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Why MVEA Filed A Lawsuit Against El Paso County For Encroaching On Property Rights

 

March 27, 2019



by Jim Herron, MVEA CEO

Last week, Mountain View Electric Association, Inc. (MVEA) filed a lawsuit to halt El Paso County government’s attempts to undermine MVEA’s property rights and shift costs onto our electric cooperative members. In legal speak, the Complaint for Declaratory Judgment against the Board of County Commissioners and the County Planning and Community Development Department focuses on the County’s incorrect interpretation of its Land Development Code governing MVEA’s electric lines.

MVEA, which began providing electricity in 1941, serves customers in Arapahoe, Crowley, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Lincoln, Pueblo and Washington counties, and stretches over 5,000 square miles and 6,140 miles of energized lines. We are member-owned, and the decisions made by the Board and staff must always reflect the best interests of all members.

That’s why we have decided to move forward with this lawsuit. We believe that El Paso County’s interpretation of its Land Development Code oversteps its authority provided in state statute to regulate utilities such as MVEA. If allowed, the County’s interpretation will jeopardize our existing property rights and hurt our members through rate increases.

By seeking this judgment, MVEA is protecting the interests of all our members, since as a cooperative, MVEA’s members pay for the cost of complying with government regulations, including those that will increase electric bills for the working families, small businesses, rural school districts and nonprofits in our service area.

At issue are MVEA’s distribution lines, low-voltage facilities that run through neighborhoods and provide electricity directly to homes and businesses. In El Paso County, MVEA’s distribution lines often follow roadways and are typically installed in 20-foot easements—vested property rights that are utilized for overhead and buried distribution lines—just outside the current right of ways. Most of these easements were created as part of the County’s development approval process and were negotiated with the landowner, providing MVEA access to that property to operate and maintain its distribution lines.

The County wants wider right of ways along future arterial roadways in eastern El Paso County. In many cases, the County’s new right-of-way measurement would force MVEA to move electric lines into backyards and through existing homes and commercial buildings—taking away MVEA’s current easements and disrupting entire communities. And if the County gets its way, it would have to be done at the expense of all MVEA members, including those outside El Paso County.

It only takes a drive through eastern El Paso County to see that moving MVEA’s facilities into people’s backyards isn’t feasible. Based on the County’s actions, MVEA would have to move its lines outside of its easements or get a permit from the County to upgrade or replace existing lines. The permitting process is costly, burdensome and time consuming. It’s just not practical and, more importantly, we believe, the County doesn’t have the legal right to regulate MVEA’s distribution lines under state law.

MVEA has tried to work with the County to explain why the County’s interpretation of its permitting powers is contrary to law. Unfortunately, the County has not responded to our concerns—and then brought in its lawyers, forcing this to become a legal issue. We did not want this to happen, but now MVEA needs the court’s opinion on this matter.

If the County can regulate MVEA’s distribution lines, this will no doubt increase electric bills for all MVEA members, unfairly impacting our members outside of El Paso County. We can’t just let that happen. Providing affordable and reliable electricity has been our mission for more than 75 years, and we will fight to protect members and to continue that vital mission.

If you are an MVEA customer and have further questions, please visit our website at http://www.mvea.coop for additional information and updates.

About Mountain View Electric Association, Inc. (MVEA)

Mountain View Electric Association, Inc. (MVEA) is an electric cooperative that was organized in 1941. Today, MVEA serves over 46,000 members with nearly 55,000 meters in portions of eight counties. The co-op has grown over the years, but one thing remains the same, MVEA still operates on the values they started with years ago – integrity, accountability, innovation and commitment to community. MVEA has three locations to serve members – Falcon, Limon and Monument. For additional information about MVEA and the electric cooperative difference visit http://www.mvea.coop.

 

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