Post Independent opinion: Commissioners should see Battlement HIA through to completion |

Post Independent opinion: Commissioners should see Battlement HIA through to completion

Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The Garfield County commissioners on Monday moved not to renew a contract to complete a health impact assessment of oil and gas drilling impacts in Battlement Mesa, leaving the study unfinished.

The commissioners should reverse this decision and allow the Colorado School of Public Health to complete the work and publish a final document.

The commissioners initially agreed to have the study conducted under pressure from citizens and at the recommendation of their own environmental health director, Jim Rada. The good will the commissioners generated by assenting has now been replaced by frustration and anger from those same citizens.

In fact, it appears that the commissioners have turned their backs on their constituents.

Surely it’s worth whatever additional funds it would take to finalize the study. If not, it was a waste to spend $250,000 to end up with a draft of a study.

The commissioners’ assertion that the document was liable to become a “never-ending document” bogged down by a continuing stream of comments is, at best, an example of poor leadership. Why not put a time limit on the comment period, after which no more comments would be accepted, and then complete the study?

But the commissioners allowed the second round of comments – a large number of which were from the oil and gas industry – and now are using those comments as a reason to stop the study. This gives the unfavorable impression that the county is afraid to release a report with the “wrong” conclusions and is bowing to the demands of the industry.

Certainly, the draft study is available for use. Commissioner John Martin has maintained that the study will not be forgotten and will be used as the county reviews Antero Resources’ plans to drill in Battlement Mesa. It seems likely, though, that Antero will be able to challenge any decisions that are based on a study that was never finalized.

As if to underscore that point, the School of Public Health has asked for a letter stating that it was ordered off the study, indicating that the school’s experts feel there is more work to be done and cannot stand behind the unfinished study.

One significant part of the report dealt with recommendations on how to deal with potential health impacts from drilling. The termination of the school’s contract leads inevitably to questions about whether the recommendations will be given serious consideration.

No matter what the commissioners’ intentions in abandoning the study, they give the impression that they are not concerned about honoring their commitments, and worse, that they are incapable of following a project through to its completion.

The county commissioners should restart their contract with the Colorado School of Public Health to get a final, complete version of the Battlement Mesa Health Impacts Assessment.

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