Bloomfield: Farmington forced utility lawsuit

Farmington city attorney disputes Bloomfield's interpretation

Dan Schwartz

FARMINGTON — A Bloomfield official says Farmington backpedaled about allowing the city to buy Farmington electric utility infrastructure inside Bloomfield’s boundaries, and that’s why the two are now involved in a lawsuit.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re in litigation,” Bloomfield City Attorney Ryan Lane said. “But really, Farmington’s given us no choice.”

Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl points at one of the several substations around town on Thursday on County Road 4900 in Bloomfield.

Bloomfield filed a complaint on Aug. 18 in Aztec District Court that claims Farmington broke a contract that would allow Bloomfield to buy electric utility infrastructure within its city limits, part of a Bloomfield plan to form its own electric utility. The Farmington Electric Utility System currently provides Bloomfield with power.

Bloomfield says a 1960 court order allows it to acquire the infrastructure, but Farmington says in a Sept. 21 motion to dismiss the lawsuit that Bloomfield’s time ran out to enforce the order. It outlines other reasons why a court should throw out the lawsuit.

Bloomfield is still tallying the Farmington assets within its city limits that it wants to buy.

Lane points to two exhibits included in court documents Bloomfield filed on Oct. 6 that he says show Farmington changed its mind. One is a copy of a letter Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes wrote to former Bloomfield City Manager David Fuqua on Dec. 3, 2014.

“Just so we are both clear, the City of Farmington recognizes that the City of Bloomfield has the right to form an electric utility, purchase the equipment belonging to our system that is located within the Bloomfield city limits and serve the customers located within those limits with electric service,” Mayes wrote.

He added that the right was "clearly provided" to Bloomfield in the litigation leading to the 1960 court order.

But Farmington City Attorney Jennifer Breakell said the letter refers only to the condition that, should a court agree Bloomfield has the right to acquire the infrastructure, the 1960 court order dictates those rights. And that decree states Bloomfield could only acquire utilities that existed when Farmington bought them in 1959, she said.

Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl, left, and Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein stand near the Hare Switching Substation on Thursday at the corner of county roads 4900 and 4935 in Bloomfield.

Breakell helped draft the letter, she said. “Farmington has not changed their position,” she said.

Mayes declined to comment on the letter and referred questions to Breakell.

Another exhibit in Bloomfield’s recent filing is a letter Maude Grantham-Richards, then Farmington Electric Utility System director, wrote to Sam Mohler, a former Bloomfield mayor, in 1997.

“I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate Farmington’s position,” Grantham-Richards wrote. “Farmington recognizes Bloomfield’s right regarding municipalization within its corporate boundaries.”

Lane said there’s been an understanding between Farmington and Bloomfield dating back to the 1960s that the latter has a right to acquire the utilities.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.