Denver Water Sues 80-Year-Old Foe Of Two Forks

Utility, Douglas County Woman In Tussle Over Salvage Autos, Scrap

Denver Water is suing a longtime opponent of the Two Forks water project in an attempt to get her to clean up her property.

When 80-year-old Ella Oatman received the lawsuit in the mail, she couldn’t believe it.

"Let’s put it this way," she said. "I’ve had a quadruple bypass and a [problem with my] carotid… and all the things that go with getting old. My blood pressure went up, and my heartbeat went up to 130."

The octogenarian battled the big utility decades ago when it was trying to build the Two Forks water project near Deckers.

"I think the lawsuit is retribution," she said.

Denver Water said it’s not.

Utility spokeswoman Stacy Chesney told 7NEWS it simply wants Oatman to remove the salvage autos, scrap metal and used tires from her property and theirs.

Denver Water owns much of the adjacent property.

"There are a number of [her] cars and pieces of debris that are on our property," Chesney said.

"It’s been there for 50 years," Oatman counters. "It was never a problem until now. Why now?"

Chesney said some neighbors have complained about the eyesore.

She also said there is a liability issue.

"We’ve got an obligation and responsibility to stay in compliance with the county’s standards," Chesney said.

Oatman said the cars are not visible from the highway and that the only road leading up to her property is a private road.

She said the public is not affected by the salvage autos and scrap, which her late husband began collecting in the early 1960s.

"They were his safety blanket," Oatman said. "Like this 1936 Ford coupe. This was one of those 'I’m going to do it' projects."

But Oatman said her husband never got around to fixing up the autos "because life intervened."

She said her husband lost a leg in an accident, then his health deteriorated. He died about a year ago.

Now Oatman is tasked with cleaning up 100 autos and related scrap metal.

"I’m dancing as fast as I can with the resources at my disposal," she told 7NEWS.

Oatman said her son, Allen Diamond, occasionally has time to take an automobile and some scrap to a salvage yard.

"He has to drive clear to Colorado Springs or Denver," she said.

Diamond told 7NEWS it costs him about $40 to $50 for gas round-trip.

Oatman said she was working with Douglas County to clean up scrap and she can’t believe that Denver Water got involved.

"I don’t ask them to live like I do and I wish they wouldn’t ask the court to impose their will on me," she said.

She questioned whether the water utility plans to reprise the water project she fought against years ago.

Neighbor David Holland wonders the same thing.

Holland said he received a notice from Denver Water in October indicating that the utility was in the process of renewing its Two Forks water rights.

Chesney said that’s a process the utility goes through every six years or so.

"We own some water rights in the South Platte for that project," she said. "But the rights are conditional. We have to renew them periodically or we lose them."

She said there are no plans to build Two Forks "anytime soon."

That’s of small consolation to Oatman.

She said she can’t afford to fight the lawsuit, and can barely afford to clean up the scrap “a little at a time.”

"My husband collected this for 50 years," she said. "I can’t clean it up overnight."

Oatman said her husband received a letter from Douglas County decades ago allowing him to collect the scrap, but she said he never kept the letter.

"Now, they’ve got new people in charge and new rules," she said.

"Whenever someone crashed and went into the river, ‘they’ called my husband to come remove the wreckage," she said. "Now they want me pay to remove this stuff."

Denver Water said they’re willing to work with Oatman, but haven’t heard back from her.

When asked if that meant the utility was willing to pick up the tab, Chesney said. "I don’t know. We need to look at every option."

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