Thornton sues Weld over denial of pipeline permit

GREELEY — The city of Thornton filed suit Wednesday against Weld County over its denial of a use-by-special-review permit for placement of a 42-inch water line through unincorporated portions of the county.

The board of commissioners denied Thornton’s request for a special permit on May 5, which prompted the lawsuit June 2. 

In a controversial move in the mid-1980s, Thornton bought several farms and their associated water rights, intending to dry up the farms and move the water attached to them by pipeline to the Denver suburb. The intended project sat idle for years, but in recent years the city has begun to move toward development of the pipeline.

It has run into roadblocks in Larimer County, which denied the city’s 1041 permit that would have authorized the pipeline route. The county has suggested that Thornton change where it would draw water from the Cache la Poudre River from upstream of Fort Collins to downstream. Thornton has refused, saying that the water quality would not be as good downstream.

“We will not put our water past wastewater-treatment plants,” Thornton spokesman Todd Barnes told BizWest.

Thornton sued the county, but Larimer District Court sided with the county in its denial. Thornton appealed that decision March 29, and a decision from the Colorado Court of Appeals is pending. 

Meanwhile, Thornton has sought agreements with multiple cities in Northern Colorado as it seeks to establish a route for its pipeline. Windsor, Johnstown and Timnath have agreed to Thornton’s routing plans, and work is underway in those areas to bury the large pipeline. 

“We have seven miles of pipeline in the ground,” Barnes said. “We’re still on schedule,” he said.

But seven miles is far short of the more than 50 miles between the Poudre River and Thornton. In addition to the Larimer County pipeline route, it needs approvals from Weld County and Adams County. 

Thornton began working with Weld County in 2015 to receive approval under the county’s special-review process. As alleged in the suit, Thornton said that despite being told by county staff that it could submit its plans in segments and that the city should avoid existing and future rights-of-way for the pipeline, the board of commissioners required that the city consider county rights-of-way and submit a complete route, which it did. After multiple hearings, including four before the board of commissioners, Weld County denied the permit on a unanimous vote. 

While a written record of the county’s May 5 hearing was not available, Thornton alleged that commissioners orally cited failure of Thornton to meet three of eight criteria required for the permit. 

Those three provisions are that Thornton did not meet:

  • A requirement to avoid irrigated crop land or have minimal impact on agricultural uses.
  • A requirement to avoid impact on existing or future development.
  • A requirement to assess “all reasonable alternatives” so that the project is “consistent with the best interests of the people of the county.”

Commissioner Scott James, who made the motion to deny, told BizWest that he made the motion “because the pipeline isn’t in the best interests of Weld County,” and he represents Weld County not Thornton. He said its impact on future development in the county “was a breach too far.”

Thornton’s alleges that the board exceeded its authority and acted arbitrarily and capriciously. It seeks court approval of the permit or an order requiring the board of commissioners to approve the permit. 

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GREELEY — The city of Thornton filed suit Wednesday against Weld County over its denial of a use-by-special-review permit for placement of a 42-inch water line through unincorporated portions of the county.

The board of commissioners denied Thornton’s request for a special permit on May 5, which prompted the lawsuit June 2. 

In a controversial move in the mid-1980s, Thornton bought several farms and their associated water rights, intending to dry up the farms and move the water attached to them by pipeline to the Denver suburb. The intended project sat idle for years, but in recent years the city has begun to move toward development of the pipeline.

It has run into roadblocks in Larimer County, which denied the city’s 1041 permit that would have authorized the pipeline route. The county has suggested that Thornton change where it would draw water from the Cache la Poudre River from upstream of Fort Collins to downstream. Thornton has refused, saying that the water quality would not be as good downstream.

“We will not put our water past wastewater-treatment plants,” Thornton spokesman Todd Barnes told BizWest.

Thornton sued the county, but Larimer District Court sided with the county in its denial. Thornton appealed that decision March 29, and a decision from the Colorado Court of Appeals is pending. 

Meanwhile, Thornton has sought agreements with multiple cities in Northern Colorado as it seeks to establish a route for its pipeline. Windsor, Johnstown and Timnath have agreed to Thornton’s routing plans, and work is underway in those areas to…