PI Editorial: Thompson Divide success offers insights for Uinta Basin Rail fight | PostIndependent.com

PI Editorial: Thompson Divide success offers insights for Uinta Basin Rail fight

Post Independent Editorial Board

Common ground can make for a firm foundation.

Take it from longtime Roaring Fork Valley rancher Bill Fales, who spoke about the years-long fight to protect the Thompson Divide from energy development.

“When we started the TDC (Thompson Divide Coalition), I don’t think anyone involved, whatever their background, could have imagined the incredible unanimous support we would build for the protection of the Thompson Divide,” Fales said at a Wednesday news conference organized by the Wilderness Workshop. “That’s what’s been so incredible about all of this.”

The news conference came as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management announced the beginning of a lengthy process to withdraw the Thompson Divide from mineral development.

To be clear, the process is expected to take years, meaning the battle to protect the natural splendor of the Thompson Divide isn’t over yet. Still, it’s a positive milestone for the public in general, who will benefit for generations if the Thompson Divide is finally protected from development.

Such a milestone didn’t come about on its own. A diverse coalition of valley residents from all sorts of backgrounds recognized the importance of conserving the area and tenaciously engaged with the public as well as elected officials at all levels. Years of hard work and advocacy has brought the Thompson Divide closer than ever to a protected status that will ensure its natural state, hopefully for generations.

And while that work isn’t yet finished, this week is a good opportunity to recognize those who’ve got us here. It’s also a good moment to consider what lessons could be applied to our community’s response to the planned Uinta Basin Rail.

The proposed rail project could see roughly 185,000 rail cars haul heated oil from Utah to the Front Range — and right through Glenwood Springs and along the Colorado River through Garfield County.

It’s a journey that carries risk not just for our communities, but for every community in the Southwest that relies on the Colorado River. Karl Hanlon is representing Glenwood Springs and other mountain communities that could be impacted by the project and told Aspen Journalism recently that the level of risk far outweighs any potential economic reward that might be felt by communities in Utah.

“What’s being proposed is 18 miles a day of train cars on the main [Union Pacific] line going through the city of Glenwood Springs and passing alongside the Colorado River through Garfield, Eagle and Grand counties,” Hanlon said. “The risks are tremendous with regard to the potential for an accident, the socio-economic impacts and the environment.”

The Uinta Basin Railway project is not yet a sure thing, but it’s received necessary federal approvals, which is cause for great concern. There is good news in that the communities of Glenwood Springs, Avon, Vail, Red Cliff and Minturn, along with Routt, Boulder, Chaffee, Lake and Pitkin counties have all joined an amicus brief supporting Eagle County’s efforts to appeal the project’s approval with the Federal Surface Transportation Board.

Such alliances are important, but we think successful opposition will need to garner grassroots support from our residents as well. Political energy is finite, but the collective will of organized residents is much more sustainable — or at least that’s one of the lessons we can garner from where Thompson Divide is today.

So, please: read and educate yourself as much as you can about the UBR project and talk with neighbors. The danger posed to the Colorado River alone creates common interests for residents, anglers, conservationists, tourism businesses and more. Build those connections and let’s gear up for the long fight ahead. After all, the Thompson Divide shows the promise of what we can accomplish.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud and community representatives Mark Fishbein and Danielle Becker.

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