Appeals court green-lights pipeline on Bull Mountain |

Appeals court green-lights pipeline on Bull Mountain

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” A federal appeals court on Wednesday lifted an injunction that blocked the building of a controversial 25-mile pipeline that will cross through roadless areas on forest lands.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its ruling after a hearing on Wednesday. The court’s order will now allow work on the Bull Mountain pipeline to continue. However, the order did not detail why the appeals court decided to lift the injunction.

The appeals court ruling stated, “An opinion on the merits will follow in due course.”

SG Interests, the company behind the pipeline, has begun some construction work on it, such as limited surveying and clearing. But that work was halted after the appeals court granted an injunction that forced the company to stop its work on June 6.

A coalition of environmental groups and Pitkin County celebrated the move.

Those groups, which includes the Wilderness Workshop, say that the pipeline will create eight miles of roads in what is supposed to be a protected roadless area.

They claimed the approval by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated a federal government 2001 rule, which bars the building of roads on millions of acres of federal forest land.

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, said his group was disappointed in the court’s decision and doesn’t fully understand the reasoning behind the appeals court lifting the injunction.

“We look forward to seeing their ruling, to see what their arguments and rationales are,” Shoemaker said.

Robbie Guinn, vice president of lands for SG Interests, said his company was “very pleased with the lifting of the injunction.” He said that the court “obviously did not agree” with the Pitkin County and environmental groups’ interpretations of the 2001 federal roadless rule.

“The court felt that the Secretary of the Interior had the authority to issue the permits necessary for other multiple uses like building pipelines through the inventoried roadless areas,” Guinn said.

The 25-mile Bull Mountain pipeline will cut across three roadless areas in the White River National Forest and the Grand-Mesa Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest.

Construction of the pipeline will create a 100-foot-wide corridor for heavy trucks and equipment traffic, complete with a “travel lane” and “passing lane.” The federal agency maintained that that didn’t count as a road and viewed the company’s building of roads as a construction zone. The environmental groups thought otherwise.

Guinn said the company’s position is that its corridor along the pipeline is not “a travel lane,” but rather a construction zone.

“That is what the justices keyed on,” Guinn said.

Pitkin County is involved in the lawsuit because it fears the pipeline could trigger natural gas development in the far western section of the county, southwest of Carbondale.

SG Interests holds mineral leases on about 20,000 acres of public land in Pitkin County. However, the majority of that acreage is in roadless areas and those leases were issued after the 2001 federal roadless rule, Guinn said.

“So we are not able to access all of those lands because it would require building new roads,” Guinn said. “Some of the leases we own in Pitkin County are not in the roadless area, but not very much. We don’t have any immediate plans to develop those leases at the moment.”

He said the company is concentrating on company leases at the southern end of the Bull Mountain pipeline in Gunnison County. The pipeline ends in Garfield County ” after winding through parts of Gunnison, Delta and Mesa counties ” where it will meet up with another pipeline.

Shoemaker said it wasn’t clear how his group and the others would go forward in their efforts to stop construction of the pipeline through the contested areas. He added that he was concerned about the national implications of appeals court ruling.

“It seems it opens the opportunity for the Forest Service to call activity they want to do in a roadless area and call it a ‘construction zone,'” Shoemaker said. “What we are calling a road, the Forest Service is calling a construction zone. If that is what it hinges on, it leaves a huge loophole that could have pretty damaging impacts on roadless areas across the country.”

The Bureau of Land Management had a cease-and-desist order blocking construction of pipeline after the appeals court issued its June 6 injunction, said David Boyd, a spokesman for the BLM. But with the court’s ruling Thursday that BLM order was rescinded, which allows construction of the pipeline to resume.

The Aspen Times contributed to this report.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

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