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North Fork Valley: Revised gas drilling project analysis still fails to properly address impacts

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North Fork Valley conservation groups and citizens, the Town of Paonia, and Gunnison County have all submitted comments telling the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service (USFS) that the agencies' Revised Environmental Assessment on the proposed 35-well North Fork Mancos Master Development is still inadequate to protect public health, safety, welfare, clean water supplies and the environment, and requesting an Environmental Impact Statement.

BLM and USFS received nearly 8,000 Scoping Comments on the original project in March 2017, over 700 comments on the Preliminary Environmental Assessment in June 2018 and now over 500 comments on the Revised Environmental Assessment.

The revised project now calls for 12-times the amount of water, one-third of which the operator has not identified a source for, and well over double the truck traffic.

"Projects such as the NFMMDP directly affect the people who live in the Town of Paonia, business owners, homeowners and taxpayers," said local business owner and mayor pro tem of the Town of Paonia Chelsea Bookout. "It is imperative that citizens have a say in what goes on in their backyards, which has been difficult with the most recent changes in process. Shortened comment periods and rushed assessments do little to serve the population of Paonia. I sincerely hope that the BLM will consider what is best for the community as a whole, for the public lands as a whole and to go even a bit further and look at what is best for those who have very little say in this conversation, future generations."

"Colorado's local farms and food and drink producers rely on clean water and healthy lands," said Pete Kolbenschlag of Colorado Farm and Food Alliance. "Rural America needs new choices that support local economies and protect clean and ample water supplies, healthy lands, and a stable climate. The North Fork is more than some company's asset with wealth to be extracted. We deserve both prosperity and a liveable future."

Paonia resident Alison Gannet moved to Paonia in 2010, to escape the toxic and radioactive drinking water in Gunnison County and help recover her health in her battle against terminal brain cancer. "The clean, healthy food we grow at our Holy Terror Farm near the project boundary is essential to recovering my health -- my six-month prognosis has turned into six years! Food and water can be medicine, and this project threatens our water and soil. Just one spill and our farm business is done -- we can't stay and we couldn't sell."

Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Colorado Farm and Food Alliance, High Country Conservation Advocates, North Fork Valley Community Rights Advocates, Sierra Club, Slow Food Western Slope, Terror Ditch and Reservoir Company, Trout Unlimited, Valley Organic Growers Association, Western Colorado Alliance, Western Environmental Law Center, Western Slope Conservation Center, WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Workshop, all submitted comments identifying continued deficiencies in the agencies' analysis of the proposed project. The Town of Paonia, Gunnison County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Environmental Protection Agency also joined in requesting that BLM and USFS conduct more detailed analysis in an Environmental Impact Statement.

"Slow Food links the pleasures of the table with a commitment to protect the community, culture, knowledge and environment that make this pleasure possible," says Jim Brett of Slow Food Western Slope. "We are seeking a food system that promotes good, clean and fair food for all. The BLM must ensure that the proposed development does not harm the unique agricultural characteristics of this area..."

The North Fork Valley is home to the largest concentration of organic farms in the state, and one of two American Viticulture areas in the state. "The North Fork Valley must be protected from oil and gas development. That industry is completely incompatible with farming operations and threatens the broader economic viability and branding of the North Fork Valley as a center of organic and sustainable agriculture," said Mark Waltermire of Valley Organic Growers Association.

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