State should ‘honor the deal’ on land easements, lawmaker says

/ Colorado News Agency
Dec 30th, 2010

IMG_4188The state has been backing out of deals it made with some landowners on much-debated conservation easements, say two southern Colorado lawmakers, one of whom already has taken steps he says will make the state keep its end of the bargain.

“If they make the deal, they should honor the deal they made,” said Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh.

The deals at the center of the controversy, made over the last decade, are conservation easements granted on property by a landowner to limit or prevent future commercial or residential development on the land. In exchange, the state grants the landowner–typically a farmer or rancher–a tax credit based on the land’s value. More recently, however, the state has called into question the value of some conservation easements and has not been honoring the tax credits, McKinley maintains.

“They’ve been demanding interest, fees and penalties on easements that they now say they won’t be honoring,” he sad. “The state is saying that the lands were overvalued.”

The easements were sold before the state made revisions to the guidelines governing easements, said McKinley.  The state is now saying that the appraisals of the easementswere overvalued and cannot be honored, he says.

He is drafting legislation, to be introduced when the legislature convenes next month, requiring the state to honor the promised tax credits.

Many of the disputed appraisals involve gravel-deposit areas whose value can be readily evaluated due to precise measurements that can be taken to determine the quantity of gravel deposits; and to market rates that are available daily, says the Walsh lawmaker.

Republican Sen.-elect Kevin Grantham, of Canon City, says he is looking forward to working with McKinley on the issue because he has heard the anecdotal stories from constituents who feel the state is reneging.

“People relied on these things, and the state didn’t hold up their end of the bargain,” said Grantham.   “It’s a real issue where there’s been a lack of due process.  We’ll see what we can do for these folks down there that are relying on agreements and seem to be getting the stilts kicked out from under them.”

McKinley agreed.

“You made the deal, live with it,” said McKinley.

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