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Regional news briefs

Several property owners who sued two construction firms after their homes were destroyed or damaged by a fire in the summer of 2002 settled their lawsuit for $4 million Monday.The Panorama fire on July 31 was apparently sparked by workers who were cutting steel beams during the construction of a home in Missouri Heights. The workers, who likely fled the state after the blaze, were employed by Mendoza Concrete. That firm had been contracted by Gazley Construction, which was building the home.The fire destroyed two homes and a teepee, and damaged several others as it consumed 1,700 acres.A liability trial against the firms was set for the end of this month before the settlement was reached, said Aspen attorney Matt Ferguson, the homeowners’ attorney.”But the insurance company paid out its policy limits,” he said. “The homeowners (worked) with a mediator and divvied up that settlement.”Mendoza and Gazley both had the same insurance firm, and each had $2 million policy limits. “That $4 million was divvied up among the victims.”Gazley Construction did not decide to pay until January of this year.”The money’s helped the victims” rebuild their homes and recover property values, Ferguson said.

The Basalt town government selected a well-known local attorney Tuesday to represent it on a contract basis.Tom Smith of Austin, Peirce and Smith was selected from among 17 initial candidates. Three firms or individuals were interviewed by the Town Council on Monday night. Smith and his firm were offered the job Tuesday.He replaces Jody Edwards, who represented Basalt on a contract basis rather than as a staff attorney. Edwards joined attorney Herb Klein last year.Smith said he will remain a partner in his firm and continue to serve his clients. He has several clients in the public sector, including the Aspen Housing Authority and Park County. He will be the attorney from his firm representing Basalt.Smith has worked in the Roaring Fork Valley for 22 years. He was the Pitkin County attorney from 1983 through 1990, then went into private practice on his own for two years. He joined Ron Austin and Fred Peirce in 1992.Smith said he was interested in the position because of Basalt’s balanced approach to land-use planning issues. Basalt gained a reputation for slowing growth in the late 1990s and implementing a master plan that lays out how and when the town will grow.Smith said he wanted to work with the town because its officials work to preserve community values, but realize that change is part of the process.In addition, he considers Basalt his hometown, as a resident of the Old Snowmass area. “I think Basalt is a wonderful community,” he said. “I feel a certain connection to it.”The town also interviewed Whitsitt and Gross, of Carbondale, and Elizabeth Suter Bohanon, of Glenwood Springs.


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