North Fork group takes fears to D.C.

A group of North Fork Valley residents met this week with the Bureau of Land Management’s acting director in Washington, D.C., as they seek to stop the leasing of some 20,500 acres for oil and gas development near their communities Feb. 14.

The trip, sponsored by the Delta County group Citizens for a Healthy Community, included visits with BLM acting director Mike Pool and deputy director Neil Kornze, and with staff members of U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.

It comes as the BLM’s state office is considering 173 protests of the upcoming lease sale, said Jim Ramey, the group’s director.

The sale includes acreage elsewhere in the state, but many of the protests focus on the North Fork acreage.

“There’s a big spotlight on the BLM Colorado state office in regards to this February lease sale,” he said.

A North Fork Valley contingent also visited Washington and met with Kornze and others last spring, and those who went believe that contributed to the BLM’s May decision to defer leasing about 30,000 acres last August.

But the agency later decided to proceed with offering about two-thirds of those acres.

Ranchers, wineries, real estate professionals and others have voiced alarm over the leasing proposal.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the agency listened to public concerns in withdrawing about 9,000 acres and proceeding with leasing of the acreage that makes sense.

“My hope is that the agency sticks to their guns and the middle ground that they’ve promised,” he said.

“… If they do otherwise I think it’s simply catering to a constituency who simply wants to see no energy development in their area.”

Steven Hall, a Colorado BLM spokesman, noted that Delta County originally had concerns about the leasing proposal, and the agency tried to address them through reducing acreage and putting in additional protective measures.

Now, the county isn’t protesting the planned leasing, he said.

Landon Deane, owner of the Eagle Butte Ranch in Paonia and a participant in this week’s trip, said that short-term, her hope is that the BLM will put off its leasing plans until it updates a decades-old resource management plan for the region so it considers things like agricultural operations that didn’t even exist when the last plan was completed.

But she said this week’s trip also included discussions about the idea of legislation to more generally prevent leasing in the valley.


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