Couple getting gassed out of dream home
Post Independent Staff
DRY HOLLOW ” Peggy Utesch can stand in the middle of her four-acre property, turn in a circle, and point to a gas well in every direction.
Peggy and her husband, Bob Utesch, live up Dry Hollow, about 10 minutes south of downtown Silt.
Dry Hollow is a tucked-away enclave, a bucolic setting full of little hills and valleys. The winding dirt road out to the Utesches’ place is almost like a roller coaster, as it follows the natural curves of the land.
“This was my dream,” said Peggy, looking around at the commanding views of mountains and sky. “We wanted to move out to the country and live a quiet lifestyle. We wanted a garden.”
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In 2000, when the Utesches purchased their property, Dry Hollow seemed like the ideal setting.
But now, just four years later, they’re putting their house and property up for sale ” and those gas wells Peggy can point to in every direction are the reason why.
“I understand the gas industry wanting to come in here,” Peggy said. “But this is industrial development ” and it is not appropriate in an agricultural and residential area.”
In the bull’s-eye
When the Utesches bought their dream property, they didn’t know what a mineral right was. They didn’t know that just because they bought four acres with a house, an outbuilding and a wetlands area where birds come to nest, they didn’t own the minerals underneath the land.
They do now.
“At the time, there was no such thing as mandatory disclosure,” said Bob, of the year-old law requiring property sellers to disclose whether mineral rights are included in a property sale. “We didn’t even know to ask.”
That’s because in 2000, there were no gas wells in sight of the Utesches’ land.
“We could see some stuff way off in the distance in the Mamm Creek and Hunter Mesa areas,” Peggy said. “But that was five miles away. There was nothing on Dry Hollow.”
Bob said two years ago, the couple started seeing gas activity coming closer.
“The tops of the derricks were just coming over the hill,” Bob said.
Around the same time, the couple heard from one of their neighbors.
“They wanted him to lease his mineral rights to them,” Bob said, “and he was outraged.”
With activity decidedly ramping up around them, the Utesches decided to get together with concerned neighbors.
They also became members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a grassroots organization started in 1997 as a result of the Colorado Gas and Oil Commission’s decision to increase the density of gas wells in the Parachute area.
The Utesches were soon shocked at what they learned.
“I remember Randy Udall telling us that our property was right in the middle of one of the richest known pockets of natural gas,” said Bob. “He told us, “You’re right in the bull’s-eye.”
An old sign with the words “John’s Drive” stands at the junction of County Road 331 and three smaller side roads, next to a newer handmade wooden sign with “Nabor’s Rig” and an arrow stenciled on it.
The Utesches’ place, which includes a little house, a shop, an older outbuilding and a natural wetlands, is just off to the left.
Recently added is a new cedar fence that runs the length of the Utesches’ property, along John’s Drive.
“EnCana put that up at our request,” Peggy said, adding the couple was “getting choked by dust,” as well as dealing with privacy issues, too, with drivers sometimes looking into their windows.
Peggy said to EnCana’s credit, the company is becoming more open to dealing with conflicts with people affected by the company’s gas activity.
“Sher Long is their PR person,” Peggy said. “She’s helped EnCana come a long way in communicating with us and with others.”
Today, water trucks, pickup trucks and big gas industry trucks rumble along John’s Drive, to and from two new gas wells within sight of the Utesches. One of the rigs is just 150 feet from a neighbor’s house.
“They have to be at least 150 feet away from any existing houses or structures,” Peggy said.
“Since the rigs are 120 feet tall, that gives them 30 feet of clearance if they fall over.”
Not moving far
The Utesches love this area ” they moved to Glenwood Springs in 1986, and they’re established here ” so they’re not moving far.
“We’re looking up on Silt Mesa,” Bob said.
In the meantime, the Utesches can still look out from their deck and see gas wells, but also the pheasant in their wetlands. They can hear the meadowlarks and bluebirds sing above the groan of diesel engines in the distance.
“We’d still rather live here than on Grand Avenue or anywhere in Denver,” said Bob.
They said their place might be the perfect home for a “gas guy,” said Peggy.
“We’re thinking of putting up a big sign that says, ‘If you lived here, you’d be home by now,” she said with a smile.
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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