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Petition drive falls short

Organizers have come up far short in collecting signatures for a state ballot initiative aimed at providing fair compensation for property owners affected by energy development.But John Gorman, a Glenwood Springs real estate agent who heads the group Colorado Landowners for Fairness, says he’ll be back for another try. Next time, he says, he’ll start out knowing a lot more about the state citizens initiative process.”We’re not going away. This issue isn’t going away. Our overwhelming experience has been to find out that this issue has tremendous traction among the citizens of Colorado,” Gorman said.Gorman did not submit signatures by the state’s deadline of 3 p.m. Monday. The Secretary of State’s Office required 67,829 valid signatures to put the measure on the November ballot. Gorman said he hadn’t tallied up how many signatures had been gathered, but it was probably less than half what was needed.He said his group didn’t have enough time to circulate petitions.”It was our naiveté of thinking that the legislature might do something, and then after that it was the very vigorous and effective delaying tactics of industry that delayed us so much that the first day of our signature gathering drive was about five weeks ago,” he said.Initiative supporters had held off on acting this spring while awaiting the outcome of efforts by state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison. She sought to pass a bill addressing the rights of surface owners on property where underlying mineral rights are being developed. Curry withdrew the bill while it was in the Senate, after it was weakened by compromise to the point that some of its initial supporters withdrew their backing.In June, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in the initiative supporters’ favor after the industry had contended the measure was too vague. Only then could signature-gathering begin.Supporters say the final straw was when the Colorado Association of Home Builders (CAHB) backed out on a promise to provide financial backing to their efforts.”Unfortunately the homebuilders sold us out. They would not support it,” said Duke Cox, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a Garfield County-based group that advocates for surface owners’ rights.Cox, a builder himself, said he has quit as a longtime member of the CAHB because it reneged on its promise to help. Instead, he said, it cut a deal with the Colorado Oil & Gas Association and other interests following a backroom meeting arranged by Gov. Bill Owens.Cox said the deal addresses surface use issues on the Front Range, where the big concern is how drilling could impinge on the ability to subdivide and develop agricultural lands. But that deal is of no help to the Western Slope, where the issue instead is property values being lessened by energy development, he said.Cox believes Owens brokered the deal so home builders wouldn’t give money to the initiative supporters that otherwise could be donated to Bob Beauprez. A Republican, like Owens, Beauprez is running this year in hopes of succeeding Owens as governor.Representatives of the home builders association, COGA and Owens did not return calls for comment Monday.Curry, who was in Glenwood Springs Monday night to meet with constituents, said in an interview that Owens’ lack of support for her bill when it reached the Senate helped seal its fate.She believes Bill Ritter, the Democrats’ candidate for governor, would show more willingness to address the surface use issue if he’s elected. She said he has told her he’s willing to step in and get all interests together in an effort to reach agreement.Four surface use bills, including two by Curry, have failed to pass out of the legislature. She is leaning toward letting someone else try to push the issue rather than trying again herself, but said it may depend on what residents in Garfield County want her to do.Gorman is done thinking the legislature can come up with an adequate solution. He already is looking ahead to trying again to get his measure on the state ballot. However, if he can raise enough signatures, it wouldn’t go to voters until November 2008. In Colorado, only tax-related ballot initiatives can appear on odd-year ballots.But initiative proponents can proceed with getting a ballot title set and gathering enough qualified signatures in odd years. Gorman said he will be looking into whether to begin work on another initiative next year or wait until 2008.Gorman said his group probably raised less than $1,000 for this year’s effort. He said using paid petition circulators can cost $200,000 to $300,000, but he believes the nonpaid route works, given enough time.”It’s incredible how inexpensive it is to do it if you have a good volunteer network, which we have built now.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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