Dennis Webb
Post Independent Staff

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October 2, 2006
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Future duties of oil and gas liaison a question mark for county

Faced yet again with a vacancy in the position of oil and gas liaison, Garfield County commissioners are struggling with determining what the job should entail in the future.

They're not of one mind over how much the work would continue to involve fielding concerns from residents about energy development impacts. And on Monday, commissioners Tresi Houpt and John Martin even found themselves at odds over how much time it was worth spending that morning discussing the question of the job vacancy.

"Let me finish," Houpt told Martin, the commission chairman, as he brought the discussion to a close.

"You're finished," said Martin.

He then gave a loud rap with his gavel, telling Houpt, "You're out of order."

"Oh John, you're something," Houpt responded.

In a memo to commissioners, assistant county manager Jesse Smith says the number of phone calls from concerned residents has subsided as public awareness has grown and gas companies have stepped up efforts to work with residents and address and prevent problems.

Martin said he also has received fewer calls, but Houpt said she continues to hear concerns from constituents.

"I just want to make sure that we're addressing those," she said.

The commissioners' discussion follows the resignation of Tim Pinson, who served as liaison only briefly this year before resigning for a much higher paying private-sector job. Pinson had succeeded another short-term occupant of the job who was fired. She in turn had succeeded the county's first liaison, Doug Dennison, who went to work in the energy industry for higher pay.

One question for the county is whether it should continue requiring a technical knowledge of the industry. That requirement has made it hard to compete with an industry willing to pay more for people with the same qualifications.

County attorney Don DeFord said that while it's helpful for the liaison to have a technical background, the county can contract with technical experts as required. But the liaison needs to have experience in the regulatory arena, working with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and advising the county on what is happening locally, he said.

Also a question for the county is what will happen with oil shale. If that industry grows substantially, it could turn out that technical expertise in mining is as important for a liaison as a technical knowledge of natural gas production.

Smith, who has been functioning as the interim liaison, has said one approach might be for him to continue in that capacity for the next year, while training someone without technical expertise who eventually could be promoted to the liaison post. That would buy some time to see if the oil shale industry is likely to boom again.

Another alternative is to try to fill the job now based on the current job requirements.

Houpt said it's hard for commissioners to provide direction until they see job descriptions for the liaison, a field inspector and a support clerical position under the alternatives Smith proposes. While Martin questioned the need for new job descriptions, he and commissioner Larry McCown went along with Houpt's request to delay making decisions about the liaison until county staff provides that information.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516">class="NormalParagraphStyle">

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The Post Independent Updated Oct 2, 2006 06:22PM Published Oct 2, 2006 06:20PM Copyright 2006 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.