San Juan County, Colorado commissioners recently voted unanimously to condemn property near the controversial Silverton Ski Area. The stated reason for the condemnation, according to a Durango Herald article, is that property owner Jim Jackson made it difficult to perform avalanche control work necessary for public safety on a public road.
It’s no secret that Jackson was in the habit of whining about skiers trespassing on his property, and locals were getting tired of hearing about it — especially as it began to appear that the new ski area might be experiencing a modicum of success — or at least providing something amusing in a town where previous winters harkened to the isolation of places like Barrow, Alaska (only without an airport).
Thus, this appears to be a case of Jackson pushing a bit too hard against something that’s popular (including his bringing a lawsuit). Why he couldn’t be more accommodating is a mystery; perhaps he was hoping for condemnation and the automatic sale at “market value” that would ensue. Indeed, the hodge of steep avalanche terrain and mining claims that comprises Jackson’s property didn’t appear to have much development potential — other than skiing.
Adding more interest to the situation, today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local governments have broad power to take over private property to make way for private development that is claimed to have some sort of public benefit.
Socialists and trusters of government “wisdom” may applaud all the above, but caution is advised. Much of our country’s economic success (which all we “public” benefit from, no matter our political viewpoints) is based on private property rights, and erosion of such is cause for concern. As a recreation advocate I’m of course happy to see government support of Silverton Ski Area’s needs, but could my house be condemned because it’s in the way of a cool skate park that’s being built, or a shopping mall, or a new ski area? Prior to today I would have laughed at this assertion, but now I’m not so sure.
One thing is certain, Colorado’s big government mountain towns like Aspen and Boulder will probably celebrate all this in the streets. If they don’t like what’s going on with some private property, it’s easier than ever for them to simply condemn it and take control. Aspen needs more million dollar employee housing units? Condemn the Hotel Jerome and convert it into price controlled condos for “public benefit.” Boulder wants more places to shop for hemp clothing? Condemn a few houses and turn them into stores (ahh, I can already smell the patchouli oil). Vail wants a bigger ski area? Grab some property. And on.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.