Stepp: State ballot initiative is the result of frustration

Alex Zorn

Paula Stepp

After Garfield County commissioners voiced their displeasure earlier this week with statewide Ballot Initiative 97 regarding setbacks for oil and gas facilities, the Democratic candidate for one of the commissioner’s seats said she thinks the initiative shows there is a discussion that needs to be had.

Paula Stepp is running against incumbent Tom Jankovsky, a Republican, for the District 1 commissioner seat in the November election. Stepp sat in the audience during the Monday hearing when Jankovsky suggested that the ballot measure, if approved by voters, would “destroy” Garfield County’s economy and have dire consequences for county spending.

Stepp said Wednesday she would want more information from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before deciding whether or not to back the measure.

The ballot initiative seeks to push the setback from homes, schools and other occupied structures for new oil and gas operations to 2,500-feet. The ballot proposal is currently under signature line review by the Secretary of State’s Office before being officially cleared for the Nov. 6 ballot.

Current setback rules, established by the COGCC in 2013, set a 500-foot statewide setback rule, as well as a 1,000-foot setback from high occupancy buildings such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals.

“I think this initiative is a result of people’s frustration…,” Stepp said of the latest attempt to increase the setback requirements. “I think the initiative is a little overreaching and may give the county and industry a little whiplash.”

But, “Where is the middle ground so people feel heard?” she asks.

While the setback would be between natural gas and oil sites and occupied structures, including homes, schools and hospitals, as well as other “vulnerable areas,” Stepp pointed out that it would only be in place for new operations, not existing ones.

Commissioners Jankovsky and Mike Samson indicated during a discussion of the ballot proposal Monday that the new, greater setback requirement would impact essentially “100 percent” of the private lands in Garfield County.

“This proposal will destroy Garfield County and Garfield County government as we are today,” Jankovsky said in reaction to the ballot initiative.

Stepp said she would like to see more diverse economic opportunities in the county, and called for more analysis from the COGCC to get more information and analysis on the economic impact of the initiative.

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