Critics: Traffic impacts should halt Thompson Divide drilling | PostIndependent.com

Critics: Traffic impacts should halt Thompson Divide drilling

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — More than 1,000 heavy truck trips on Four Mile Road and through the heart of town anticipated by energy company SG Interests in its bid for a pair of exploratory gas wells in the Thompson Divide is all the more reason to shut down such activity on several fronts, say critics of the company's plan.

"This should serve as a wake-up call for our entire community," said Zane Kessler, executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, which is fighting to prevent further leasing and development of existing leases in the sprawling expanse of forest land southwest of Glenwood Springs.

"The numbers we're looking at are disturbing, at the very least," he said. "If a couple of test wells bring over 1,100 trucks and major road reconstruction, what would Glenwood look like if they really started drilling?"

Peter Hart, staff attorney for the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, which is also opposed to drilling in the Thompson Divide, said the latest information from SG reinforces its position that "oil and gas development is very impactful, and the Thompson Divide is not the appropriate place for it."

The estimated number of truck trips associated with the two test wells is "just the tip of the iceberg," Hart said.

"They represent impacts of drilling only two of the six last-minute wells that SG has proposed to drill above Carbondale and Glenwood Springs," he said.

The Houston-based company provided the estimate of the number of round-trip truck runs up and down Four Mile Road in a recent submittal to White River National Forest and Bureau of Land Management officials.

The information was provided as part of the company's application to drill two test wells five miles south of Sunlight Mountain Resort in remote northwest Pitkin County. The proposal was outlined in an article in the Thursday Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post Independent, http://www.postindependent.com/news/9004497-113/application-trips-drilling-interests

Trési Houpt, a resident of the Four Mile area and a former Garfield County commissioner, said the amount of anticipated truck traffic came as no surprise.

What's disappointing, she said, is that the current county commissioners, despite saying they oppose the use of Four Mile Road as an oil and gas haul route, have yet to take any formal action to prevent that from happening.

"We keep hearing the commissioners talk about this not being a haul route, but it's lip service until they do something to make sure it's not used as such," Houpt said.

"If people's properties are destroyed or their businesses are destroyed as result of this, it will be on their shoulders," she said.

County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who defeated Houpt in the 2010 election, said the commissioners stand by their position that oil and gas traffic is not appropriate for Four Mile Road, and especially through Glenwood Springs.

"We're sticking to our previous comments, which were contained in our letter to the Forest Service and which was passed unanimously by board resolution," said Jankovsky, who also has a stake in what happens in the Four Mile corridor as general manager and part owner of Sunlight Resort.

The way to enforce that, rather than making the road off limits to all heavy truck traffic, is to police it through the county's overweight and oversize haul permits.

"There are some questions about what is and what isn't a haul route," Jankovksy said, referring to a recent board conversation with county attorney Frank Hutfless about the county's enforcement powers.

"There are posted weight and size limits on that road, and going above that does require permits," Jankovsky said, adding he for one is not inclined to approve such permits.

"And if anyone is going up there without permits, we will prosecute them under the uniform traffic code," he said.

Glenwood Springs Mayor Leo McKinney said the amount of anticipated truck traffic didn't surprise him either.

He remains adamant that the type of traffic being proposed for Four Mile Road becomes even more of an impact as it passes through Glenwood Springs on Midland Avenue and across the 27th Street bridge to Grand Avenue.

"That is one of our designated safe routes to school, and I walk it many days a week with my own kids," McKinney said of the side path along Midland Avenue headed toward Sopris Elementary School.

"To me, that is a really huge red flag when it comes to adding that kind of traffic to that road," he said. "Just regular traffic is enough of a concern."

The types of trucks used to haul large rigs to drilling sites also would not be able to safely negotiate the 27th Street roundabout, let alone weight restrictions on the 27th Street bridge across the Roaring Fork River, McKinney said.

The TDC's Kessler said the leases held by SG Interests should have been allowed to expire months ago, rather than leaving the door open for the federal agencies to go through the process of reviewing actual drilling permit applications.

"This area is an economic engine for our entire region," Kessler said. "The Divide is creating long-term jobs on its own.

"We're talking about peoples' livelihoods here, and those aren't on the table for negotiation," he said.

Hart also maintains SG's drilling proposals shouldn't be considered at all, since the leases were issued in violation of the law, he said.

"If the proposals are considered, that shouldn't be done in a piecemeal fashion," Hart said. "All of the proposals and all of the associated impacts ought to be considered together and disclosed to the public.

"The public has a right to know that the 1,000 truck trips disclosed here by SG are an order of magnitude less intense than what we'd see in a full-field development scenario," he said.