Garfield County commissioners questioned about Vernal meeting |

Garfield County commissioners questioned about Vernal meeting

John StroudPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs CO, Colo.Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A closed-door meeting in Vernal, Utah, in late March where commissioners from several counties in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming discussed a unified position regarding oil shale development continues to raise questions.”We are a bit concerned about the real purpose of this meeting and believe that open meetings laws should apply,” Matthew Garrington, deputy director of the Colorado-based Checks & Balances Project informed Garfield County commissioners on Monday.He said the Vernal meeting, which produced a joint statement to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on its oil shale leasing program evaluation, has been described by some of the participating counties as a legal strategy session, and by others as a political strategy session.However, Garfield County commissioners have claimed that the meeting was purely informational, at least so far as the local commissioners’ involvement was concerned.In a letter handed to the commissioners on Monday, Garrington further stated: “I find it disturbing that there is such a high level of disagreement as to the nature of a closed-door meeting, especially a meeting involving a quorum of Garfield County commissioners, [and] private companies with a vested economic interest in the outcome of this issue.”He noted that the meeting was attended by several industry representatives, and by Utah’s director of Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, Kathleen Clarke. However, no state of Colorado representatives were present, he said.Garrington requested copies of any correspondence prior to the March 27 meeting between Garfield County and the host Uintah County, Utah, as well as any of the other participating counties.Last week, Colorado Common Cause filed an open records request with Garfield County and the other Colorado counties involved, including Mesa, Rio Blanco and Moffat.Garfield County commissioners John Martin, Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson reiterated at Monday’s regular Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting that their plans to attend the meeting in Vernal were disclosed in advance. “The three of us do go to meetings outside of our regular meetings, and there are times when all three of us need to be together at certain meetings for informational reasons,” Jankovsky said. Added Martin, “No decisions were made in private session. The only decision we made was in open session, after three hours of public comment.”The Vernal meeting was hosted by the Uintah County commissioners, and it was their call to go into executive session, Martin said.The meeting ended up producing a draft version of a joint county resolution urging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to reinstate a Bush-era policy for leasing public lands to energy companies for oil shale research and development.The 2008 plan allocated 2 million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for that purpose.The BLM, under the Obama administration, is now re-evaluating the policy, and has come up with a new preferred plan to reduce the acreage to about 462,000 acres. It would include roughly 35,000 acres in northwest Colorado, as opposed to 360,000 acres in the 2008 plan.Garfield County commissioners, at an April 9 meeting, unanimously adopted a slightly revised version of the resolution. The strongly worded statement accuses the BLM of bowing to environmental and wilderness interests in revisiting the oil shale leasing policy and coming up with the new

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