Easement not so easy to cross any more

Dear Johnnie: I live in Hover Acres, an area where the massive overhead power poles have been removed, leaving behind the easement or alleyways that once followed the high tension power lines.

I have noticed recently that homeowners of some of the properties adjacent to the corridor have started what looks like “claiming” of the property. They have started building fences and landscaping on the open space, blocking the easement. Is this legal? Is the city basically giving away all this land?

Many people who take walks with others or walk their pets frequent these pathways. It would seem to be a better use of the easements to maybe pave the path. This would allow a rather nice pathway from 15th and Denver Avenue to the southeast side of McIntosh Lake.

One of the neighborhood kids also mentioned that they recently got scolded for using the pathway, and was told by a homeowner to “get off his property.” — Curious on the West Side

Dear Curious on the West Side: I believe you have made a couple of assumptions. Unfortunately for those accustomed to using this corridor as a walking path, those assumptions are wrong.

I went to the neighborhood to take a look for myself, and I found the part of the corridor that I believe you are speaking of. It runs south of 17th, about a block east of Harvard Street, and it appears to be a continuation of the corridor that runs north from 17th toward Dawson Park. When I spotted a newly built fence in this corridor (see photo), I was pretty sure I had found what you were speaking of.

So, I went to county property records. There, I discovered that for the corridor north of 17th, there is no listed ownership. However, south of 17th, it appears that property lines run to the middle of the corridor.

Next, I contacted the city. Steve Ransweiler, with the Public Works & Natural Resources Engineering Services Division, was kind enough to meet me in your neighborhood. He confirmed that the corridor I found is the one that formerly carried Platte River Power Authority power lines. But the easement, he told me, belongs to the Western Area Power Administration. It’s possible, he said, the WAPA had contacted homeowners along the corridor about changes in the easement, which could be why that homeowner extended his fence. The only issue the city might have with someone building a fence might be if the homeowner failed to get a permit.

I emailed WAPA and received a response from Steve Webber of their Lands Team.

“Western has easements along this stretch dating back to the 1950s,” he wrote. “WAPA amended some of these easements along this stretch to more specifically address undergrounding the line, and to reduce the width of the easement.”

And, he said, the amended easements “were signed with the homeowner of record along the line.”

So, Curious, if I understood your question correctly, what is happening is legal, and the only “claiming” going on is reclaiming. This is not the city’s land to give or take. And that neighborhood kid probably was on the man’s property. Not that I’m a fan of “Get off my lawn” types, but it appears the property owner was within his rights.

And as for the use of this corridor as a walking path all these years?

“Our easements are for our specific purpose of electric transmission lines. They do not include public access,” Webber wrote. “With overhead lines, it is very important to keep the easement clear for maintenance access purposes. While the public may have used these cleared alleys as walkways over the years, they did not do so under any authority contained in Western’s easements.”

WAPA has maintained an easement along this corridor — just a narrower easement. “With underground lines, most maintenance will be done from vaults along the line and not necessarily by patrolling along the easement,” Webber wrote. “While it is possible access may be needed along the line in the future, it should be very rare and not needed on a regular basis. Of course where our easements cross public parks, public access is unaffected.”

Curious, I’ve just scratched the surface of the land issues brought up by the burying of this power line.

I learned from Steve Ransweiler that the removal of the power lines and the easing of the easement have raised all sorts of questions about who owns and who is responsible for a broad swath of land that follows the irrigation canal on the west side of Hover Park.

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