Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Daily Sentinel, July 2, on Colorado’s new law on strategic lawsuits against public participation:
The Sentinel’s Charles Ashby has been getting readers up to speed on the new laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor that went into effect starting July 1.
Among them is House Bill 1324, which aims to make it easier to have SLAPP suits dismissed before they wreak havoc on defendants’ lives.
SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation. We were glad to see the Legislature take up this issue because of the chilling effect SLAPPs can have on free speech and public discourse.
Without anti-SLAPP legislation on the books, it was too easy to punish people for exercising their right to criticize. A corporation — or any organization — that didn’t like what someone was saying about them, whether true or not, could file a defamation suit.
Ultimately, if the basis of the suit had no merit, the case would be dismissed and the party that filed it would have to cover the defendant’s attorney’s fees. As far as fairness and justice go, the system worked fine before the new law. But between the filing and the judgment, defendants were stuck waiting for the wheels of justice to turn and free them of financial liability.
The new law takes the bite out of why SLAPPs are filed in the first place — to tie up defendants with legal costs. SLAPPs are effective because even a meritless lawsuit can take years and many thousands of dollars to defend.
The new law allows a defendant in a civil case to file a special motion to dismiss if the defendant can establish that the lawsuit arose from exercising a First Amendment right of free speech or petition for redress of grievances.
The case can be halted immediately and appealed to a higher court. Defendants can ask the Colorado Court of Appeals to look at whether the lawsuit is meant to squelch free speech before the expenses of the discovery process are incurred. The bill also allows a defendant who prevails on a special motion to dismiss to recover attorney fees and court costs.
As Ashby noted, SLAPPS have been around for decades, but are becoming more common. As of Monday, Colorado has joined a small number of states that have passed laws aimed at cracking down on such lawsuits.
It was Paonia resident’s Pete Kolbenschlag’s saga that helped frame the debate about the need for anti-SLAPP legislation in Colorado.
Kolbenschlag was sued for libel by a Texas-based oil and gas company after posting a critical comment online. Although a Delta County judge eventually dismissed the case and awarded Kolbenschlag attorney fees, the plaintiffs appealed the judge’s decision, drawing out a lengthy and arduous experience that finally ended last week.
The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the district court ruling, awarding Kolbenschlag the attorney’s fees he incurred defending the suit.
“I am pleased that the publicity this case generated helped prompt the Colorado General Assembly and Governor Polis to enact an anti-SLAPP law,” Koblenschlag said in a statement. “It is my intent that no other Coloradan who wishes to participate actively in government or on matters of public interest will be forced to endure what I have.”
Thanks to HB1324, they shouldn’t have to.
Vail Daily, July 2, on terminating a ski resort chairlift project:
Kudos to the Forest Service and Vail Resorts for halting the pursuit an ill-advised idea to add a chairlift from EagleVail to Beaver Creek.
A chairlift in the neighborhood has been envisioned since EagleVail was built. But 40 years ago, Vail Resorts, the Forest Service and the Division of Wildlife deemed the area elk habitat. And for at least 30 years, the Division of Wildlife — now Colorado Parks and Wildlife — has been saying it wouldn’t support a chair going through the sensitive wildlife habitat.
In the last year, the issue of disappearing wildlife in the valley has come to the forefront. Local elk populations have dropped 40% over the last two decades. Wildlife officials point to both recreation and development as reasons for the drop.
And wildlife was just one of the reasons to nix the idea. The undertaking would be large for a project of questionable necessity. The lift would have been 11,250 feet long, making it the longest in North America — a bit longer than the 11,012-foot Slide Brook Express at Sugarbush, Vermont.
Myriad issues of traffic and parking, including how they affect Homestake Peak School, added to the complications. The increase of property values was enticing to homeowners on the east side of the neighborhood; but what would it do to EagleVail’s neighborhood identity as a bastion for young families and workers?
Somehow, the proposal stuck around for years, even after a proposed sales tax that was partially intended to fund the lift failed in 2016.
As recently as April, some members of the EagleVail Metro Board and EagleVail Property Owners Association were pushing for a $15,000 study to identify major flaws in the idea.
The flaws were so obvious, no money was actually required. Thank goodness Vail Resorts and the Forest Service put an end to this dream that somehow would not die. We need more community leaders taking a stand to protect our dwindling wildlife in the valley.
That includes continuing to examine the effects on wildlife of the Berlaimont proposal near Edwards and the Booth Heights workforce housing proposal in East Vail. We are not saying those projects should be rejected — the East Vail proposal in particular addresses another big problem in our community, worker housing — but we need to seriously consider the wildlife protections measures that are suggested by the experts such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
We also urge local leaders and recreationalists to uphold the regulations around the new Everkrisp trail and the planned lift expansion into McCoy Park. In fact, we would like to see Vail Resorts and trail advocates take measures to go beyond the required actions — something akin to the above-and-beyond steps taken to create Trail Ambassador programs and signage for seasonal closures on valley trails.
Let’s leave this chairlift idea behind once and for all and move to solving real problems in our community — including housing and wildlife protection.
The Pueblo Chieftain, June 26, on water, population growth and Pueblo:
Many parts of Colorado are booming economically, but according to some projections, there will come a point in time when that growth could dry up. Quite literally.
The Centennial State’s population of more than 5 million is on pace to double by 2050. Meanwhile, the water supply within the Colorado River Basin could decrease by 6% to 20% over the same time period.
This has caught the attention of some of our neighbors on the Front Range who live in high-growth areas. On June 23, The Denver Post devoted a large portion of its front page and two full inside pages to the Yampa River and the challenges it and other waterways within the Colorado River Basin face as development increases.
Also in June, a network of nonprofit organizations, trade groups and Colorado officials publicly launched an advertising campaign aimed at encouraging conservation measures described in the state’s water plan. The water plan provides an outline of ways local governments and industries could reduce their combined water consumption by 130 billion gallons a year.
It remains to be seen whether the new advertising campaign, dubbed “For the Love of Colorado,” will have a significant impact on water conservation efforts.
Here’s a bit of good news, though: While the water supply issue is a serious one for other parts of our state, it’s not much of a factor in Pueblo. And it probably won’t be within the foreseeable future.
Our water supply is derived from the Arkansas River watershed. The amount of water available to Pueblo at any given time varies depending on a number of different factors, including recent rain or snowfall and the use of water rights by other entities that tap into the same source.
However, suffice it to say that Pueblo has enough water to meet its current needs, with substantial capacity for future growth.
And we applaud Mayor Nick Gradisar for recognizing that availability of water is one of our community’s biggest assets.
Both before and after his election, Gradisar has talked about using that asset as part of the city’s economic development efforts. Gradisar has said he wants to appeal to businesses located in places where water is scarcer that they should relocate to Pueblo.
Hopefully, he is making that part of his pitch to business prospects and we’ll see some results from that work soon.
None of which is to say that Puebloans should waste water. Just because we have an ample supply now doesn’t mean that always will be the case.
We don’t want Pueblo to grow so much that one day we find ourselves facing the same future that now confronts some fast-growing parts of our state. Moderate growth, however, is something Pueblo easily can accommodate.
Our community leaders can and should encourage that type of growth. We need the flow of money almost as much as our neighbors need the flow of water.