Roan Plateau resource planning begins

Donna GrayPost Independent Staff

With some assistance, the Bureau of Land Management broke new ground on the Roan Plateau resource management plan on Tuesday. The cities of Glenwood Springs and Rifle joined the town of Parachute, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, and state agencies such as the Division of Wildlife, the Colorado Geological Survey, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and state parks department in their first planning meeting. Representatives huddled for six hours to chart a course of action that will lead to the preferred plan for managing the Roan Plateau. The cooperating agencies’ advice and opinion will be just that, with the BLM making the final decision. But it appeared at this stage of the process that the BLM will go an extra mile to take all concerns into consideration before reaching a final decision on the plan in December.This is the first time the BLM has invited interested agencies to participate in its resource-management planning process.”We may not all agree, but I hope we will reach consensus,” said Glenwood Springs BLM field manager Jamie Connell. “We’ve never done this before … After we do this a few times, hopefully we can do it better. I personally want to see this work.”The groups spent much of the day deciding how to approach the particular issues of each agency or government, from natural gas development to wildlife impacts.The BLM proffered a list of topics that was eventually whittled down to a handful of major issues that will be covered in four meetings spaced over July and August. Connell urged the group to consider how to move from technical issues to management policy, which the BLM will use to craft its preferred alternative for the Roan Plateau plan.The BLM also presented a summary of the 74,906 comments it received during the public comment period that ended April 11.What the document didn’t include were summaries of the technical comments from the local governments and state agencies. The group asked the BLM to prepare responses to its technical questions to bring to the table for discussion. The group also struggled with what the roles would be in the two-month process.”We’re still trying to understand what BLM’s role is in this,” said Vince Matthews, of the Colorado Geological Survey. “We’d like it if you could react to what we said, if it’s valid or not.”However, Garfield County Commissioner John Martin urged the group to focus on issues on which it can reach consensus.”Don’t get stuck in the quagmire of unresolvable issues,” he said. “Let’s not waste time.”Crucial for the BLM, Connell said, is creating a reasonable foreseeable development plan, or RFD, which it will use to forecast natural gas development on the Roan Plateau. The document, prepared in February 2004, outlines the amount of unlimited gas development that might be expected on the Roan Plateau northeast of Rifle. Environmental groups have said the RFD “significantly underestimates” how quickly drilling will be allowed to proceed and the scale of the development over the 20-year course of the plan. The preferred alternative outlined in the RMP downplays the rate of drilling and underestimates its potential impacts, the groups have said.”People have had problems with the RFD. There are six different ways to build an RFD. I could go back to my office and build one myself,” Connell said, adding that she would prefer to craft one that takes the six cooperating agencies’ concerns into account.Five public meetings have been scheduled to address the host of issues that were identified Tuesday: July 13 and 29, and Aug. 9, 16 and 29. The first meeting will cover natural gas development on the plateau and will consider gas leasing, gas and oil shale resources, clustered versus staged drilling and leasing and economic impacts. Later meetings will cover wildlife, plants, recreation, travel management, and air and water quality.All meetings will take place at the Re-2 school district administration building on Whiteriver Avenue in Rifle. The July 13 meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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