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Plateau draft plan release may be near

A draft plan for managing drilling and other activities on the Roan Plateau northwest of Rifle may be within a few weeks of being made public ” weather permitting.

It’s not the weather here, but the weather in Washington, D.C., that has caused the latest delay in release of the plan.

Jamie Connell, field manager for the Glenwood Springs office of the BLM, said she’s waiting for what’s called a notice of availability on the plan to work its way up the chain of command at BLM’s Washington headquarters. But an ice storm there last week resulted in headquarters staff being sent home.



She was hoping Washington staffers would complete their review of the notice within a few days of their return to work.

Connell expects the draft plan to be released within a week or two of when the notice gets signed by Colorado BLM Director Ron Wenker.



The notice of availability will be published by the Environmental Protection Agency in the Federal Register, officially kicking off a 90-day public comment period on the plan. Connell said the BLM may release the plan a day or two earlier.

It has yet to be printed, pending final approvals. However, Connell said the BLM hopes to print fewer than the agency once did for such documents due to the high cost. Instead, it will make hard copies available at all libraries, and distribute CD-ROMs containing the document, as well as map packets. The plan also will be available on the Web.

Probably a few hundred copies will be printed, she said.

The plan will offer management alternatives for the plateau, and identify a preferred alternative. The plateau’s future has become a matter of national debate due to the Bush administration’s interest in the natural gas reserves beneath it, and a desire by local communities and environmental groups to see drilling restricted to the area surrounding the plateau, and prohibited on top.

BLM officials originally hoped to issue its draft plan last year.

“The deadline has slipped a number of times and that just happens,” said Connell.

Even acts of God affecting Washington weather and federal bureaucrats there have come into play.

“I was supposed to give a briefing to someone and they were sent home,” Connell said.

Lack of a plan in hand hasn’t stemmed public debate regarding the plateau. Connell is anxious to see the plan put forward so the debate moves from hypotheticals to substantive issues laid out in the alternatives.

“I’m excited that there’s so many people that are interested,” she said.

A high level of public involvement in the plan will improve the decision making process, she said.

She said preparation of the plan hasn’t been particularly taxing on the Glenwood BLM office. A private contractor has been preparing the document, with the involvement of a few managers within the local office and occasional consultation with other BLM staff members.

A contractor also will be used to help consolidate and respond to comments submitted on the plan, prior to a final plan being issued, Connell said.

“It will be million-dollar plan, I’m sure, by the time it’s done,” she said.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

dwebb@postindependent.com


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