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Conservation easement affects drilling company’s facility plans

Phillip YatesGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County commissioners on Monday voted to require Bill Barrett Corp. to join with the Aspen Valley Land Trust in its application for a county permit to build a water gathering facility near Silt.Commissioners voted in favor of the move after Assistant County Attorney Carolyn Dahlgren suggested that the Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) – which holds a conservation easement that covers the entire 280-acre property where Barrett plans to build its water facility – could be considered a co-owner of the surface property. That means Barrett now has to have the AVLT be a co-applicant in its request to build its water project south of Silt, she said.Circle B, which is a company owned by Barrett, bought the 280-acre property three years ago with the conservation easement already in place from a previous landowner. The AVLT received its conservation easement to the property, which is about 9 miles south of Silt, in 1997.Bill Mitchell, senior land man for the Barrett, has had brief, initial conversations with the AVLT over the matter, but added the company is going to “do what we have to do” to resolve the situation. “This came up recently, and we are going to work it out,” Mitchell said.Barrett’s proposed facility will collect produced water from on-site and surrounding gas wells, separate oil and recycle the used water through a pipeline back into its operations, according to county records. The intent behind the project is to minimize wasteful disposal of water and the need for taking additional fresh water from the Colorado River.”We would like to have it in place as soon as possible,” Mitchell said. “It benefits everyone.”Martha Cochran, executive director of the AVLT, said that she didn’t know whether there was any middle ground to come to an agreement with Barrett over the intent of its conservation easement on the property. She said it’s their responsibility to uphold the terms of the easement, which was set by the donor.”I hope it doesn’t get litigated,” Cochran said. “It is a simple legal question. Once the facts are determined for both sides, then I think it is a pretty simple question of whether this type of facility is allowed or not. If an active mineral lease preceded the conservation easement, then the conservation easement would be subordinate to that lease.”The conservation easement currently on the 280-acre property precludes industrial operations and auxiliary facilities like the one Barrett has proposed. The county has the ability to approve industry-related facilities through special-use permits. However, conservation easements can disallow industrial uses on a certain property regardless of the county’s zoning regulations.”It is an upcoming issue that we will see more and more of,” Commissioner John Martin said of the conflict between mineral rights owners’ surface use access, conservation easements and county land-use regulations.The conservation easement for the property is meant to “preserve and protect” the scenic, natural and wildlife features of the property,” the AVLT wrote to the county. The easement also prohibits change, disturbance or alterations that would impact the property’s wildlife and scenic attributes, the organization says.Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117pyates@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO


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