RIFLE — Garfield County is seeking to protect itself from having to pay back millions of dollars worth of federal mineral lease funds that are already invested locally, should a re-examination of the Roan Plateau oil and gas resource plan result in any leases being removed.
“I believe any entity that has received federal mineral leasing funds from the Roan would agree with us that the federal government should hold us harmless, and not try to claw back any of those monies that have already been distributed,” said Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson.
Samson will ask his fellow commissioners on Monday to sign a resolution asking the federal government to hold the county and other affected entities harmless for any recovery of lease funds.
In 2008 and 2009, more than 54,600 leases on and around the Roan Plateau northwest of Rifle were issued under a previously approved oil and gas resource management plant, generating nearly $114 million in lease payments.
However, that management plan is currently being revisited by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management after a federal judge last year sided with a coalition of environmental groups that had challenged the plan.
While the resulting new rules could allow the leases to remain in place with stricter environmental protections, it is possible some of the existing leases could be withdrawn or canceled.
The concern for Garfield County, as well as the state of Colorado and local municipalities, is that a portion of those mineral lease funds have already been disseminated to local governments by the state and are being spent.
“Those monies were taken with the full faith that they would be used for the intended purposes,” Samson said. “The state is going to be with us on this, because they’re going to be impacted, too.”
Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, of which Garfield County is a member and on which Samson serves as the county’s board representative, has also taken a position regarding the mineral lease funds.
Since last year, federal mineral lease dollars, including those derived from the Roan leases, have been distributed to the new Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District. The FMLD takes applications twice a year from local governments, school districts and other special districts for special grant requests.
To date, the FMLD has granted about $5 million for projects ranging from public works and infrastructure improvements in the county’s six municipalities to equipment purchases, capital upgrades and program funding for area schools. Prior to 2012, the lease funds came directly to the county government to be spent as the county commissioners saw fit.
The resolution will be considered for adoption at the beginning of the regular Monday, July 15, Board of County Commissioners meeting in Glenwood Springs, at 8 a.m.
The proposed resolution states, in part:
“Garfield County accepted Roan Plateau lease funds in good faith and full reliance on those funds being irrevocably vested in the county for the benefit of its citizens. … The federal government may cancel those leases or withdraw them from further development, resulting in lessees taking action to recover lease payments made by them.”
The resolution also asks that the federal government not enforce any demands for repayment by withholding future mineral lease payments to Garfield County, and that the county is prepared to fight it out in court if necessary.
“Garfield County will inform the United States Secretary of the Interior that it opposes any action by the federal government that will place Garfield County funds received from Roan Plateau leases at risk, and that the county will take action as necessary to retain possession of those funds in the best interest of Garfield County residents,” the proposed resolution concludes.