Surface owner ballot initiative moves forward
State Rep. Kathleen Curry is defending her surface use legislation even as Garfield County residents are pressing forward with a ballot initiative to deal with impacts of natural gas development.A group calling itself Colorado Landowners for Fairness has filed an initiative with the state that would require fair compensation for damages related to development of oil, gas and other minerals.If the ballot language is approved by the Legislative Council, the measure will get a title from the Secretary of State’s Office and the group will have until Aug. 7 to get a minimum of 67,829 signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.The effort comes as some of the citizens groups that had supported Curry’s bill are withdrawing that support, saying an amendment to it makes it worse for landowners than current law. Curry, D-Gunnison, disagrees.”As a matter of fact, there’s nothing for landowners now,” she said.Her bill would mandate compensation for landowners for impacts based on a property’s current fair market value. Several environmental and property rights organizations that had backed Curry’s legislative efforts, including the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County, criticized it this week because they believe it has a loophole that would exempt the industry from having to provide any compensation.Their concern arises from bill language requested by the industry that states energy companies are entitled to reasonable use of property to extract minerals. The Colorado Oil & Gas Association, an industry trade group, wanted that language to make the point that mineral owners’ property rights also needed to be respected, but a COGA representative said it’s not intended to exempt the industry from compensating landowners.Curry said the language needs to be clarified. She hopes that will happen in the Senate, which is scheduled to consider the bill following its recent passage in the House.John Gorman, a Glenwood Springs real estate agent who is leading the initiative effort, said he would be happy to avoid going the ballot box route if the legislature adequately addressed the issue. But he said it sounds as if Curry’s bill has been changed so that it falls short of what initiative organizers want.”We suspected it would be pretty much eviscerated in the (legislative) process,” he said.Initiative organizers plan to seek about 100,000 signatures in order to make sure the measure makes the ballot. They expect to use a mix of volunteer and paid petition circulators, Gorman said.He said initiative organizers will need to raise $100,000 to $3 million to get the measure on the ballot and campaign for approval by voters. And he expects the industry to be ready to invest heavily in a campaign of its own to oppose the measure.”I think they’re prepared to spend whatever it takes,” he said.Gorman said he simply wants the rights of surface owners to be respected, just as the rights of mineral owners should be respected.”Our aim in this whole thing is to encourage those members of the industry who are not otherwise performing as good neighbors to go ahead and perform as good neighbors. That’s all we’re looking for,” he said.Curry remains hopeful that her bill can accomplish that. But she said the “strong language” citizen groups used earlier this week in criticizing her bill could jeopardize the chances of some lawmakers continuing to support what has been a controversial measure.”To call into question the merits of this just gives people an easy out,” she said.That’s particularly the case for the many lawmakers who don’t live in areas affected by energy development, she said.Curry said she doesn’t feel betrayed by the criticism from organizations that once supported her, but she thinks they could work in a more constructive fashion.”I would rather see them at the table working on language that both sides could live with,” she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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