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The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

SLVREC errs, plants power lines inside property lines

By Amelia Stern, August 2023

San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (SLVREC) installed underground power lines that deviated from their road right-of-way and onto private property, affecting seven households along a 15-mile stretch of Wagon Wheel Road in the Baca. 

SLVREC is now asking those residents to sign an adjusted easement, which one resident—choosing to stay anonymous—is refusing to sign without compensation and clarification. 

SLVREC serves the counties of Rio Grande, Costilla, Saguache, Alamosa, Conejos, Mineral, and Hinsdale with 531 miles of underground distribution lines. 

According to SLVREC’s Chief Operating Officer Shawn E. Mckibbon, the company aims to replace 70 miles of these lines in the Baca in an attempt to mitigate power outages in the region. 

The disgruntled resident says that when the project began in the summer of 2022, no one was notified beforehand. “Part of the problem is that they’re just coming in, doing whatever, and not telling any of the residents anything until afterwards,” she said. “I literally had to go outside when they were digging across where I live on my property and say, ‘what are you doing?’”  

It wasn’t until April of 2023 that residents received a letter from Mckibbon alerting residents to the project and admitting to the company’s error. 

“It appears that our power line route may have deviated from the road right-of-way and onto your property,” the letter read. “We would like to discuss the events and mutual solutions based on what our further research determines,” it continued. 

According to SLVREC’s Marketing and Outreach Coordinator Jennifer Alonzo, the company determined that it was most cost-beneficial to all its members if a new agreement was reached, instead of having to dig up and move the entire line. 

Based on their determination, the company is now asking residents to sign a new right-of-way easement, extending their access to a strip of land up to 15 ft. in width on either side of the power line, extending when necessary. 

The new easement would give SLVREC the full rights to and authority to cut, remove, trim, or otherwise control all trees, brush, and other growth on or overhanging said easement and would also prohibit residents from building on that strip of land without SLVREC’s review for safety and access consideration. 

“First of all, I’m not signing this agreement because the language is way too loose for my comfort,” said the affected resident. “Not to mention the fact that it feels like a violation. Because again, dig first, ask later, and you’re sort of backed into a corner,” she said. 

When the resident reached out to Mckibbon after receiving the original letter, he told her they’d pay for the extended easement. But according to the resident, the amount was insulting. “First you make the mistake and then you’re offering pennies?” she said. Wondering what the payment was based on, the resident asked for a surveyed map of the property that included the outline of the new easement. 

“They literally sent me back an aerial shot, it looks like a drone shot of the property, with a couple of lines drawn on it,” she said. “That’s when I thought, I’m going to have to get a lawyer.” The resident’s real estate lawyer helped to rewrite the easement’s loose language and advised her not to sign until the company was able to provide more clarification behind their conclusions. 

“Ideally, I’d like for them to fix their mistake, but since that’s probably not going to happen, I’d at least like to be compensated fairly,” said the resident. “But when I asked them for an independent appraisal, they refused, saying the cost would be more money than the easement is worth.” 

After some back and forth, SLVREC finally agreed to cover the resident’s lawyer’s fees and to provide a detailed map with clarification on the new easement. 

As of the publication of this article, the resident has not received the map and the project is currently on hold until she agrees to sign the new easement.

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