Bill that would limit access to eminent domain headed for Owens' desk: Colorado Springs (CO) Gazette, 3/14/06

By Kyle Henley

Gov. Bill Owens is likely to sign a bill to make it much harder for private companies to condemn property to build toll roads.

Senate Bill 78 passed the House on Tuesday with a 64-0 vote. It’s already passed the Senate and now heads for the governor’s desk.

“He’s likely to sign it,” said Dan Hopkins, spokesman for the governor. “It’s the compromise he agreed to.”

Last year, Owens vetoed bill that barred private companies from having eminent domain powers to build toll roads. Owens didn’t want to shut the door on private funding for improvements to Colorado’s transportation system.

SB78 bars private companies from using condemnation powers, but allows them to access the tool if they partner with the Colorado Department of Transportation. CDOT would determine whether a proposed project has a public benefit that warrants condemnation.

“It’s been two years in the making,” said Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, sponsor of SB78. “It will allow 100,000 people to sleep better at night.”

SB78 and previous efforts to curtail the condemnation powers of private toll road developers are a direct response to a proposed toll road on Colorado’s eastern plains. Dubbed Super Slab, the proposed road would run from above Fort Collins to the southern edge of Pueblo.

Many property owners – mostly farmers and ranchers – in the path of the proposed highway are vehemently opposed to the plan, charging that it is not right for private companies to have the power of eminent domain.

“Private toll roads companies that are making land grabs and seizing private property without proper justification and compensation won’t happen on my watch,” said Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, who sponsored the bill in the House.

Several others bills that putting tighter controls on private toll roads also are in the works at the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 115 requires toll road developers to submit their plans to counties impacted by a new road so the public can see them. It also would force private toll roads to be approved by cities and counties that are affected by them.

The bill has already passed the Senate and is waiting for a vote by the full House.

House Bill 1003 would force private toll roads developers to go through a rigorous approval process that is similar to that faced by projects built by CDOT. It would include studies on a roads economic and environmental impact.

HB1003 is waiting for a hearing in the House Transportation and Energy Committee.

Colorado Springs Gazette: http://www.gazette.com