In a twist in how governments typically use the power of eminent domain — to foster economic or commercial growth — Summit County, Colo., is threatening to take a couple’s 10-acre parcel in Colorado’s White River National Forest to preserve it as open space.
But the couple, Andy and Ceil Barrie, isn’t planning to develop the land or sell it to someone who might. They just want to use an all-terrain vehicle in the winter to access its century-old refurbished cabin they own as a second home.
The U.S. Forest Service, however, prohibits using motorized vehicles in national forests.
“People in this community are very intent on preserving the back country,” Summit County Attorney Jeff Huntley told the Associated Press.
The Barries, who live full time in a nearby subdivision, paid about $550,000 for the home and the nearby land and cabin. The county also discovered the cabin’s previous owner had illegally expanded the structure. The couple told the AP that they would be willing to give some of the property to conservation organizations and that they would be happy to remove the cabin if it means keeping their land for camping and hiking.
But they also argue that they have a legal right to access their private property along an old two-mile mining road. The county is standing firm that no vehicles are allowed. According to the AP, Summit County first offered to buy the property for $50,000 and when the Barries refused the offer, county commissioners voted to condemn it.
The county claims their use of an all-terrain vehicle could damage alpine tundra and habitat used by the endangered lynx.
It is also arguing that the Barries’ business — making wreaths out of boughs they pick up off the ground, for use by nonprofits to sell as fundraisers — constitutes a commercial enterprise that doesn’t “meet the county’s goals of preservation of open space,” Brian Lorch, director of the Summit County Open Space & Trails Department, told the Summit Daily News.
Seizing private property for the sake of preserving it is unusual, but not unheard of, attorney Dana Berliner told the Associated Press. Berliner defended the constitutionality of eminent domain before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.
“It’s not that you can’t do it, but they don’t do it much,” she said. “There’s typically other ways of doing open space than just taking land.”
Andy Barrie, who is originally from Chicago, told the Summit Daily News he’s willing to fight the move in court.
“I’ve never dealt with such devious people, and I’m from Chicago,” he said. “I know a shakedown when I see one.”
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