Garfield County asked to remove Four Mile Road from haul routes
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Although Garfield County commissioners are on record with federal land managers opposing the use of Four Mile Road as a haul route should oil and gas development occur on public land in the Thompson Divide area, some critics still want a stronger statement to that effect.
“Unless it’s specified by a formal resolution that, under no circumstances is Four Mile Road to be used as an oil and gas haul route, then it’s just lip service as far as I’m concerned,” said Trési Houpt, a former county commissioner and resident of the Four Mile area southwest of Glenwood Springs.
“Historically, if the industry comes in to the commission and offers to pay for upgrades to a road, the commissioners have been willing to do that,” Houpt added.
She noted that already the county is putting $3.5 million into upgrading parts of Four Mile Road, including safety measures to straighten the so-called “dead man’s curve” and a new bridge across Four Mile Creek to access the Black Diamond Mine Road.
The county also recently completed a new bridge accessing the Oak Meadows subdivision, which she maintains could conceivably be used to access gas leases in that area.
“We have to ask why,” Houpt said of she and other area residents who have questioned the need for the road and bridge upgrades.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he remains adamant that Four Mile should not be used as haul route, if SG Interests and other lease holders are given permission by the U.S. Forest Service and BLM to develop natural gas leases in the disputed Thompson Divide.
The ongoing road improvements are to deal with existing safety concerns, he said.
“The board was unanimous in its position to the Forest Service that Four Mile is not a haul route,” Jankovksy said of a November 2012 letter to the agency stating the county’s opposition to the use of the road, as proposed by the Houston-based energy company in its drilling permit application.
“I think we already have taken that position, and our letter specifically says that,” he said, adding the letter was formally adopted by resolution of the board.
That letter states, in part, “To be clear, Four Mile Road is not and was never constructed as part of [the county’s haul route system], and remains structurally and geometrically inadequate to withstand the heavy truck weights and volumes associated with natural gas exploration.”
The Glenwood Springs City Council has also stated to the federal land management agencies involved that city streets accessing Four Mile Road, including Midland Avenue and 27th Street, are not capable of handling such traffic.
Four Mile Road is listed on Garfield County’s official “Preferred Haul Route” map, found on the county’s website (www.garfield-county.com/road-bridge/maps.aspx), as a nondesignated haul route, subject to weight and other load restrictions.
Large truck traffic is not prohibited on the road, however, as evidenced by the steady stream of logging trucks up and down the road accessing logging permits in the Four Mile Park area above Sunlight Mountain Resort.
A network of designated haul routes for the oil and gas industry are concentrated in the central and far western parts of Garfield County where the bulk of oil and gas activity is located.
A few roads and sections of roads are off-limits to heavy truck traffic, usually because of steep grades and other geographical constraints.
Houpt said the county commissioners should consider more formally prohibiting trucks, or at least trucks related to the oil and gas industry, on Four Mile Road.
“They really need to be more specific about not making this a haul route for oil and gas, and I think that’s also what the Forest Service is looking for from the county,” she said.
According to Garfield County Attorney Frank Hutfless, counties do have broad discretion in designating haul routes and limiting certain types of activity on county roads and across county bridges.
“Under the concept of a haul route, the county does have various police powers to protect the public health, safety and welfare, regarding weight, length and width of a vehicle, and specific materials being hauled,” Hutfless said.
That power was preserved in the recently approved county land-use code rewrite, he and Jankovksy also noted.
However, “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Hutfless said, adding the county can determine one use has less impact on a road than another type of use.
“There is a lot of analysis that goes into making those decisions,” he said.
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Imagine Glenwood and The City of Glenwood Springs is slated to host a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.