County commissioners forgo spirit of aloha
Garfield Commissioners Trési Houpt and John Martin have been at odds before. Their latest tussle happened in, of all places, Hawaii. Both were there to attend the National Association of Counties annual summer conference last week in Honolulu.Houpt exchanged heated words with Martin and Larry McCown, the third commissioner, last month when she said she wanted the county to pay for her trip to the conference. Martin, as the designated county representative, had his trip covered by the association. McCown pointed out Houpt had spent over half their travel allowance for the year. He and Martin said she should pay her own way.Houpt agreed and footed the bill, saying she wanted to represent people affected by gas drilling in the county.”I think it’s very important to bring concerns about health, safety, environment and land use. I didn’t feel there was discussion (about these) at the national level that was balanced.”But paying her own way didn’t quite defuse the situation – at least, not to judge from Houpt’s and Martin’s different versions of how things went in Hawaii.At the conference, Houpt brought two resolutions to the table that she felt would help reduce the impact of gas drilling and exploration on people of western Garfield County.Both were presented to the Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee. In one, Houpt called on federal land agencies and states to use new technology in directional drilling to lessen surface impacts. She also offered a policy for hydraulic fracturing that would prohibit use of toxic fluids. Martin said her offerings were not well received.”They handed her her head,” he said.The committee refused to talk about her hydraulic frac’ing resolution.”People had a difficult time understanding the complexity of the discussion and asked why it’s been going on so many years and now it’s an issue. We’ve seen enough human error in our county. It’s important to have an option to use non-toxic fluids,” Houpt said.Martin saw it another way.”They didn’t want to talk about it, they didn’t want to touch it. The BLM and EPA said ‘You don’t want to go there.'”But Houpt felt the end result was positive.The new policy “doesn’t directly resolve the issue but it opens the door for NACO to get more involved in that discussion and push for more local involvement,” she said.However, the committee did adopt her rewritten resolution on surface spacing of well pads.Houpt said she’s heard of new technology in directional drilling that could increase well-pad spacing from the present 40 acres on the surface to 640 acres, with the same volume of gas recovery.”If it’s available, it makes sense where there’s a reasonable location for a pad that size,” she said. “The idea is, if there’s technology out there that carried less impact then use it, because we know this is a resource-rich location and we need to extract the energy.”Although the measure was eventually adopted, the debate was contentious.”Louisiana was split and had the most vocal objector. It’s important to adopt a generic policy that is not detrimental to other counties,” Houpt said.Again, Martin had his own take.”It was very hotly discussed. It upset the credibility of Colorado. … Louisiana just about bit her head off. It simply won’t work for them. … I rewrote the whole thing for her as an amendment to the resolution.”Martin added language about using new technology in areas with suitable geology such as the tight sands of the Williams Fork Formation in western Garfield County.”Her resolution was a demand. I changed it to a policy,” he said.Despite the disappointments, Houpt said the trip was worthwhile.”It was an opportunity to educate others, learn from others and gain support from others.”For Martin, the highlight of the conference was his work on the controversial RS 2477 right-of-way law. The statute is a one-sentence addition to an 1866 mining act. It allows governments to claim a right of way across public land where a historic road was in use before 1976. (In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which redefined rights of way across federal lands.)Some local governments have interpreted RS 2477 to mean they can base a right-of-way claim on anything from a wagon road to a footpath. Based on those claims, they have used the statute to carve out access through public lands.Martin worked with counties from western states on setting standards for the law’s application, which will be carried to BLM and the Forest Service for adoption.”We accomplished a lot, from tundra to historic sites in Hawaii.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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