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Man fights for damages

Posted: Tuesday, Dec 11th, 2012

Courier staff writer

SAGUACHE — Although Ron Briggs is not sure what will remedy his property situation, the Saguache County courts are willing to hear his case against the county, and it might go all the way to trial.

On Monday afternoon, Judge Patrick Hayes, who usually presides over Rio Grande County courts, held a teleconference hearing with Briggs, who is representing himself, and attorney Jessica Muzzio, representing Saguache County, over whether Briggs is in a position to claim property damages due to the governing body’s decision to permit California-based SolarReserve to build a concentrated solar power planet across from his property north of Center, or if the matter should be dismissed entirely.

The defense has placed a motion to dismiss on the table, claiming Briggs is not entitled to the $7,500 in damages he is seeking on the basis of the county’s sovereign immunity and his failure to file a complaint in district court within 28 days of the re-zoning decision, according to the motion document. The county signed off on the SolarReserve 1041 permit on April 3.

Briggs argued the county waived their rights to sovereign immunity when they offered to trade him county-owned properties of “higher or equal value” and the “Colorado governmental immunity act does not apply to inverse condemnation claims,” according to Brigg’s response to the motion to dismiss. He continued, “There is no contest to the re-zoning determinations and jurisdictions for the Court to decide.”

This statement, however, has the courts and the defense confused about what it is Briggs wants to remedy the situation. He now has until February 25, 2013 to sort out his case. Hayes will then reconsider the motion to dismiss before holding a trial in one proceeding.

“I’m not crystal clear, Mr. Briggs, what you are seeking,” Hayes said.

He also did not understand how Briggs came up with the $7,500 figure.

Briggs said he calculated the monetary number based on the project’s damages to his property value and the time and effort he has put into fighting for his rights as a property owner.

“I have quit all of my jobs to prosecute this,” said Briggs, who has been teaching himself law in a Denver University library. “A corporation has somehow absorbed my property... My complaint is that they damaged my property and that is a fact.”

He said that he filed a letter of complaint during the county’s lengthy decision-making process, and that the county is in violation of a contract since he was offered a property trade on June 5.

“Nothing was resolved there,” Briggs said.

Muzzio argued the property trade was not a contract, but a “response to a disputed claim.”

Both Briggs and the county have until December 31 at 5 p.m. to enter further motions to the court.

A status hearing is scheduled for January 14, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.

SolarReserve is pursuing the construction of a 200-megawatt solar power-generating 100 percent clean energy facility consisting of two 100 MW 656-foot tall solar thermal power generating units based on emerging concentrating solar-thermal power technology. The county has granted the company a 1041 permit, but the project cannot move forward until SolarReserve establishes a power purchase agreement.

The project consists of approximately 4,000 acres of a larger 6,200-acre area of privately owned county land located north of Center between Saguache County Roads D and G and 53 and 57.

It is anticipated the project will be completed in two phases, with commercial operation dates no earlier than June 1, 2014, and June 1, 2015, respectively. The project will deliver power to the grid by connecting to the existing 230kV transmission line.

The project is based on concentrating solar-thermal power generation technology that concentrates the sun’s rays, heating a working fluid (molten salt) that captures and stores the heat. Heat is used separately to create steam to drive a conventional turbine-generator to produce electricity. The proposed concentrating solar-thermal power technology uses heliostats (tracking mirrors) arranged in a roughly circular array around a central tower to focus sunlight onto a thermal receiver at the top of the tower.

The molten salt storage provides a buffer, capturing and storing thermal energy when the sun is shining or during cloudy and overcast days in a process that is decoupled from electricity generation. The stored thermal energy allows the generator to produce electricity when needed to meet demand on the electricity grid, not only when the sun is shining.

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