A Provo developer who wanted to build a tram and drug treatment facility at Bridal Veil Falls filed a lawsuit against Utah County on Wednesday alleging that a recently approved conservation easement for the falls violates county code.
The lawsuit, filed by Cirque Lounge Owner Richard Losee in Utah’s 4th District Court, is a response to the Dec. 9 unanimous decision by the Utah County Commission to approve a conservation easement between Utah County and Utah Open Lands to prevent private development of the falls.
Days earlier, Losee submitted a proposal to purchase all or a portion of the county-owned parcel to “rebuild a tram at Bridal Veil Falls to “a state better and more conductive to the environment than it was originally” and in a way that “blends naturally and beautifully into the cliffs above, while mitigating the scar left on the cliffs from the previous tram.”
Bruce Baird, Losee’s attorney, argued in the lawsuit that the county commission “has attempted (to) assert that the Bridal Veil Falls Property is a ‘surplus property’ in an apparent effort to avoid statutory disposition requirements,” adding that Utah County Code “specifies that a surplus property is only real property with a value of less than $1,500.00.”
“The Commission’s attempt to avoid the legal requirements for dealing with the Bridal Veil Falls Property by way of nomenclature only seeks to emulate Humpty Dumpty’s claim that ‘When I use a word it means just what I chose it to mean — neither more nor less,’ ” wrote Baird. “On information and belief the purported conservation easement is worth far more than $1,500.00.”
The section of code referred to in the lawsuit, which outlines the county’s authority “to acquire, hold, manage and dispose of real and personal property for benefit of county,” states that for “property with a value in excess of $1,500.00, the disposition and manner of disposition of surplus property must be approved prior to the commencement of negotiations by the Board of County Commissioners.”
The code does not appear to limit the value of what can be declared surplus property, but notes that “no disposition involving amounts in excess of $1,500.00 shall be split into parts by any concerned party so as to produce amounts of $1,500.00 or less.”
In the lawsuit, Baird further argued that there “is no need for the County to deed such an easement to a third party as the County is already fully capable of ‘conserving’ the Bridal Veil Falls Property at essentially no cost to the public.”
“The only reason for granting such an easement was to prevent a future Board of County Commissioners … from allowing some other use of the Bridal Veil Falls Property,” the attorney wrote.
Baird added that the county commission approved the conservation easement after being “bombarded by misrepresentations (to put it kindly) and vicious personal attacks on Commissioners and on (Losee),” referring to a Dec. 9 public hearing where the vast majority of residents in attendance spoke against Losee’s development proposal.
Former Commissioner Nathan Ivie, who proposed the conservation easement in one of his final moves as county commissioner, called Losee’s lawsuit “mind-boggling,” noting that the county “went through the legal process, and we had a public hearing.”
“It’s pretty clear what the public wants,” Ivie told the Daily Herald on Thursday. “The public wants Bridal Veil Falls preserved and protected under a conservation easement.”
Ivie added that “the county goes through (the process of) declaring property surplus all the time for sale, lease or easement purposes,” including the $10 million North Utah County Equestrian Park, which the county listed for sale in December 2019.
“We went through our standard process,” said Ivie. “We have properties that are worth millions of dollars that we’ve sold.”
Ivie was replaced by Commissioner Tom Sakievich, who was sworn into office on Monday. Between June and September, Losee donated $7,500 to Sakievich’s commission campaign.
Ivie said he hoped the current commission would “support the will of the public, and the will of the public on this piece of property is for it to be in a conservation easement.”
“And so I hope that the current commission will stand by our decision and fully fight this thing,” he said.
Commissioner Bill Lee told the Daily Herald on Thursday that the county could not comment on the lawsuit since it is an ongoing case.