March 15, 2023 |

Photo – Saratoga Town Hall – Bigfoot99 file photo

In Saratoga, the new council has picked up from where the last one left off; in negotiations over a contested property, near the Hugus Ditch, between First and River Streets.

Following a special meeting last Friday, the governing body agreed to split the cost of more soil testing with Randy Stevens.

The town and Stevens, president of Quality Landscape and Nursery, have been in a decade-long legal dispute over earthwork done on property Stevens owns, as well as the town’s responses to the digging. According to a judge-ordered consent decree, the two parties must compromise on a solution to stop the cliff face on the south side of Stevens’ land from eroding an adjacent town-owned alley. A Saratoga-Encampment-Rawlins Conservation District structure, located on the south side of the alley, could be damaged if measures aren’t taken to mitigate the erosion.

On Friday afternoon, the Saratoga town council held a special meeting to discuss paying for additional soil testing on Stevens’ land. After the meeting began, the council went into executive session to discuss the matter with former town attorney Jane France. When the council re-entered the chamber, Mayor Chuck Davis asked for a motion to allow the town to pay for half of the testing cost.

The workshop was necessary because at its meeting a few days earlier, council did not want to put any more town money into resolving the legal dispute. At the meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Davis informed the council members the previous council had proposed building a rock and earthworks wall, called a geo-tech wall, on Stevens’ property. To see if the construction was possible, the council would need to approve paying an engineering firm to perform soil compaction testing. Mayor Davis asked the council if they wanted to continue with the established plan.

The cliff face is held up by a failing sheet steel wall. The town and Stevens’ attorneys have investigated alternative solutions and settled on the geo-tech wall. Councilman Jerry Fluty asked why the town should spend any more money. He suggested they deny the proposal until something happens to force the town into action. Mayor Davis said the town was court-ordered to work with Stevens on a solution.

The consent decree states the town and Stevens must work out a way to make the alley safe from collapse. Councilman Jerry Fluty said the town didn’t create the problem, so they shouldn’t pay for any more work. He suggested the town go back to court.

Mayor Davis said the town’s liability insurance company and former attorney both suggested the council abide by the previous consent decree. Councilwoman Kathy Beck said she needed proof the town’s insurance wouldn’t pay to protect the town in the event of a catastrophe.

Councilwoman Beck said she would not vote for a motion to pay until the council received a second legal opinion. Mayor Davis said the town’s insurance company said the consent decree should be held to the same standard as a legal contract. He asked for a motion to pay the engineering firm. Councilman Mike Cooley motioned, but the vote died for lack of a second.

Mayor Davis said attorney France informed him the consent decree legally requires the town to partner with Stevens on a solution.

After the failed vote on Tuesday, the mayor needed to schedule Friday’s special meetings to revisit the soil testing motion where they agreed to pay half the cost.

The town’s half of the $5,200 engineering cost only covers the feasibility study on the geo-tech wall. The actual cost of the wall project is unknown.

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