Cancel Thompson Divide leases, says city of Glenwood Springs | PostIndependent.com

Cancel Thompson Divide leases, says city of Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs’ tourism economy would be hurt if oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide are allowed to be developed, the city contends in comments submitted Friday to the Bureau of Land Management.

For that reason, the divide-area leases that are part of a larger BLM review of 65 previously issued oil and gas leases on the White River National Forest should be canceled, in full or in part, as proposed by the agency in a draft environmental analysis, the city states.

“The 25 leases at issue in the Thompson Divide are undeveloped, and our local economy depends on these lands staying that way,” City Council says in the letter penned with help from the Thompson Divide Coalition and issued by the Friday deadline for comments on the draft plan.

The city “strongly supports” the BLM’s proposed action, known as Alternative 4, “which would protect public lands in the Thompson Divide area while leaving other, more prospective minerals on the forest open to future development.”

The BLM is weighing five alternatives in the plan, ranging from leaving all 65 leases that were issued under a 1993 forest management plan in place to canceling all of them, with various options in between to cancel and/or modify the leases.

Alternative 4 would cancel 18 leases located in what’s known as the Thompson Divide situated south and west of Glenwood Springs, and partially cancel seven others.

The remaining 40 leases located farther west and in Rio Blanco County would continue but be modified under a new forest oil and gas leasing plan issued last year. That plan calls for no surface occupancy and limits on new road building in currently roadless areas.

The city’s letter was just one of a barrage of comments submitted this week in advance of the Friday deadline.

Conservationists, including the Carbondale-based TDC and the Wilderness Workshop, have backed the BLM proposal for the most part, saying the leases were improperly, if not illegally, issued in the first place.

Industry groups and some West Slope governments have objected, arguing that canceling, or even modifying, any existing public lands leases amounts to a “takings” of property rights.

The city of Glenwood, in its letter, maintains that any development of the Thompson Divide leases will harm the city’s tourism, bring heavy industry traffic through town and diminish property values along the Four Mile Road corridor.

“As described in a report prepared by BBC Research, the Thompson Divide area generates some 300 jobs and $30 million in economic activity on a recurring annual basis,” the letter reads, citing the independent study commissioned by the TDC.

“Job creation and the resulting economic impacts from tourism and recreation businesses are just as real as oil and gas jobs on the western end of the national forest, and they are no less important to the families who depend on them,” the city’s letter states.

City Council unanimously endorsed the position at its Thursday night meeting.

“There is overwhelming support for this (position) in this community, and I think it’s incredibly important that we do this,” Councilman Matt Steckler said.

A split Garfield County Commission earlier this week voted 2-1 to request the BLM not cancel any leases, but to still consider the unique qualities associated with the Thompson Divide leases and opposing use of Four Mile Road as a haul route.

Commission Chairman John Martin has personally endorsed the BLM’s proposed action to cancel the Thompson Divide leases.

The county, in its comments, also continues to support the TDC’s efforts to work with lease holders and find a legislative solution to retiring the oil and gas leases in the area.

Wilderness Workshop Conservation Director Will Roush said in a Friday news release that the group’s own comments are supported by “tens of thousands” of individual public comments.

“There is overwhelming public support for protecting the area and canceling the leases,” Roush said. “Citizens want to see this place protected to ensure clean air, water, and to maintain the tourism, ranching and recreation-based economy of the region.”


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