GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County commissioners Monday unanimously approved a resolution seeking to be held harmless if any existing federal oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau northwest of Rifle are removed.
“It’s important for us as a county to take this stand, and we should encourage those around us to do the same,” said Commissioner Mike Samson.
The county is seeking to protect itself from having to pay back millions of dollars worth of federal mineral lease funds, including dollars already invested in projects from Parachute to Carbondale, should the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s re-examination of the Roan Plateau oil and gas resource plan result in any leases being canceled or withdrawn.
If that happens, Commission Chairman John Martin said the federal government most likely would hold back future mineral lease payments rather than asking the state of Colorado and, in effect, local governments to return funds already distributed on the nearly $114 million worth of leases.
“That’s not unusual, it’s happened before,” Martin said. “It’s a direct hit on schools, higher education, municipalities, (state) energy impact grants, fire departments … all 64 counties in Colorado would have to pay that back in one way or another.”
The resolution adopted by the county Monday relates to the more than 54,600 leases issued on and around the Roan Plateau by the BLM in 2008 and 2009 under a previously approved oil and gas resource management plan.
Fifty-one percent of mineral lease funds are retained by the federal government and 49 percent comes back to Colorado. Half of that amount goes to the county where the leases were issued.
Garfield County has since set up a separate Federal Mineral Lease District to dole out the funds to local municipalities, schools districts and other special districts for a variety of infrastructure projects, capital purchases and programs.
But the BLM’s Roan management plan is being revisited, following a legal challenge by a coalition of environmental groups that argued adequate environmental protections were not included in the plan.
While the review could allow the leases to remain in place, perhaps with stricter protections, it is possible some leases could be withdrawn or canceled.
“The Roan is a beautiful area, but not all of it has wilderness characteristics,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
It’s also been part of the federal Naval Oil Shale Reserve since the early 1900s, Jankovsky noted. “This is an area that was set aside by the federal government for energy development,” he said.
Samson said he will encourage fellow members of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado later this week that stand to be affected to pass similar resolutions. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs has also expressed concerns about the potential payback of the lease funds or withholding of future lease payments related to the Roan.
Marijuana ban moves forward
Also Monday, county commissioners set in motion a proposed ban on recreational marijuana businesses in the unincorporated parts of Garfield County. The proposed ordinance is expected to be formally considered at a public hearing before the commissioners next month.
The ban, which is allowed under Colorado’s Amendment 64, would prohibit commercial cultivation, manufacturing and retail sales of marijuana and related products for recreational purposes in areas of Garfield County outside city and town limits.
A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for the commissioners’ Aug. 19 meeting, although that date could change, county attorney Frank Hutfless said.
Amendment 64, which was approved by Colorado voters last fall, makes it legal for anyone age 21 and older to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana for recreational purposes. Starting next year, retail businesses, manufacturing and cultivation will also be allowed under special license from the state and local jurisdictions that choose to allow recreational marijuana.
The new law is separate from the state’s medical marijuana laws, which allow for the sale and possession of less than one ounce of marijuana for doctor-certified medical marijuana patients.
Garfield County currently allows for the cultivation of medical marijuana in unincorporated areas, although medical marijuana dispensaries and products manufacturing are prohibited. The proposed new ordinance would not allow the commercial growing of marijuana outside city and town limits for recreational purposes, only for medicinal supplies.