Media (Cathleen Neelan)

Reprinted by permission from Ag Journal , May 18, 2002

Ag mediation brings neighbors together

In rural northwest Colorado being a good neighbor has even more importance than in the big city. A neighbor is the first and – sometimes most – important assistance in times of crisis. They are closer than the fire department, emergency medical team and so on; besides they may be neighbors for a long time. This makes it even more important to find the win/win for both sides in a dispute. Mediation fits best in situations where the parties will have a long-term relationship and desire a voice in the outcome.

Over several years there had been disagreements on the use and abuse of a common access. These disagreements had escalated to the point that one side figured there was no hope of working out their differences. They felt they had to sue to get the right-of-way that was being denied. Once this approach was taken, the parties ceased talking and tension continued to build. The idea of sitting down with the neighbor and working it out became difficult to imagine.

When the suggestion to mediate an agreement was made, it was reluctantly accepted because “everything else had been tried and failed.” It took some kitchen table diplomacy to end this stalemate. Each side brought options to the neutral mediation site, the community center kitchen. For the first time in a very long time they had a chance to talk and reacquaint themselves with the reason they chose an agriculture lifestyle.

They acknowledged the other landowners need to retain their property rights and access to their land for economic viability. They developed options that had a mutual benefit and addressed their shared needs.

Leaving the mediation they both saw new hope to resolve the long standing difference with an option that had something to benefit each. One old timer’s cautious smile and parting comment summed it up, “if we had just sat down in the beginning we probably would have saved ourselves a lot of money and frustration.”

They left the mediation talking about working out the last details of their new agreement over a cup of coffee (at the kitchen table) next week.

Cathleen Neelan is a Senior Mediator with North American Mediation Associates, LLC, with offices in Steamboat Springs and Denver, CO. She can be reached at 970-879-5113 or 303-870-0531