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BoCC sees multiple use as key to public lands

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The Board of County Commissioners met with staff on Monday in a special session to refine final comments on the BLM's Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO) Draft Resource Management Plan -- comments which will re-emphasize the doctrine of multiple use as the basis of the county's position on public lands.

During the discussion Monday, Commissioner Doug Atchley noted, "Multiple use is the key, and that includes mining. We should approach this from a multiple use perspective." He added that a "tremendous amount of input" had been received on the draft document.

During their Monday session, commissioner comments leaned toward the county favoring Alternative C of the draft plan. In materials provided by the UFO, Alternative C's "appropriate and allowable uses and restrictions would emphasize maximizing utilization of resources, while mitigating impacts on land and earth."

Commissioners offered a few final suggestions and specific guidance to county administrator Robbie LeValley, and to oil/gas designee Bruce Bertram for finalizing the county's letter to BLM.

Commissioner Mark Roeber said, "I would agree with what Doug [Atchley] said. The goal is to reiterate multiple use in our comments, more in line with Alternative C to take in all multiple uses."

Commissioner Bruce Hovde said he prefers the BLM's Alternative C for its handling of water contamination issues.

Roeber also commented that the county received a lot of comment from people favoring multiple use "except for" certain uses. It is possible that a land parcel could be leased for energy exploration and then never be developed, he noted. The county should "provide the opportunity" and not be making the final parcel specific decision. He said there are a lot of questions about the development and use of coal bed methane that aren't answered yet. "Coal bed methane looks to be a viable source [of energy] in the future."

Atchley said, "It is my understanding that developing coal bed methane requires an oil and gas lease." He said it should be preserved as an energy source. In addition, "Mineral rights are property rights. There are mineral rights owners in Delta County and the process should not exclude them," Atchley added.

Commissioner Bruce Hovde noted the coal bed methane project at Oxbow's former mine site and added that some estimates state that using methane gas as fuel in an electric generation station produces 22 times less environmental impact than direct venting.

Commissioners added thoughts about the Adobe Badlands Wilderness Study Area north of Delta. The BoCC has proposed that it revert to normal public lands administration. Adobe Badlands has been determined "not suitable" for wilderness by the BLM itself. The commissioners noted that it is being used for recreation now with perhaps hundreds of single-track and OHV trails already in existence there. Hikers and horseback riders also use the area, they said.

Earlier in the day on Monday during a work session, representatives of Citizens for a Healthy Community and Western Slope Conservation Center made a scheduled presentation to the BoCC on their views of the BLM's draft plan.

The draft RMP is intended to become the governing management document for 675,800 acres of public land surface administered by the UFO for the next 20 to 30 years.

The BoCC's position and comments will not be official until a final draft of the detailed, 12-page comment letter is signed by all three commissioners. That was scheduled to take place sometime this week with the signatures ratified at the commissioners' regular scheduled meeting on Nov. 7.

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