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March 23, 2013
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Glenwood to draft letter on Thompson Divide leases

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Mayor Matt Steckler agreed Thursday to draft a letter for City Council's consideration, urging the Bureau of Land Management to let oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide region expire as scheduled this year.

That letter will also attempt to localize city concerns about traffic associated with the proposed use of Four Mile Road as a haul route, and other potential impacts to Glenwood Springs if drilling is allowed to occur in the area.

Council was split during a discussion of the issue on whether to accept Pitkin County's legal arguments as a basis for the request to BLM.

"I would like for it to be our own letter," Councilman Todd Leahy said, adding he would rather not reference another local government's legal opinion without running it by the city's own attorney.

Councilmen Mike Gamba and Ted Edmonds agreed that any legal opinions should be that of the city, not a neighboring county. All three said they support a statement from the city outlining its concerns about traffic and impacts.

Council voted 4-3 to have Steckler prepare the letter, including support for Pitkin County Assistant Attorney Chris Seldin's legal arguments on the matter. The letter is expected to be before council at its April 11 meeting.

If approved, Glenwood Springs would join Pitkin County and the town of Carbondale in requesting that the lease suspension requests by two energy companies be denied.

Several leases within the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale issued in 2003 are due to expire in May and July. Two lease holders, SG Interests of Texas and Ursa Piceance LLC of Denver, have asked the BLM to "suspend" the leases.

Suspension would essentially put the expiration dates on hold while the companies apply for drilling permits.

"These companies have had 10 years to do their due diligence on these leases," Glenwood Councilman Dave Sturges said. "They have not demonstrated that they have done that diligence."

Sturges, a former land-use attorney, said Pitkin County put a lot of work into crafting a legal argument in favor of letting the leases expire. Rather than have the city's attorney research the issue and provide an opinion, he said the city's letter can simply reference Seldin's arguments.

Steckler, along with council members Stephen Bershenyi and Leo McKinney, agreed.

"This legal argument seems to be spot on, and I fully support it," Bershenyi said of Seldin's opinion, which was forwarded to BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office Manager Steven Bennett on March 19.

Beyond the legal arguments, McKinney said the traffic impacts and safety concerns in his Glenwood Park neighborhood are substantial if drilling is allowed up Four Mile.

The Carbondale Board of Trustees, in a March 19 letter sent to the acting BLM director, Neil Kornze, mostly reinforced the arguments of various environmental organizations and ranching and recreational interests.

"The Thompson Divide region provides a rich resource for pristine water, clean air and a sustainable wildlife habitat," the town's letter stated. "It also affords the area with significant agriculture/ranching and grazing, outdoor tourism and recreation including hunting, fishing and camping, hiking, biking, climbing skiing and snowmobiling."

Industry representatives have maintained that they have the right to drill on leases they legally hold, and that the suspension is necessary in order to allow the drilling permit applications to proceed.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Mar 23, 2013 01:16AM Published Mar 23, 2013 01:15AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.