12/27/2012 08:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jefferson Parkway Land Swap: Federal Court Reverses Itself, Lifts Injunction That Blocked Deal

A day after blocking an elaborate $10 million land swap designed to supply a critical right-of-way for the controversial Jefferson Parkway, a federal appeals court today reversed itself, lifting a short-lived injunction that will now allow the deal to proceed ahead of a Monday deadline.

Citing a review of arguments made in a response brief filed today by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of federal defendants in the case, a three-judge panel with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the temporary injunction it granted Wednesday afternoon.

The land transfer involves the trading of a 617-acre parcel near the southwestern corner of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, known as Section 16, for a 300-foot-wide transportation right-of-way on the eastern edge of the refuge that runs parallel to Indiana Avenue. The right-of-way is viewed as a critical piece of the proposed Jefferson Parkway toll road, which proponents say will nearly complete a high-speed beltway around the Denver metro area.

The deal -- which involves multiple local governments, the Colorado State Land Board and the lawsuit's primary defendants, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior -- already has been extended twice in 2012. Monday is viewed as a critical deadline for the deal, and if money does not begin changing hands by that time, some feel it could unravel.

Environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and Rocky Mountain Wild filed an emergency motion seeking the injunction on Wednesday after a federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit which sought to block the land deal for reasons including the lack of a sufficient environmental assessment.

The environmental groups have filed an appeal of that suit, but officials with the groups on Wednesday noted that if the land deal is allowed to take place by the end of the year as planned, even winning that appeal would do nothing to stop it.

Bill Ray, interim director of the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority, on Wednesday confirmed that the more than $10 million pledged toward the purchase of Section 16 is set aside in escrow accounts. If transactions do not take place by the end of 2012, he said, there are instructions that the money be returned to its sources, which include the city of Boulder, Boulder County, Arvada, Jefferson County and other governmental entities.

In its response to the injunction, the Department of Justice on Thursday noted the "Land Exchange will likely fail if an injunction prevents closings on December 31."

In vacating their injunction, the federal judges gave the plaintiffs in the case until noon Friday to file a reply brief.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or ___