GarCo energy board looks to refocus on residents

Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board is looking to reaffirm its purpose, amid concern it may have become dominated by industry and unresponsive to residents’ concerns about natural gas development impacts.

“The industry has taken over this board and it doesn’t meet its mission, which is to resolve conflict with landowners and other citizens,” said Rulison resident Marion Wells, who until recently served as an alternate member of the board.

County Commissioner Tresi Houpt said she has heard from others concerned that the board has become another forum for the oil and gas industry, like the Northwest Colorado Oil & Gas Forum. She said that’s not what was intended when the county formed the board several years ago.

“The whole purpose was to offer a really different type of forum that would allow all of the stakeholders to sit around the table with equal status and discuss concerns that were coming up … across the county,” Houpt said.

But Betsy Suerth, the board’s chairwoman and also town administrator in Silt, said she thinks conflict resolution remains a foremost goal for the board. In fact, she said, it is working on approaching county commissioners with a proposal to clean up its mission statement and clarify that its focus is conflict resolution and education.

Wells said she became frustrated because she had continued to raise the same issues about the industry — such as traffic violations, noise and odors — and little ever was done about it. She said she withdrew her application to become a full-fledged board member after being told by an interview committee that it wanted her to change how she reported things to the board.

Suerth and board member Susan Alvillar of Williams Production RMT said more detailed, specific reports from citizen representatives on the board would make it easier for companies to respond to problems such as speeding by energy industry vehicles. Wells said she has tried being specific, to no avail.

Wells also said industry has balked at a proposal to add more citizen representatives from more geographic areas. Alvillar said the board plans to look at broader representation, but also must consider the possibility that it could become too big to be able to function properly.

On the matter of balance in board membership, Suerth said some people think municipal representatives are on industry’s side.

“I think those of us who are municipal representatives don’t agree with that perspective,” she said.


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