Gypsum supports McInnis’ Red Table bill |

Gypsum supports McInnis’ Red Table bill

Dennis Webb

The town of Gypsum once opposed the concept of a Red Table Mountain Wilderness Area because of its potential impacts on the town’s water supply.

It’s finding new wilderness legislation by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis easier to swallow, however.

The town council voted unanimously last week to support McInnis’ Red Table Mountain wilderness bill.

The board had voiced initial opposition to a Red Table Mountain wilderness proposal unveiled by the White River National Forest this summer in its new long-range management plan.

Town Manager Jeff Shroll said the proposal raised concerns about whether the town would be able to access and adequately maintain its water supply infrastructure. The town’s entire watershed originates in the Red Table Mountain basin.

Wilderness areas are off-limits to motorized vehicles. Shroll said the town also was concerned about being able to perform such tasks as removing fallen-down trees blocking stream corridors feeding its reservoirs and spring intake.

Shroll said town officials had had some initial meetings with the Forest Service, in which the agency indicated it would take the town’s watersheds out of its proposal, but he’s not sure what happened from there.

“We just couldn’t get a clear definition on that from the Forest Service. This bill clears that up.”

The Forest Service cannot create wilderness on its own. It requires congressional action. McInnis, R-Grand Junction, introduced his bill last month, just before Congress adjourned for the year.

Red Table Mountain, located between Gypsum and the Fryingpan Valley above Basalt, is in McInnis’ 3rd Congressional District. But next year it becomes part of the 2nd Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder.

Shroll said McInnis’ staff consulted with the town’s legal counsel before introducing his measure.

The town appreciates McInnis taking its concerns into account, Shroll said.

“We think his bill really does protect us,” he said.

“The water, particularly after last year’s drought, is of so much importance to us,” said Shroll.

Gypsum is one of the fastest-growing communities in western Colorado. Shroll said the town has some long-decreed water rights in the Red Table Mountain drainage, and it has been trying to secure more water resources.

“Then all of the sudden the wilderness (proposal) comes up and `whoa, whoa, whoa,'” he said of the town’s reaction to the initial proposal.

Shroll said Gypsum would be a gateway to the wilderness area, making it important for its concerns to be addressed.

McInnis’ proposal has drawn immediate criticism from environmentalists on several fronts. It would bar the Forest Service from imposing bypass or other minimum instream flow requirements, and allow continued Colorado Army National Guard helicopter access to the area for high-altitude flight practice if needed. It also carves out of the proposed wilderness area several motorized route corridors not envisioned in the Forest Service proposal.

So far, however, the talk Shroll has heard in Gypsum regarding a Red Table Mountain Wilderness Area has centered largely on the question of the town’s water supply, he said.

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