Gold Mountain
Chapter 13: Corporate Schemes

Copyright© 2020 by Graybyrd

The hawk-nosed man, Jason Embridge, senior vice president of development planning for Alpine-Colorado Development Division--his tall, skinny frame topped with wispy thin hair raked across a balding head--leaned across the conference table to spread a large map in front of his boss, Augustus Atwood, CEO of Alpine-Colorado Corporation. Atwood stood watching, his small dark eyes deep-set into a perpetually-scowling, heavy-jowled face. He was uncomfortable, overweight, sweating, and impatient. He’d reluctantly postponed an important golf game to attend this last-minute briefing from Embridge. Rumors that a multi-million dollar development project had encountered a combination of screw-ups, an embarrassing criminal incident, and a sudden halt to critical property acquisitions, had forced him to attend this briefing. Suppressing his irritation and impatience, he focused on Embridge and his information.

“As you can see from the maps of the approximately ten mile length of Virginian Ridge that our development plans will encompass, the private property parcels extend for about seven and one half miles, beginning at the south end with the Brightman Ranch on the ridge terminus and the Kendricks properties on the valley floor. The ranch covers only three hundred acres; the adjacent Kendricks properties cover an estimated four thousand, eight hundred acres, seven full sections that extend along the east side to the north end. A few extend to the summit; all of them sprawl down the east slope out onto the valley floor. The impact of those holdings on our development plans is extreme.” Embridge said.

“What are the consequences should we not succeed in acquiring the Kendricks properties?” Atwood asked.

“Very serious,” Embridge answered. “Most significant is a barrier to building access roads to the northern ski development portion. Second to that is the loss of residential and commercial real estate development opportunities along the slopes and fields adjoining the ridge. That is the immediate concern. Equally significant, I believe, would be the future competitive threat should the Kendricks properties later sell to competing interests, who would reap the gains of piggy-backing on our project.”

“So you’re convinced that a substantial increase in overall property values will result from our Virginian Ridge project?”

“Absolutely. Our development will be one of the largest destination winter resort developments in the entire region; it will be comparable to our Colorado sites. It has all the ingredients for success. One prime factor overlooked in most of the country is nordic skiing. Our researchers believe it will become a huge future wave. If we’re first and best, we’ll set the standard.”

“Remind me, how will we implement that?”

“Cross country ski trails, sir. Virginian Ridge offers a truly unique experience for ski trekkers. We lay out a series of ski trails from the ski mountain resort area on the north end, to run south along the crest. We plan to place overnight stations at strategic points along the ridge. The trails will end at our luxury condominium and estate resort planned for the south end; that’s the Brightman ranch property. We envision a year-round experience for the ridge trek: ski trails in winter; horse and hiking trails in summer. There’s nothing anywhere to equal this potential recreation experience.”

“Can we mix horses and hikers?”

“Absolutely. There’s more than enough room along the ridge for parallel trails well out of sight of each other. Horses on one; hikers on the other.”

“How about these ‘stations;’ how does that work?”

“Again, overnight cabins, or even ‘lodges’ if you prefer, will be tailored to the users. Some will have corrals and wranglers; the hiking cabins won’t. Hiking tours will be self-guided; horse groups will have a wrangler-guide accompanying them.”

“How about motor vehicles along the trails?” Atwood asked.

“No. It’s incompatible and offensive to our market demographic. We’re seeing signs of lash-back against it. Our eastern surveys show that the upscale customers don’t want to compete or mix with roads, no matter how primitive. We fully expect that trend to increase with time and our best approach is to avoid it. If we allowed wider tracks for vehicle travel, we’d find it difficult to eliminate later. And we’d have lost the deep-pockets customers willing to pay for a ‘pristine’ wilderness experience.”

“So I assume that without the Brightman property, the trail network and luxury overnight station plans are...”

“Not possible,” Embridge interrupted. “That ranch location controls the whole south end experience. If someone else controlled it, it would seriously impact anything else we could do in that area. Also, it has the very best overlooks and view potential. Our plans include a central condominium complex and exclusive luxury estate developments on the periphery. That’s no small part of the potential profit picture.”

“And transportation? This is a ‘destination’ development, exclusively?”

“Again, absolutely. We will discourage the local drop-in market. Our customers will fly in, either privately or via charter aircraft. There is a very good airport between the two towns. We can lease sufficient terminal and ground transport space for the first few years. We will convince the county to acquire sufficient property adjacent to the airfield for private hangers, similar to the Aspen development. A critical factor, long term, will be airstrip length. Private airplanes are getting bigger and faster, and require more runway. We’ll need some guarantee that the county will be ‘agreeable’ to make sure that happens.”

“So we run limousines and shuttles from the airfield straight to the resort. On arrival, we provide it all: lodging, meals, entertainment, shopping, sight-seeing, downhill skiing, cross-country ski trekking, horse-trekking, ‘wilderness’ luxury cabins, guides and wranglers, ski patrolmen and instructors...”

“Yes. And come Christmas, we’ll even deliver Santa Claus and his elves in a big sleigh pulled by eight reindeer! We’re a ‘destination’ resort; our guests bring a toothbrush and an American Express card. We provide everything else.”

“All right, Embridge. That tracks with the preliminary reports I’ve read. I look forward to studying your final design summaries in detail. Now, about the delays and setbacks we’ve encountered. How are we coming on that?”

Embridge gestured to his special assistant for acquisitions and permits, Marjean Foster.

“Permit me to review, briefly,” she began. “About our first priority, the Kendricks properties. We’ve learned that Mr. Kendricks, ‘Purdy,’ as he’s known locally, survived the unfortunate incident and he’s believed to be convalescing somewhere in the area. Our investigators have not determined just where that is, and are unable to contact him. Several visits to his cabin show it has not been occupied since the shooting.”

“That’s ... that’s just insane!” Atwood interrupted. “I’ve been told there’s nothing in that valley but a collection of peons and hovels, and damned few of them. How could one old man hide away in such sparse surroundings?”

“Pretty effectively, when the local people won’t talk,” Ms. Foster said. “Those ‘peons’ as you call them are rural and perhaps provincial, and by nature are suspicious of strangers. So when it comes to one of their own, they keep quiet. And I suspect that very few of the local people know where he’s staying. I hardly need to explain that we’ve got no clue, no hint, of his location.

“However, one of our investigators came up with something intriguing. The county courthouse records reveal that Kendricks has been represented by a local law firm for many years. A cooperative county recorder’s assistant was forthcoming with the name of the law firm, one Abner Goode who is highly respected both locally and regionally. But that’s not the intriguing part, Mr. Atwood. The informant mentioned a rumor of a document granting Kendricks’ Power of Attorney to a minor male.

“A minor! With a Power of Attorney? What is that all about?” Atwood asked. “How can a minor be granted a POA?”

“We’re not sure, sir. The rumor only surfaced through the local gossip mill. A bank clerk overheard one of the bank officers questioning the validity of a document filed to authorize access to several of Kendricks’ accounts. The officer was heard to say that if Abner Goode had submitted the POA, then it was valid beyond question. In the next breath, he was puzzled that the POA was granted to a minor, but a provision for an adult co-signer made it workable and valid. It was so unusual, the bank clerk remembered the details. Word got around pretty fast until it reached our investigator’s ears.”

“So, who is this minor who speaks for Purdy Kendricks and how does it affect our purchase offer?” Atwood asked.

“A Winthrop boy, age eighteen, Graydon Williams. And before you ask, Mr. Atwood, we sent him a duplicate set of documents that we’d initially sent to Mr. Kendricks. The answer was immediate, and the same: ‘No sale at any price!’

“So instead of one, we’ve got two bull-headed adversaries,” Atwood said. “So why are we looking at condemnation proceedings?”

“We have assurance that we’ll have unprecedented success there,” Embridge said. “Our senator’s chief of staff assures me that the Forest Service is willing to place a very high priority on public access across private barriers to National Forest lands. That, plus persuasive ‘inducements’ to appropriate state authorities and Okanogan county commissioners to support our project for tax base reasons--all should build a deep base of support for our acquisition goals.”

“Explain the tax base argument, please.”

“It’s a simple argument. Undeveloped agricultural and forest land yields very little tax return. If an opportunity for development arises, the county has a strong interest in the outcome. If a private landowner or group of owners choose preservation over development, that has a direct negative impact on the growth of the county tax base. There’s a strong argument that can be made to force sale and development. If substantial public good results from tax base growth, then it is a very short reach to argue that private property ‘taking’ is in the public interest.”

“But, I’ve never heard of that happening. Is it even Constitutional?”

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