CMC trustees dump SourceGas lease agreement
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The Colorado Mountain College board of trustees on Monday tossed out a lease agreement permitting installation of a natural gas compressor station on the school’s Spring Valley campus.
But Natalie Shelbourn, a spokeswoman for SourceGas, which wants the to install the compressor facility on college land, said CMC is “really giving us no alternative but to take legal action.”
The trustees also agreed to hire a lawyer to defend their position.
“We have a legally binding lease with CMC,” said Shelbourn, “We’ll be taking action to build the project on the original site.”
The decision came after a two-hour executive session at the regular May meeting of the board in Glenwood Springs. No SourceGas officials were at the meeting.
The announcement caught some observers by surprise, coming as it did after weeks of controversy over a proposal by the SourceGas natural gas distribution company to build a compressor station on college land.
SourceGas approached the school administration in 2011 and negotiated a 20-year lease with the school’s CEO, Stan Jensen, to put a compressor station on five acres of CMC land in Spring Valley, out of sight from the school’s campus.
According to SourceGas, the compressor station is needed to repressurize gas in a pipeline from Rifle to Avon that crosses CMC property.
“I had this prepared to address a decision to validate the lease,” said student Robert Morrison of the school’s Sustainability Program, referring to a statement he was prepared to read but did not.
Neighbors, students and faculty objected to the deal earlier this year, when it became public knowledge, and pushed the board to re-evaluate Jensen’s agreement.
A second site was proposed, near an existing water tower that serves the school, and last week the board of trustees suggested a professional facilitator be hired to help the two sides work out their differences.
At the same time, SourceGas asked for a direct meeting with the board of trustees at their Monday meeting. The request was denied because the agenda already was full, school spokesperson Debra Crawford told the Post Independent.
Shelbourn told the Post Independent on May 9 that the company is not interested in working with a facilitator.
At the meeting Monday, the board came out of executive session and unanimously approved, without discussion or comment, a motion by West Garfield Trustee Mary Ellen Denomy to “not recognize a valid lease between CMC and SourceGas.”
The board then voted, also unanimously and without comment, to pass a motion by Routt County Trustee Ken Brenner. That motion was to “rescind and withdraw” the school’s authorization for SourceGas to seek approvals from Garfield County for placement of the compressor station on school land.
During a public comment session, the board’s decision drew a mixed response.
A letter to the board, written by students Morrison and Erica Johns, stated that students and faculty feel the second recommended site might be acceptable to those who objected to the first site.
But “mitigation” should be sought from SourceGas, to address “the larger impacts associated with the industry,” the letter continues.
Another suggestion brought up at the trustees meeting was that SourceGas use a parcel owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the same general area as CMC.
SourceGas officials said at a May 2 meeting with the college community that the BLM had already rejected one company proposal for a site on public land, driving SourceGas to turn to the CMC site.
Some at the meeting, such as Bart Levine, of the A.M. Gas supply firm, argued that the school’s move could endanger gas service to a variety of customers in the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys.
Levine and others asked the trustees to reconsider their earlier decision, and honor the SourceGas lease for a site.
Maci Berkeley, who owns property near to the SourceGas compressor site, said she was “really shocked” by the decision to toss out the lease and urged the school to go with the second site as proposed by the students.
Others, including nearby ranchers Jim Nieslanik and his son, Jeff, said they were worried that without an agreement with CMC, the company might try to force its compressor station onto private lands, perhaps by using powers of eminent domain.
“I’m not sure how this thing’s going to to work out here,” said Jim Nieslanik after the meeting. He was one of a group of ranchers who, in the 1970s, together donated the 680 acres of land that make up the Spring Valley campus.
“They’ve got to move forward,” Nieslanik said, referring to SourceGas and its need for a site. “So now it’s going to be up to the attorneys.”
Trustee Brenner, speaking with Jim and Jeff Nieslanik after the meeting, reassured them, “We’re not throwing you to the wolves. You ought to know us better than that.”
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