Roan plan cooperating officials have had enough of meetings
RIFLE – No more meetings. That was the refrain of cooperating officials meeting with the Bureau of Land Management on the resource management plan for the Roan Plateau. Monday afternoon public officials debated whether or not to have yet another meeting to reach consensus on the plan. However, after about an hour of debate, all officials could really agree on was one thing – to not meet again.Among the cooperating agencies are the cities of Rifle and Glenwood Springs, the town of Parachute, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties and state agencies under the aegis of the Department of Natural Resources – the state parks department, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the state geological survey and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.The groundbreaking process has brought together local and state officials and BLM in the final run-up to publishing the preferred alternative for Environmental Impact Statement and RMP. Cooperators knew they would take the debate back to their full boards and councils to craft formal comments on the plan. A few diehards wanted to keep the process going for at least three more weeks. Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt argued for another meeting to come up with a consensus document for BLM. But for other officials the timing was wrong. Houpt’s fellow commissioner Larry McCown countered that crafting comments, then coming back together to refine them, would necessitate more city council and county commissioners meetings to finalize the final comments.Rifle’s Mayor Keith Lambert put the process into perspective. “I see us making recommendations,” rather than drafting a preferred alternative to the RMP, “and ultimately we have to hand it off to BLM.”In fact, the cooperators probably agree on 90 percent of the prescriptions outlined in the draft RMP, said Glenwood Springs BLM field office manager Jamie Connell.A major bone of contention has already been sidestepped with Department of Natural Resources’ draft plan calls for managing natural-gas development on the plateau. It calls for the entire top of the plateau to be leased out in 2,500-acre blocks but operated by one production company, thereby minimizing surface disturbance. Gas production on top of the plateau prompted over 75,000 public comments, which objected to the plan.Although it does not bend to public wishes, DNR’s plan has won at least tacit approval from the cooperators. DNR is expected to refine the plan over the next few days and present it again to BLM and the cooperators in fuller detail.Among the areas cooperators may not be in agreement is which route gas operators will use to get to the top of the plateau. Three major access roads, the JQS Trail that goes up the face of the cliffs in Garfield County; Cow Creek, a narrow road that comes to the top from the northeast in Rio Blanco County; and a road running up the East Fork of Parachute Creek all have their supporters and detractors. Both counties and the town of Parachute are worried about impacts to those roads, one of which is in each of their jurisdictions.Although Houpt has pushed for gas development to begin at the bottom of the plateau and ease its way on to the top, in all probability, that will not happen. Nor have other officials vocally supported her view.However, they have supported her idea to take some elements of the DNR gas plan and apply it to gas operations on the base, namely performance-based operations. Under that scenario, operators could disturb a fixed amount of acreage at one time and could not move on to further drilling until it had been satisfactorily reclaimed.Nor would the concept of unitization – multiple leases but one operator – work on the base which has a mix of private and federally held minerals, said Shane Henry, director of DNR.Parachute town manager Juanita Satterfield brought back the official comments of the town board to the cooperators Monday.”I think they were very supportive of the DNR proposal,” she said. The board also wants to make sure the Roan Plateau plan protects the Parachute Creek watershed which supplies town water.Now the cooperators will craft their formal comments on the Roan Plateau plan for the BLM. BLM will in turn come up with a draft preferred alternative, which it will invite the cooperators to review, giving them yet another chance for another meeting.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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