The Crestone Eagle, December 2002:

Ownership of the Baca Ranch to change hands
by David Nicholas

November 30 marked the last day Cabeza de Vaca Land and Cattle Company had to come forward and redeem a lien note held by Vaca Partners to prevent the foreclosure of the Baca Ranch. As of the close of business on Wednesday, November 27, no one had come forward, and this was the last day for doing so as the county offices were closed for Thanksgiving until December 2.

Under the terms of the foreclosure sale in May, the sole bidder, Vaca Partners, had to wait 180 days before it could be finalized. Lawyers for the partnership advised County Treasurer, Connie Trujillo, that they were filing the necessary papers transferring the ownership from Cabeza de Vaca Land and Cattle Company to the managing partnership.

This process ends the effort by Stockman’s Water Company and Gary Boyce, to buy out his partners and pursue his goal of selling water to the front-range. The transfer paves the way for Vaca Partners to begin finalizing the sale of the ranch to the Nature Conservancy, which must be completed by April 30, 2003.

However, a few minor obstacles stand in the way. There are lawsuits still pending against Cabeza de Vaca, which still need to be resolved.

There are two state lawsuits involving American Water Development, Inc (AWDI) and Peter Hornick, which are still in play. There is a Federal lawsuit with an outcome pending with AWDI. Also, there is the Robin Hood Highway suit, which is being pursued by Hanne Strong as the only plaintiff.

The Strong law suit
This suit started out in Saguache District Court. Then it was bumped up to the US District Court in Denver, and now it is back again in Saguache. A hearing before District Court Judge O. John Kuenhold has been set for February 13-14 at the Saguache County Court House.

Strong maintains that the road through the ranch to the historic mining town of Liberty is both private and public. Strong owns the old town site, and access over the last seven years has been dependent on the goodwill of Cabeza de Vaca’s managing partner, Gary Boyce. With the transfer of the Baca Ranch to the Federal Government, the suit is designed to guarantee or acknowledge Strong’s right of access and egress to the old town. Strong has designated the town site for the Earth Restoration Corps, an environmentally oriented camp for youth leadership.

AWDI and Hornick
In the Federal case brought by AWDI over the sale issue and now in binding arbitration, a decision should come sometime after December 4, when one of the three arbitrators returns from vacation. AWDI, the previous owner of the ranch, retained a deed of trust that secures a 10 percent interest in water rights on the ranch stemming from the 1995 sale.

The issue in this case was how much money, if any, AWDI was entitled from the proceeds of the sale of the ranch, and that the selling price of the ranch was far too low. In addition, AWDI argued that there was the loss of potential profits from water sales, had the project been successful. So far, sources watching this case were happy with what happened at arbitration, and so there is not much concern about the outcome.

In a state civil suit, Cabeza de Vaca wants AWDI to be required to release the deed of trust on the 100,000-acre Baca Ranch, so the sale of the ranch to The Nature Conservancy can go through and The Nature Conservancy can sell the land to the federal government for a national park. The issue revolves around the need to clear the title on the ranch so the sale to The Nature Conservancy can be closed. The 10% gross revenues interest retained by AWDI proves an impediment to the sale, according to Cabeza lawyers.

In another state civil suit, which initially was filed in US District Court, involving Peter Hornick, the New York investor wanted 12.5 percent of $160 million, which he believed was the value of the water on the ranch, but the ranch and the water are under contract of sale to The Nature Conservancy for $31.28 million. Hornick, like AWDI, deemed the sale price too low.

In his case, Hornick claims a 12.5 percent interest in the $87,500,000 he alleges sale of water from the Baca to the Parker Water and Sanitation District would have brought. As well, Hornick alleges the decision to sell to The Nature Conservancy was made without consultation, even though he is still a minority partner, and damaged his economic interests in the Baca Ranch.

Both these law suits will be heard locally in District Court, and Judge Kuenhold indicated that he would set a trial date on the other two state cases on Jan. 6, after learning the outcome of the AWDI’s arbitration. Stay tuned.