Energy Advisory Board hears Garfield County sage grouse presentation
RIFLE — Garfield County officials made a presentation Thursday night to a packed Energy Advisory Board meeting about the county’s $200,000 greater sage grouse conservation plan.
Aside from jokes about the turkey dinner served before the meeting and speakers saying they thought sage grouse “had more dark meat,” what distinguished this presentation from at least two others given during the past week around the county is that members of the public and the oil and gas industry were present to comment on the plan.
The county’s plan takes issue with the scope of prime habitat identified in the Bureau of Land Management’s initial greater sage grouse habitat mapping.
“I’m concerned about the large effort Garfield County has put into this,” said Bob Millette of Glenwood Springs, who suggested the $200,000-plus general fund expenditure was a “waste of money.”
Earlier, county Commissioner Tom Jankovsky had explained during the presentation that the area of Garfield County which would be affected by a possible listing of the bird contains an estimated $34 billion worth of natural gas, “and we’re told that is on the low side.”
He said that gas would generate some $406 million in future property taxes for the county alone, and he showed a slide listing local special districts that depend heavily on revenue from gas taxes. He also said the gas could produce jobs for 20 years.
Jankovsky said the county’s ultimate aim is to “protect the bird and … still get to the resources.”
But protecting the grouse habitat would help all Garfield County residents, not just the oil and gas industry, Millette said.
“It’s also prime big game habitat, and maintaining that habitat is an important economic driver for our area,” he said.
The county presentation focuses on what county officials see as an overly broad interpretation by the BLM about what constitutes prime habitat for the sage grouse in Garfield County. The BLM treats areas of the Roan Plateau as though they are continuous sage habitat when in fact those areas contain diverse vegetation ranging from piñon-juniper to aspen forests and dark timber, none of which are prime habitat for the bird, county officials maintain.
“We simply don’t have that [continuous sage habitat],” Jankovsky said. “It’s just a different world.”
The result is that the county estimates the area, which is north of Parachute and just south of Rio Blanco County, contains about 60,000 acres of prime sage grouse habitat while the BLM estimates it at 220,000 acres.
But Millette said the BLM map is based on “numerous scientific studies … It really escapes me why the county doesn’t accept these numerous scientific studies.”
He also said the county approach would fragment the habitat.
“There needs to be connectivity,” he said.
“It’s a tough issue, there needs to be a happy medium,” said Hans Parkinson, city of Rifle representative on the EAB, who noted the city supports the county effort.
From his perspective as someone who operates a business within the oil and gas industry, he said, “I hope there’s a viable solution: The bird can survive, the habitat can survive and we can survive.”
In other business:
• Agendas for EAB meetings will now specify that speakers during the public comment period will have three minutes to address the board. They also will be required to do so from behind the podium. The policy clarifications stem from last month’s meeting during which some confusion arose about speaking time limits and some speakers approached board members directly.
• Kirby Wynn, Garfield County oil and gas liaison, reported that 13 rigs are actively drilling in the county. He announced as well that a Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum is scheduled for Dec. 12 at the Rifle Colorado Mountain College campus.
• Donna Gray of Williams Co. reported that the company continues to monitor the site of a hydrocarbon spill discovered north of Parachute in March. Monitors have been recording non-detect readings for some time now, she said, “So as near as we can tell the plume is not migrating.” She also said no benzene from the spill has been detected in Parachute Creek since August.
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Officer Haley Walker sat beside her stepmother in a windowless interrogation room just before starting the overnight shift on Thursday evening.