The Paonia Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10, to consider comments to the Bureau of Land Management Colorado River Valley Field Office regarding the proposed December oil and gas lease sales.

Alex Johnson with the Western Slope Conservation Center and Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson with Citizens for a Healthy Community spoke at the Aug. 28 town board meeting, explaining that the town's comments, contained in a five-page scoping letter, was omitted from the BLM's Preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA).

The town drafted the scoping letter during a series of public meetings, which it scrambled to fit into the public comment period. During these meetings, residents and trustees raised concerns about the lease sale scoping notice. These concerns included potential health impacts to residents, impacts to town revenue sources like hunting, recreation, and agritourism, traffic increases, and potential natural disasters arising from fracking-induced seismicity.

"The Town of Paonia feels it is extremely unfortunate that apparently its comments were not taken into account," said town administrator Ken Knight. During the meeting he read an email he received from Allen Crockett stating that the BLM had omitted the town's scoping letter from the EA. Knight and some of the trustees expressed concern regarding the omission, and set the special meeting to approve a new comment in response to the Lease Sale EA.

The BLM is obligated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to respond to any relevant comment submitted during the environmental review process, said Forkes-Gudmundson. More importantly, the Town of Paonia is listed as a Coordinating Agency, meaning the BLM actively solicited the town's input during this process.

"It is clear from the contents of the Preliminary Environmental Assessment that the BLM either didn't receive or simply ignored the scoping letter submitted by the Town of Paonia."

Last January, the BLM was instructed by a Department of Interior internal memo to complete the environmental review process for lease sales in six months or less. In previous sales, explained Forkes-Gudmundson, the process took over a year to complete.

Johnson noted in a release, "The short timeline places unreasonable demands on the public, municipalities, and the BLM. Our communities have spent years engaging in BLM's land management processes, and this mistake, along with the lease sale as a whole, undermines local trust in our federal agencies."

The public comment period on the EA for the December oil and gas lease sale ends on Sept. 11. Citizens for a Healthy Community and the Western Slope Conservation Center are encouraging community members to attend the special meeting, as well as submit their own individual comments prior to the deadline.

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