'Twas a week before Christmas, and all the protests have been filed. Some have visions of deferments dancing in their heads and others are dreaming of rigs drilling for gas and money.
Another holiday, Valentines Day will reveal how many parcels are sold and finally the identity of who nominated the parcels in the North Fork Valley.
It was one year ago that 22 parcels were nominated for a BLM lease sale to be held this past August. Then the news came that the parcels had been deferred. There was great rejoicing among many who had written letters, made phone calls, campaigned, travelled to Washington, D.C., picketed the Uncompahgre Field Office and attended public information meetings.
Many believed the BLM would not let the nominated parcels proceed to auction until after the updated Resource Management Plan was completed in 2013. The draft is expected in April. But that was not to be, and with 20 parcels up for auction now on Valentines Day 2013, protests had to be filed with the state BLM office by this past Monday, Dec. 17.
The Town of Hotchkiss submitted comments during the protest period. The letter signed by Mayor Wendell Koontz states, "We are aware that oil and gas development will have both positive and negative impacts, and we request the negative impacts be mitigated utilizing the best management practices and technologies available."
The Town of Hotchkiss supports BLM's Preferred Alternative parcels with stipulations.
Hotchkiss is working to complete its Source Water Protection Plan (SWPP) by the first quarter of 2013. "The Town requests that all lease parcels within proximity to the Municipal Watershed reference the SWPP and the Best Management Practices contained within.
The letter explains that Hotchkiss receives its domestic water from Leroux Creek drainage located on the southern part of Grand Mesa. Reservoir, natural runoff and springs are the water sources for the town. The Overland Reservoir supplies water through the Overland Ditch, both of which "need to be brought into our Source Water Protection Plan. The actual drainage has not been defined, but will encompass a much larger area."
The letter states that "oil and gas leasing and subsequent development [will] dramatically increase traffic through the Town and potential harm from hazardous chemical spills from vehicle accidents, rollovers, and train-truck collisions."
The letter then listed three stipulations to protect citizens. First, a requirement for a Spill Containment and Response Plan. Second, a requirement for the leasee and operators to maintain spill response training and equipment to handle a hazardous chemical spill within the town and its watershed. Third, the Town wants notification of oversized equipment, hazardous waste shipments, or large convoys of equipment that would affect local events like the sheepdog trials, county fair, parades and other events.
Concerning parcels 6625 and 6608, "The Town requests the BLM add stipulation UFO LN-06 scenic byways, visual resources, and natural soundscapes be added." The letter also addressed parcel 6610 stating support for the 17 stipulations contained in the Preferred Alternative.
The Town of Crawford protest was signed by Mayor Carolyn "Susie" Steckel. It states the town protests the inclusion of parcel 6612 which "is less than one-half mile away from the public Crawford School. For obvious reasons industrial type development in this area would cause considerable risks to school age children." It also protested that this could shut off access to the town's only hiking trail. It runs from the town to Young's Peak.
Parcel 6615, COC75880 includes the town's source water. "Please continue on your efforts to protect Wiley Springs and our collection tank."
The Town of Paonia submitted a letter signed by Mayor Neal Schwieterman. It states, "Please accept this as legal notification that the Town of Paonia continues its efforts with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in protesting the leasing of parcels COC75865, COC75869, COC75870, COC75871, COC75877, COC75872, COC75880, and COC75868 for oil and gas development in the North Fork valley. The Town supports the BLM 'No action/No Leasing Alternative' for the aforementioned parcels as outlined in the EA Section 2.3."
Paonia's letter was the most complete and formal by any of the North Fork Valley municipalities. It noted their municipal water system supplies water to 1,536 water taps, serving about 3,300 residents within town limits and out-of-town, and that there are also 26 private water companies.
"Each of the above listed parcels are upstream of these unique farmlands and could affect the irrigation waters used by said farmers. Much of the Town's economic diversity relies upon the agriculture industry in the North Fork Valley. Unforeseen contamination could devastate the land, making agricultural productions cease, with the added injury of people not only losing their livelihood, but the very assets that made their existence in the valley viable. In the event agriculture productions are no longer an option, the Town will cease to function as it does currently. Mineral leasing and severance tax funds could never compensate for the loss of our agricultural endeavors and its attributed labor force."
The Town passed Watershed Ordinance 2003-02 on February 25, 2003. Paonia "shall implement and enforce these regulations for the purpose of reviewing and permitting any activity within the Watershed, which creates a foreseeable risk of injury to the Town's waterworks or pollution of the Town's water supply."
The letter continued, "any increases in volatile organic compounds (VOC) known to be emitted from oil and gas operations ... are of great concern to the Town of Paonia due to the possibility of contamination of our water sources and for the level of risk they pose to human and animal health ... Hence, their proximity and potential miscibility to and with our water sources poses unacceptable hazards."
The letter addressed concern over heavy truck traffic through the town, added exhaust fumes and dust.
The town requested the parcels be removed until a new Resource Management Plan is adopted.
"The Town is requesting that every aforementioned parcel proposed for lease in the North Fork valley be removed from the sale. Decisions regarding such development will greatly impact water and air quality, economic development as well as other socio-economic directly impacting the Town of Paonia. The magnitude of the impacts should take into account concerns noted by local governing bodies."
The letter summed up, "The North Fork valley is truly a special place for many people. Our citizens deserve legislation that protects their land, water, air, and economic viabilities of their livelihood and assets."
Other protests were filed by Citizens For A Healthy Community, Western Environmental Law Center, The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners, Mountain West Strategies, Valley Organic Growers Association, Slow Food Western Slope, West Elk Winery Association, Terror Ditch and Reservoir Company, North Fork Valley Tourism and Lodging Association, NFRIA-WSERC The Conservation Center, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation and High Country Citizens Alliance.