easements from private landowners before the board reached a decision. So, by the May 5 board meeting, Thornton obtained easements for 95% of the total stretch of the pipeline.
Thornton described itself in the complaint as a good partner to Weld County, despite larger changes along the way. Still, the board denied the application. The city also argued that the board didn't “orally find or conclude” that Thornton failed to meet five of eight criteria that the board is supposed to consult in its decision-making.
The city added in the complaint that the board still hasn't issued Thornton a written denial.
“Given the extraordinary breadth of information provided to the BOCC and the passage of nearly two and a half years since Thornton filed its USR permit application, Thornton would suffer substantial prejudice if this matter was remanded for the BOCC,” the city said in its complaint.
The main reason for Thornton's haste is rapid growth. The City council won't approve applications related to large developments, such as Parterre, without the assurance of water from Larimer County.
Weld County spokesperson Jennifer Finch said the county attorney received the complaint Thursday, June 3 and started to read through it. The county had no further comments to add.
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