Farmington prepares to appeal electric utility case
Bloomfield officials urge Farmington leaders to drop opposition
FARMINGTON — Farmington officials will have the opportunity to appeal a district court ruling that the city of Bloomfield has the right to purchase all electric utility infrastructure within its city limits from the Farmington Electric Utility System.
On Monday, district court Judge Bradford Dalley ruled that Farmington can appeal the decision. In addition, Dalley placed previous district court orders on hold during the appeals process.
This means the city of Farmington will not have to determine the acquisition value of the system or how Bloomfield’s portion of the electric utility could be separated from the rest of the Farmington Electric Utility System.
Farmington attorney Jennifer Breakell said the city will petition the Court of Appeals to hear the case. She said it could take a few months or up to a year before the city hears about whether that petition is successful.
Breakell said she is optimistic that the Court of Appeals will accept the case because there is disagreement in interpreting a 1960s court-issued judgment and decree that the entire case hinges on.
The Culpepper Judgment and Decree outlined the rights of Aztec and Bloomfield to acquire electric utility assets from Farmington after Farmington took over the electric utility system from Basin Light & Power Co. in 1959.
“There’s no dispute in the facts of the case,” Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl said.
He said both cities agree that the Culpepper Judgment and Decree gave Bloomfield and Aztec rights to acquire electric utility infrastructure.
The disagreement between the two cities centers on the scope of the assets Bloomfield has the right to acquire and how long Bloomfield had to assert that right. Farmington argues that Bloomfield is only entitled to the assets that belonged to Basin Light & Power that are located within Bloomfield’s 1960s boundaries. Farmington has also argued that Bloomfield waited too long to assert those rights.
In August, the district judge ruled that the Culpepper Judgment and Decree gave Bloomfield the right to acquire all electric infrastructure within its current boundaries even though nearly 60 years have passed since the decree was issued.
Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts said he believes Dalley made the correct decisions in allowing the case to be appealed and placing a stay on the previous orders. He said it doesn’t make sense for the parties to spend time, money and effort before the final judicial decision.
Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein said he understands the stay on the previous court orders because the value of the system could change during the litigation process. However, he said that the cities could save money if the city of Farmington did not appeal the case.
“If they would sit down with us and work something out, I think it would save everyone money,” Eckstein said.
Eckstein said he is confident the courts will ultimately rule in favor of Bloomfield. Strahl echoed Eckstein’s sentiment.
“It’s just a delaying tactic on the city of Farmington’s part because they don’t want to face the inevitable,” Strahl said.
Strahl said Bloomfield residents will be negatively impacted by the continued litigation because their electric utility rates will be used to pay Farmington’s legal costs.
“The money being spent by both parties is unfortunate,” Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes stated in a text message this morning. “However, it was Bloomfield that chose to file a lawsuit. FEUS has been forced to defend this lawsuit. We are also defending our lawful utility service territory and our customers from what we believe — based on Bloomfield’s own feasibility study — to be an extremely ill advised and risky gamble.”
Eckstein said the city of Bloomfield is not necessarily looking to purchase the system at this point. Instead, the lawsuit filed in 2015 was the city’s way of establishing that it has a legal right to purchase the system.
Ultimately, if the Court of Appeals upholds the ruling that Bloomfield has the right to purchase the system, city officials say Bloomfield residents will vote on whether the city should exercise that right.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.