A delegation of North Fork Valley business owners and residents travelled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with senior staff at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the White House's Council on Environmental Quality to urge the withdrawal of all 22 North Fork parcels from the August BLM lease sale.
The delegation, who donated their time and expertise, was organized and supported by Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC).
Members included Brent Helleckson, owner of Stone Cottage Cellars in Paonia; rancher Landon Deane, who owns the T Lazy 7 Ranch in Aspen and the Eagle Butte Ranch near Hotchkiss; Marley Hodgson, owner of the Smith Fork Ranch in Crawford; and Paonia resident and public lands consultant Pete Kolbenschlag, owner of Mountain West Strategies.
The CHC delegation met with Neil Kornze, acting deputy director of programs and policy at BLM and deputy director for minerals and realty management Tim Spisak. The BLM representatives noted that this was the most thorough briefing they had received on the issue.
The delegation also met with the Council on Environmental Quality, which is the Obama administration environmental policy office. That meeting, which included representatives from the council's legal team, water quality division, National Environmental Policy Act division, and chemical contamination division, also brought this matter to their attention.
"One of the consistent themes in these meetings was that often those back in D.C. who set and administer policy are not always aware of what happens on the ground as a result of that policy," said Brent Helleckson. "Now they are aware of what is happening in the North Fork, and the passion and dedication of those who live here in defending our valley and way of life. We accomplished all we set out to do and more."
The delegation also met with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and his legislative assistant Sean Babington, who recently visited the North Fork Valley to hear first-hand from local residents, elected officials, business owners, and representatives of the agricultural community. In addition, the North Fork delegation met with Senator Mark Udall and his staff, and Rep. Scott Tipton's legislative director Adam Eckman.
"Our concern about leasing these lands for industrial development compelled us to travel to D.C. — at the very time we should be preparing our vineyards and getting ready for a busy season — to tell the BLM and the Obama administration face to face that farming, wineries, tourism, and oil and gas drilling, simply do not mix," Helleckson continued. "This lease sale threatens the North Fork economy, my business, and my family."
Stone Cottage Cellars is a member of the West Elks Winery Association, whose 12 wineries represents $1.5 to $2 million in direct sales each year, with an estimated additional $5 to $10 million through indirect sales from recommendations for restaurants and lodging.
Ranch owners Landon Deane and Marley Hodgson said they are worried about the devastating impacts oil and gas development would have on their businesses.
"At our ranch we raise natural grass-fed beef and specialty hays, which are sold to buyers across the country who are interested in quality products that are not tainted with chemicals," said Deane of the Eagle Butte Ranch. "Leasing this land threatens our domestic and irrigation water supplies, and could cause irreversible damage to our reputation and the quality of our products."
Marley Hodgson, of the Smith Fork Ranch in Crawford, moved to the valley 12 years ago to turn a ghost ranch into a premier guest ranch that now adds about $1 million to the economy each year. Hodgson said he is deeply concerned about the impact of oil and gas leasing on tourism.
"The community overwhelmingly supports withdrawing all 22 parcels from oil and gas leasing," Hodgson said. "With the support of ranchers, traditional and organic growers, vineyard and winery operators, sportsmen, realtors, and other concerned citizens of the North Fork Valley, we hope that BLM and the Obama administration will finally understand that oil and gas development is not right for our valley."
On Tuesday, April 17, the delegation was joined by Colorado resident and nationally recognized food and wine author Eugenia Bone.
"The North Fork Valley is Colorado's premier slow-food, organic and sustainable agricultural area," said Bone. "Just at the time when over a decade of work to build the brand of our valley is resulting in growing national exposure, it makes no sense to throw that away by leasing these lands for oil and gas under a regime that never even considered any of that."
In light of public opposition and the threats posed to water, air, recreation, agriculture and other resources, CHC has consistently called for the BLM to withdraw all 22 parcels from the August lease sale. In addition, CHC has called on the agency to analyze all potential and cumulative impacts from oil and gas development prior to selling the rights to develop oil and gas in these parcels.
"We supported sending these business owners and residents to Washington to make sure top BLM officials hear the concerns of the citizens of the North Fork Valley," said Daniel Feldman, chairman of the board of directors of CHC. "The BLM and Obama administration in Washington, and the members of our Congressional delegation, need to know that the local BLM office is steamrolling this lease sale through despite overwhelming public concern and opposition."blog comments powered by Disqus