Cochise Property Owners Claim Electricity Lines Violate 60-Year-Old Property Rights

Several residents in northern Cochise County have filed what they hope will be certified as a class action lawsuit against Arizona Electric Power Cooperative (AEPCO) and Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative (SSVEC), alleging that high-voltage electric transmission lines were installed across their properties in violation of recorded restrictive covenants.

The civil complaint filed Sept. 3 by 15 plaintiffs seeks class action status on behalf of the owners of about 837 platted lots in the Sun Sites Unit No. 7 subdivision situated near the communities of Cochise and Dragoon. The lots are part of a larger planned development located one-half mile north of Dragoon Road and west of U.S. Highway 191.

The lawsuit contends all property owners within the subdivision have the common claim that each disputed transmission lines “was constructed and continues to be operated in violation of the recorded Subdivision Plat, the Subdivision’s Restrictive Covenants, and the property rights of the Lot Owners.”

According to the plaintiffs, the plat for Sun Sites Unit No. 7 subdivision was recorded by developer Horizon Land Corporation in 1962. It consists of about 774 residential lots and 63 limited commercial use lots, as well as public streets and drainage easements.

There are also platted easements for the installation and maintenance “of public utilities” along with a five foot aerial or overhead easement “for wires, cross arms, etc., on power and pole lines with the boundaries” of the subdivision.

AEPCO is an electric generation and transmission cooperative owned by Arizona G&T Cooperatives. Over the years, AEPCO purchased nearly 60 of the subdivision’s residential lots, about half of which extend westward from Apache Generating Station where AEPCO generates electricity from coal, natural gas, and solar.

Read more by Terri Jo Neff >>

The lawsuit contends AEPCO has installed commercial transmission lines and other supporting equipment or facilities, including a well and water lines, on and across its acquired lots.

The other named defendant, SSVEC, is a member-owned electric distribution company. Whereas AEPCO generates electricity, SSVEC distributes or delivers it to member-customers across three counties in southeast Arizona.

The plaintiffs contend SSVEC has constructed and operates distribution lines which transverse Sun Sites Unit No. 7 but not for the purpose of providing service to the subdivision. Instead, the lines allegedly “unlawfully trespass within the subdivision” in order to hook up to a solar energy generating facility located west of the subdivision.

“The Defendants’ improper installation and use of commercial electric transmission lines in the Subdivision makes it more difficult and costly to run consumer-level power to serve the Subdivision and obstructs development in the Subdivision,” the complaint states, adding that the lines “have an adverse physical and aesthetic effect on Subdivision properties that diminishes their value.”

The lawsuit seeks enforcement of the restrictive covenants, as well as damages to be proven at trial for unjust enrichment, trespass, and nuisance on the part of both defendants and breach of contract against AEPCO as a fellow property owner.

The case has been assigned to Judge David Thorn of the Cochise County Superior Court. The defendants were formally served last week and have until the end of the month to file their answers.

Five years ago several property owners attempted to create a homeowners association (HOA) with authority to charge owners $150. The impetus appears to have been actions by some landowners to fence off long-used roadways into the rural development.