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Judge: Bloomfield has right to buy electric system
Farmington City Council may choose to appeal decision
FARMINGTON — A district court judge has determined Bloomfield has the right to purchase all electric utility infrastructure within its city limits from the Farmington Electric Utility System.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the city of Bloomfield about two years ago alleging Farmington had breached a contract that allowed Bloomfield to purchase the electric utility system infrastructure within its boundaries. That contract was a 1960 court decision known as the Culpepper Decree that outlined Aztec and Bloomfield's rights to acquire electric utility infrastructure after Farmington acquired the system from the Basin Light & Power Co.
The order denying Farmington's motion for summary judgment and granting Bloomfield's right to purchase the infrastructure states that the dispute was solely about the meaning of language used in the Culpepper Decree.
"The documents were written to be read superficially for their meaning, not to be scrutinized over and over again with the reader pouring over every possible nuance of each word and term," the order states. "Overanalyzing portions of the document amplify the vagaries of language resulting in inferences the author never intended thereby warping the meaning and intent of the document."
The two cities disagreed on what infrastructure Bloomfield was entitled to acquire. Judge Bradford Dalley upheld Bloomfield's interpretation of the decree — that the city has the right to all electric utility infrastructure within its current limits. Farmington had argued that Bloomfield only had the right to the infrastructure formerly owned by the Basin Light & Power Co.
"The process of litigation encompasses many stages and is inherently subject to many twists and turns," said Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts in an emailed statement regarding the ruling.
He said the city recognized the possibility that Dalley could rule in Bloomfield's favor, but the city disagrees with the decision. Roberts said Farmington is still confident in its interpretation of the Culpepper Decree.
Roberts said the Farmington City Council will decide whether to appeal the decision.
Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein said his city's next step will be determined by what the Farmington City Council decides. He said Bloomfield likely will continue to try to acquire the infrastructure if Farmington appeals the ruling.
Eckstein said he hopes the Farmington City Council will choose to negotiate with Bloomfield on the purchase of the infrastructure rather than appealing the decision. Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl echoed that sentiment.
"The next step in the process would logically be for Bloomfield and Farmington to sit down and see if we can negotiate a value on the system," Strahl said.
Eckstein said his city's ownership of an electric utility would allow Bloomfield residents to have more input on rate increases and would generate money to help with quality of life in the city.
Farmington has argued that electric utilities do not necessarily generate additional revenue, and Bloomfield's acquisition of the system could lead to increased costs for customers.
In the emailed statement, Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes highlighted Farmington's low electric rates. The city's rates are about 20 percent lower than utilities statewide and nationwide. Farmington also has the lowest rates in the region.
"The outcome of this case is very important to the owners of the utility system — the citizens of Farmington — and perhaps most importantly to the utility's customers and ratepayers, including those who live in Bloomfield," Mayes said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.