Suit to be dismissed with $3.75M deal
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The Gazette, Colorado Springs
The El Pomar Foundation will spend $3.75 million to purchase ranch land as part of a settlement that will result in the dismissal of a lawsuit accusing the nonprofit of violating state law by secretly lobbying members of then Gov. John Hickenlooper’s staff to kill a controversial proposal for a granite quarry. It’s the second settlement El Pomar has ended up paying over its efforts to block efforts to mine a portion of the Hitch Rack Ranch, located south of Colorado Springs. In 2019, El Pomar paid a confidential $15 million settlement after Chicago-based Transit Mix Concrete alleged that El Pomar’s backdoor lobbying subverted the legal hearing process and exerted undue influence on deliberations. After that $15 million settlement was disclosed, the owner of the property sued El Pomar, one of the largest and most influential nonprofits in Colorado. Cindi Allmendinger, a retired schoolteacher whose family has owned and operated the Hitch Rack Ranch for generations, alleged in her lawsuit that El Pomar interfered with the contract she had reached with Transit Mix to lease her ranch land to mine it. To settle the lawsuit brought by Allmendinger’s holding company, RMBC Group, El Pomar agreed to purchase 554 acres of the Hitch Rack Ranch off Highway 115. The property will be set aside as open space as part of a deal that includes the dismissal of the RMBC lawsuit. The RMBC lawsuit named El Pomar, the nonprofit’s former president and CEO, Bill Hybl, and Kyle Hybl, who succeeded him in that role. The purchase of the ranch land will resolve all litigation brought by RMBC. RMBC’s lawsuit alleged the Hybls used relationships they had with the Hickenlooper administration to engage in a behind-the-scenes illegal lobbying campaign that flipped the stance of a key member of the state mining board. During the litigation, RMBC’s lawyer, Steven Nolan, asked District Court Judge Thomas Kane to force the El Pomar Foundation to cough up a video that would show El Pomar associates talking to Bob Randall, who then was chairman of the mining board, as he walked into the hearing on the mining application. That video had been obtained from the hotel where the hearing was held by a private investigator hired by Transit Mix. The video had been included in Transit Mix’s demand letter seeking a settlement. Kane had not yet ruled on Nolan’s request for the video. Nolan also had sought records that would divulge text messages and phone calls that Randall had received. Randall, who then was the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, ended up casting the deciding vote that blocked the mining application. Randall and El Pomar previously have denied any wrongdoing. “We are pleased that we could reach a resolution acceptable to all parties,” Allmendinger said in a joint statement with the El Pomar Foundation announcing the purchase of the land and settlement of the lawsuit. The 554 acres will come from Section 16 of the Hitch Rack Ranch. Those acres comprise the upper western portion of the 1,432-acre ranch property and are adjacent to the Aiken Canyon Preserve. “Both organizations have agreed that the Section 16 portion of the Hitch Rack Ranch property will be preserved as open space and that neither party will pursue mining on either property,” the joint release stated. Separately from the settlement of the lawsuit, the El Pomar Foundation is set to receive a land bequest of property south of the Hitch Rack Ranch from Harold “Buck” and Barbara Ingersoll. The Ingersolls stipulated that the donated land be preserved for environmental and educational purposes. “This ensures that the extraordinary beauty and important natural ecosystems encompassed by the Ingersoll property, Aiken Preserve, and now an ecologically important section of the Hitch Rack Ranch, will be protected for generations to come,” Kyle Hybl said in the joint statement announcing the settlement.