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September 7, 2018 11:45 AM, EDT

Pilot Flying J Drops Appeal of Decision on Santa Fe Truck Stop Proposal

Pilot Flying J Pilot Flying J Truck Stop on Interstate 65 in Shepherdsville, Ky. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

It’s a U-turn for Pilot Flying J.

The Knoxville, Tenn.-based trucking services giant recently dropped its court appeal of Santa Fe County’s decision to reject a truck stop proposed for a vacant parcel south of the Santa Fe, N.M., city limits.

Pilot Flying J’s appeal was dismissed last week with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, according to papers filed in state District Court in Santa Fe.

Pilot Flying J logo

The motion to halt the case, filed by a local attorney for the company, did not include a rationale for the decision.

Pilot Flying J had filed the court challenge in early August, after its representatives had told county commissioners that their plan to put a truck stop and related traveler services at the interchange of Interstate 25 and N.M. 14 met all legal requirements. That the appeal was yanked less than a month later, without the option to refile, casts the ultimate status of the project in doubt.

Whether a different form of development or travel center might be proposed for the site or whether the idea has been scrapped was unknown Sept. 6.

Messages for Pilot Flying J’s local attorney, Karl Sommer, were not returned. Nor were messages for Pilot Flying J itself or the owner of the proposed site for the truck stop, Warren Thompson. Jim Siebert, the local developer who had been working on behalf of the truck stop, deferred comment to Pilot Flying J through an employee.

County Attorney Bruce Frederick confirmed through a spokeswoman that the case had been dismissed and couldn’t be filed again but had no other information about the project.

Pilot Flying J calls itself the nation’s largest operator of truck stops. The company earlier this month laid off 50 employees at its Tennessee headquarters, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The business has been embroiled in a rebate fraud scandal, paying a $92 million fine in 2014 to settle a federal criminal probe; the former Pilot Flying J president still awaits sentencing for his role in the five-year scheme to cheat trucking companies out of millions of dollars.

The Santa Fe truck stop was part of a proposal to turn a 26-acre lot into a travel center and light industrial area, with fast-food restaurants alongside dozens of parking spaces and truck services.

Neighbors and some area politicians vehemently resisted the idea, saying it would irreparably mar the visual character of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway and the southern entrance to Santa Fe — not to mention their backyards. Santa Fe County commissioners voted 4-1 in May to reject the truck stop, finding it was not permitted by county code and “inconsistent” with the area’s growth management plan.

Their vote overruled county land-use staff and a neutral hearing officer who found a truck stop would be “materially similar” to a gas station, which is a “conditional use” that can be allowed in the county’s Community College District.

Sommer at the time said, to no avail, that applicants had “filed everything required by [county] laws … [and] as a matter of law, they are entitled to approval.”

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