BLM says reports of Roan Plateau plan release mistaken
The Bureau of Land Management says media reports that it will release its draft management plan for the Roan Plateau northwest of Rifle next week are mistaken.BLM spokesman Vaughn Whatley blamed a miscommunication between a reporter and the agency for the error.Environmentalists monitoring the BLM’s work involving the Roan Plateau said the error originated with a Reuters report. The Denver Post apparently used the report as the basis for a story early this week saying the plan was about to be released.BLM officials say the plan, which among other things will identify a preferred alternative for gas drilling on the plateau, will be released this fall. They say the media and public will be notified in advance of the release date.Environmentalists say that while the Reuters report might be wrong, they expect the plan to come out soon.”Right now they’re saying the end of November, early December. We do think it’s imminent at this point but it’s hard to tell,” said Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope field director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition.Environmentalists and area communities want to see no drilling on the Roan Plateau top, and say it instead should be limited to the surrounding lowlands in the 127,000-acre planning area. They also recently said the BLM is vastly overstating the developable gas reserves for the plateau.But the BLM maintains those reserves are plentiful. In a news release, the agency says, “The preferred alternative currently under consideration will strike a balance between meeting the concerns of the community, local and state government, and special interests while developing needed, available and plentiful natural gas resources in an environmentally responsible manner.”A public comment period will follow release of the draft plan, and those comments will be used in helping formulate a final plan.Garfield County has been working as a cooperating agency with the BLM on the draft plan. County Commissioner John Martin said the plan will lay out five alternatives for managing the Roan Plateau.”We’re going to have to wait to see what the public has to say, take their input, listen to folks,” he said.The release of the draft plan has been much delayed. Some environmentalists, including Kolbenschlag, have speculated that the Bush administration intervened to push back its release until after the election – something the BLM denies.Kolbenschlag said that had the plan been released earlier, Democrats could have turned it into a contentious issue in Colorado during the races for the White House and U.S. House and Senate.”I would think politics has a lot do with the timing of it, which might be cause to worry now,” he said.Bush has targeted the Roan Plateau as a high-priority area for natural gas development, while environmentalists had hoped for more protection of the plateau had John Kerry been elected.Glenwood Springs resident Steve Smith, a staff member for The Wilderness Society, said Bush’s re-election could influence the direction of the final plan for the Roan Plateau, but he thinks the draft plan is too far along to be changed in response to the election outcome, unless its release is delayed significantly.Kolbenschlag said he takes some hope in the election this week of John Salazar as the new congressman for western Colorado. Salazar has said he supports protecting the top of the plateau and respecting the wishes of local residents.”I think Salazar can be a really strong voice for local communities” regarding the plateau, he said.”I think Salazar can be a really strong voice for local communities” regarding the plateau, he said.
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