Industry’s money built town halls and other infrastructure
The oil shale boom was short lived, but local governments got so much out of it, benefits can still be seen today:-Rifle City Hall.-Riverside School in New Castle.-The Parachute water plant.Those are just a few of the public facilities built with the millions of dollars injected into Garfield County to counter the impacts of the oil shale and energy boom.The funds came from three sources:-The Oil Shale Trust Fund, which the federal government created after companies paid to lease public lands near Parachute for oil shale projects.-The Energy Impact Fund, which came from state severance taxes charged to oil, coal and natural gas operations.-Mitigation impact fees paid directly to Garfield County by oil shale companies.The mitigation impact fees were included in oil shale development permits approved by Garfield County Commissioners Larry Velasquez, Flaven Cerise and Jim Drinkhouse in the late 1970s and early 1980s.Velasquez said the fees were collected so that Garfield County taxpayers wouldn’t get stuck paying for infrastructure needs brought on by multi-billion dollar oil shale development.”You better believe we drove a hard bargain,” said Velasquez from his home in Battlement Mesa. “We’d pound our fists on the table. We told the companies they’d have to do it themselves, it wasn’t up to the school districts to pay,” he said.The deal reached with Union Oil Company called for $62.7 million in mitigation fees, which included $4.2 million for St. John Middle School on Battlement Mesa.Velasquez said the federal government gave about $50 million to Garfield County from the Oil Shale Trust Fund. Local governments submitted requests for funds for specific projects, and the commissioners doled out the money.”We built a lot of bridges,” Velasquez said. “We put in the South Canyon bridge with the Oil Shale Trust Fund.”Other Oil Shale Trust Fund money went to build town halls in Silt, New Castle and Parachute. Improvements were made to the Garfield County Airport, and the Interstate 70 Mamm Creek interchange east of Rifle was constructed, just to mention a few of the projects.At least one of the facilities built with mitigation fees went on to a useful afterlife following the oil shale bust.Union Oil Company paid $24 million for a modular “man-camp” up Parachute Creek to house its single workers. After Union pulled out, it sold the units to several buyers.”There are parts all around,” said Jim Evans, director of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.”The Sleepy Cat Ranch in Rio Blanco County bought several cabins for their main camp,” Evans said. “The Oaks Senior Housing in Fruita bought one. My mom lives in one.”
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