Briedis questions AGNC’s stance on Thompson Divide
RIFLE, Colorado – Garfield County commissioner candidate Aleks Briedis is criticizing a recent position taken by a Rifle-based coalition of area governments, whose board his opponent Mike Samson chairs, regarding draft legislation that would limit oil and gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area.
The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) issued a statement last month supporting Club 20’s stance favoring fewer restrictions on mineral and energy resource development on federal lands in western Colorado.
Club 20, based in Grand Junction, like AGNC, lobbies on behalf of several dues-paying member governments and business interests on the Western Slope, including Garfield County.
Garfield County is one of five member counties in the more narrowly focused AGNC. Commissioner Samson, a Republican, currently chairs the AGNC board. Briedis, a Democrat, is hoping to unseat Samson in the Nov. 6 election.
In supporting the Club 20 position, AGNC took the opportunity to call into question a draft bill by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., that would withdraw un-leased federal lands within the 221,500-acre Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from future oil and gas leasing.
“The bill, if enacted, would have the effect of a de-facto wilderness bill, excluding discussion and possible reasonable development of mineral resources … [and] would lock out, on a permanent basis, possible balanced mineral use in a massive area,” the AGNC asserted in a Sept. 25 press release.
Local governments, including Glenwood Springs City Council, the Carbondale Board of Trustees and various Pitkin County entities, have endorsed the Bennet proposal as a reasonable approach to limiting energy development in the pristine Thompson Divide area.
Bennet is still in the process of gathering local comments and lining up bipartisan support before introducing the bill. Garfield County commissioners have yet to address the proposed legislation.
For Samson to join in supporting the AGNC board’s position ahead of the county commissioners discussing it was inappropriate, charged Briedis.
“Our commissioners haven’t even come out against it,” Briedis said. “To turn around and, through this other agency that is lobbying on behalf of Garfield County, say ‘No, we don’t support the Thompson Divide legislation,’ I have to question that.”
Samson said the AGNC resolution, and subsequent press release language, was offered by Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis, who sits as his county’s representative on the AGNC board.
“We wanted to follow the lead of Club 20, and reaffirm our support for multiple use on public lands,” Samson said.
However, Samson said he doesn’t recall there being a discussion specifically about the Bennet proposal. The AGNC board motion was to support the Club 20 position, he said, and the vote was unanimous.
Briedis points out that only a small portion of two AGNC member counties, Garfield and Mesa, are even part of the affected Thompson Divide area. The vast majority is in western Pitkin County, and also touches on parts of Gunnison and Delta counties.
For that reason, Briedis questions whether Thompson Divide should even be of concern to AGNC.
Samson acknowledged that Bennet’s proposal is something the Garfield County commissioners should address on their own.
“We probably should talk about it specifically,” Samson said, noting that he and the other Garfield County commissioners have been supportive of the citizen-led Thompson Divide Coalition’s (TDC) efforts to protect the area from large-scale energy development.
In addition to supporting Bennet’s draft bill to prevent future leasing, the TDC has been working with existing lease holders to buy out the leases.
“We have reaffirmed our position on that, with the understanding that it is a pristine area,” Samson said. “Our wish is also to see people working together on these things, and not have to litigate.”
The TDC also opposes an effort by Houston-based energy company SG Interests to combine its BLM leases into a single unit, in order to prevent them from expiring next year. The county has not taken a position on that issue, although the Glenwood Springs and Carbondale councils have opposed the proposal.
AGNC has come under broader criticism by some Garfield County residents recently for its conservative and industry-friendly political leanings, and for allegedly operating outside the public light.
While Briedis said he shares some of that concern, he’s not advocating that Garfield County leave AGNC.
“There is some good in getting our neighboring counties and other groups together to talk about and lobby for common interests,” Briedis said. “But I do think we have to review all of these organizations that the county is a part of and decide which ones best represent our county.”
Samson said he believes AGNC does work in a nonpartisan manner. And, “Our meetings are always open to the public,” he said.
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Former Rifle Bears standout turned starting running back for Western Colorado University Ty Leyba remembers it like it was yesterday.