More than two decades ago, Michael Whited purchased a modest home in Colorado’s Fourmile Canyon. He and his wife live in this beautiful area of Boulder County, which was heavily mined from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s. Unfortunately, Mr. Whited’s next-door neighbor is the Federal Bureau of Land Management on whose property stood a dangerous, crumbling concrete mining shed. Despite numerous warnings, the Bureau did nothing to fix the problem, and the shed eventually collapsed, doing great damage to the Whited’s property. Wouldn’t you know it–the Bureau is trying to skirt responsibility for the damage.
In 2011, Mr. Whited, a mechanical engineer, recognized that the shed posed a hazard to him and his property. The shed was built directly into the hillside and sits less than six feet from his house. So he asked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to remove it or at least to sell him the small piece of land beneath the shed so he could remove or stabilize it himself.
The BLM passed him from employee to employee and office to office, but it never took any action to remove or stabilize the shed. In March of 2016, just as Mr. Whited feared, the shed collapsed causing heavy debris, including concrete and boulders, to cover the walkway adjacent to his house. In addition, the collapsing shed uprooted trees from the BLM’s property and drove them into the back of his house and into the electrical panel, creating an imminent risk of an electrical fire.
Despite Mr. Whited’s numerous pleas, the BLM refused to take any action to address even the most dangerous safety hazards caused by its failure to maintain its land properly. Instead, over the last two years he has been forced to spend his own time and money to deal with those issues.
Nonetheless, large portions of the shed remain collapsed on Mr. Whited’s property because it would be futile for him to remove the remainder of the shed himself. The only thing that will prevent any further damage to Mr. Whited’s property is for the BLM to stabilize the land it owns on which its shed previously stood.
Finally, Mr. Whited filed an administrative claim pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) asking the BLM to take full responsibility for the mess that it made on his property. Instead, the BLM outrageously responded that it “has no ownership of the [shed] on public land.”
The agency did however grant him permission to “remove any of the structure that is on your property as well as any of the structure where encroachment onto your property is imminent.” Nonetheless, the agency warned him that he could not construct a retaining wall on or enter upon BLM-managed land without paying for a BLM right-of-way.
Like the most irresponsible neighbor you could imagine, the BLM expects Mr. Whited to foot the entire bill caused by the agency’s neglect.