From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 24 - September 9, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

PDR would be for "use by the county"

by Cat Urbigkit

The Ninth Judicial District Court should not grant Bob Harrower either a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, Sublette County Attorney Van Graham argued in briefs filed with the court on Tuesday afternoon.

The injunction request filed by Harrower's attorney seeks to prohibit the county from moving forward with any action to purchase development rights. The request was filed after the Sublette County Commission voted 2-1 to purchase a one-fourth interest in a $1.6 million conservation easement on land owned by the Stan Murdock family near Pinedale.

Graham's response alleges that there is no clear showing of Harrower's probable success on the merits of his claims, and, in that there is no actual conveyance before the court, there can be no showing of irreparable harm.

Graham filed a motion for summary judgment on certain issues in the case, agreeing that there is no genuine issue of material fact on these issues, that the case is really a question of law (rather than fact) appropriate for the court to decide.

"This case is before the court for summary judgment in a somewhat troublesome factual posture, troublesome because there are important issues of law involved, and because some of those issues are fact-dependent for resolution," Graham wrote in the county's motion for summary judgment.

The motion argued that since the actual conveyance of an easement has not yet taken place, "there are important aspects of this case which simply are not ripe for summary judgment."

Among other issues, the county's motion argues that the county has not exceeded its statutory authority in the PDR case because the county has authority to purchase property "for use by the county." Graham argued that the county's purchase of a conservation easement is a property right, and that the concept of "use by the county" is extensive and encompasses the concept of benefit.

"Acquisition of development rights is significant benefit to the county, and are well within the scope of the requirement of 'use by the county,' " the county motion argued. According to the motion, these benefits include:

Preserving the agricultural heritage and working ranches of the county;

Keeping land in ag provides employment for residents and revenue for county businesses;

Since developing working ranches for residential use increases the costs of community services to residents, keeping the land in ag could provide the county with a surplus in tax revenues;

Conserving private ag lands provides critical habitat for Wyoming wildlife; and

Preserving the county's working ranches provides sweeping vistas that define life in Sublette County.

"The purchase of development rights in the form of a conservation easement puts a valuable property right into service specifically to attain the above ends, and other related ends that could be listed," the motion stated, added, "By any definition, this is use by the county."

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