Montezuma County is responsible for paying to replace a $10,000 culvert under a county road that is relied on by the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., according to a June 17 ruling by 22nd Judicial District Judge Douglas Walker.
In 2018, the county purchased the new culvert from Skyline Steel, and county employees installed it. The culvert conveys water under County Road W to MVIC shareholders.
The county requested MVIC help pay for the costs, but the privately owned water company refused, claiming state statute obligates the county to replace it if needed.
In a complaint filed in August, MVIC requested that the court determine that the irrigation company is not obligated to reimburse the county for the cost of replacing the culvert.
In its complaint, MVIC cites Colorado Revised Statute 37-84-106, which states bridges constructed over ditches and flumes crossing public roads shall be maintained by and at the expense of the county. Attorneys for MVIC argued that the maintenance requirement imposed by this statute includes the obligation to replace culverts.
The county asserted that while Colorado statute states bridges constructed over ditches and flumes crossing public roads shall be maintained at the expense of the county, it does not mention replacement. The crux of the case is whether the definition of “maintenance” includes replacement.
Walker dismissed the county’s claim and granted MVIC’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the state statute’s language obligating county maintenance of the culvert does include replacement.
Walker wrote that the county failed to persuade the court that its statutory “maintenance” of the culvert does not include replacing a culvert.
The county asserted that an interpretation of state law that equates maintenance and replacement was “illogical and absurd,” according to court documents.
Walker disagreed. In a summary judgment, he stated the Colorado Legislature chose irrigation companies to construct the culvert, and counties to maintain them.
“There is nothing illogical or absurd about that choice,” Walker wrote. “It is equally as logical as it would be, had the legislature made one party responsible for both. Likewise, it is just as logical to include ‘replacement’ in the terms ‘maintain’ or ‘maintenance’ as to not include it.”
Walker stated that courts have previously interpreted the word “maintenance” in very similar situations, “and that interpretation is binding on the Court.”
“Because prior cases include the term ‘replace’ in the terms ‘maintain’ or ‘maintenance,’ the Court finds it is included as used in the relevant statutes here.”
Historically, the county and MVIC have worked together when replacing culverts, said county attorney John Baxter. In 2003, for example, MVIC installed a culvert crossing County Road 21, and the county paid $2,477 to assist with the cost. The county said there are several irrigation culverts throughout the county, and the replacement costs will come up again.