Bad publicity has Grass Mesa residents making less of a stink |

Bad publicity has Grass Mesa residents making less of a stink

Lynn Burton
Post Independent Staff

Recent newspaper articles about smelly air on Grass Mesa have sucked the wind out of some residents’ willingness to talk to newspapers.

“We choose not to comment,” said Grass Mesa Home Owners Association property manager Cheri Chartier, when asked about the results of an EnCana Oil and Gas (USA) air-quality study for the subdivision.

EnCana’s voluntary study, conducted at 18 locations in the 3,000-acre subdivision in August and September, indicated no health risks in the Grass Mesa area from gas drilling chemicals, according to a company press release issued Oct. 27.

Last August, some Grass Mesa residents complained to the Garfield County Commissioners that fumes from drilling rigs and natural gas wells were making them sick and giving them headaches.

EnCana Oil and Gas (USA) said seven of 61 compounds analyzed in the study were detected in the samples, and compared the results to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for determining health risk.

“EnCana adheres to strict state and federal standards that protect the health and safety of our workers and neighboring residents,” the press release said. “EnCana continues to investigate new technology to lessen impacts to site neighbors.”

Grass Mesa resident Denise Lange said she hasn’t had odor problems at her house, which sits about 500 yards from the nearest well.

The problem, Lange said, is Grass Mesa residents who voice their air-quality concerns in newspapers, which leads the public to believe property values are declining.

“There is no proof property values are going down,” Lange said.

Lange, a mortgage broker, said some people are worried they won’t be able to obtain financing for their homes, due to publicity about Grass Mesa’s air-quality complaints.

Denying loans to a group of borrowers based on where their properties are located is called red-lining. A federal banking official doubts that red-lining is taking place at Grass Mesa.

“It’s against the law,” said Kevin Murki, a spokesperson for the U.S. Comptroller of Currency, which regulates national banks. “It’s just that simple.”

Murki said his agency fields complaints from groups and individuals, and takes allegations of red-lining “very seriously.”

“That goes for any kind of discrimination,” Murki said. “The banks know that. If we hear of discrimination, we’ll jump on it quite rapidly.”

Murki said the same federal regulations concerning national banks also apply to state banks, credit unions and other lending institutions.

Ron Morgan, a Silt-area real estate appraiser, said he doesn’t know whether gas drilling in Grass Mesa is forcing down property values. A lot of areas are experiencing lower property values, Morgan said, and the national economy is one reason.

“The stock market is flat. … People are afraid to make a commitment,” said Morgan, who has been an appraiser for 30 years, with 14 of those in western Garfield County.

Other potential buyers are still waiting to see how international events play out in the Middle East and Iraq before they decide whether to buy property, Morgan said.

Morgan said some Grass Mesa residents don’t want to believe issues other than oil and gas drilling are affecting their property values.

“This is more complex than just one industry,” Morgan said.

Then there’s the Grass Mesa area itself. It’s located several minutes south of Silt, and the 40-acre homesites are accessed by the subdivision’s private roads. It’s more difficult to reach Grass Mesa, Morgan said, than downtown Silt or Rifle, especially when the roads are snow covered.

“This market has always been slower than other markets,” Morgan said. “It requires a special kind of individual to step up and buy there.”

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

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