River trails system expansion draws concerns

Brett Berntsen

FARMINGTON — As city officials hope to expand the network of trails along the Animas River, some residents are expressing concerns that the proposed routes will encroach on their property.

Amanda Garcia, left, and her father, Larry Garcia, talk about the city's desire to annex some of their land for a river trails expansion on Wednesday near the West Murray Drive bridge over the Animas River.

“We just want to make people aware that when they use the river trail, they are also using other people’s property,” said Amanda Garcia, who, along with her father, Larry Garcia, owns estates located in the path of a potential extension in the southern part of the city.

The Garcias currently enjoy access to the river through the backyards of their West Quince Street homes. They worry the presence of a trail will cut off that connection and attract nefarious activity to the area. Garcia said her family already experiences problems with people sleeping in their bushes.

The city, meanwhile, maintains that the trails provide benefits to the surrounding areas. Cory Styron, the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs director, said the presence of the trails system improves, rather that detracts from neighborhoods.

“Historically, when you have people doing positive things, the people doing negative things move out of the area,” Styron said.

Styron said the city has worked with members of the community to develop the trails system gradually over the past few decades. In 2011, it was dedicated as a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of Interior. The proposed expansion would establish an unobstructed route through town. Existing trails end about one-quarter of a mile east of Garcia’s property, but the city has engaged in conversations with the landowner to the west about acquiring that property

Larry Garcia and his daughter, Amanda Garcia, stand on part of their property the city of Farmington wants to annex for a river trails expansion on Wednesday near the West Murray Drive bridge over the Animas River.

Garcia said she worries that if the city owns property on both sides of her, it will be able to push the route through using the power of eminent domain.

Styron said negotiations are underway for the land in question, adding that expansion plans are still several years from becoming a reality.

Despite Garcia’s concerns, City Attorney Jennifer Breakell said local officials try everything possible to avoid exercising eminent domain, which allows governments to dispossess private property for a purpose considered to be in the best interest of the public.

“We don’t take it lightly,” she said.

During her six-year tenure, Breakell said the city has never used that power. She added that the process also requires governments to pay the fair market price for the properties obtained.

That promise of a fair price also concerns the Garcias, however.

Larry Garcia said his property has been appraised as being in an agricultural flood plain, which carries a lower value than surrounding areas. He said that when he sold several acres that were needed for the construction of the Murray Bypass, he didn’t receive as high a price as his neighbors.

Garcia said parting with his land for the bypass was an easy decision, as he needed the money to put his kids through college. But now that he is retired, and his property is paid off, he said the expansion of the trails system doesn't trump the benefits of having private river access.

The West Murray Drive bridge spans the Animas River on Wednesday near the Garcia property.

“The highway, we can understand,” he said. “But this has no functionality.”

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