Western Colorado Congress booted out of Chamber

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has terminated Western Colorado Congress’ membership in the chamber, alleging the conservation group falsely indicated that the chamber supported new rules for oil and gas development.

Chamber President Diane Schwenke hand-delivered a letter to Western Colorado Congress Executive Director Heather Tischbein last week in which Schwenke wrote that the organizations have “competing philosophies.”

The decision to boot Western Colorado Congress out of the chamber comes as the two groups battle over how land owned by Brady Trucking along the Colorado Riverfront should be zoned.

Schwenke claimed in the letter the chamber originally acted to remove Western Colorado Congress in connection with a letter the conservation group sent to chamber members in June. In it, Duke Cox, chairman of the group’s Oil and Gas Committee, asked the chamber to comment on what were then the draft Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules governing drilling activity.

Cox wrote that the chamber supported a watershed ordinance the city of Grand Junction adopted in 2006 in an effort to protect its drinking water supply from potentially negative effects of gas drilling.

Schwenke, though, said the chamber did not officially support the watershed ordinance.

She wrote that kicking out Western Colorado Congress was not an action taken “lightly or on the basis of one incident.”

“In reviewing our mission to represent business interests and the fact that Western Colorado Congress is a politically active organization in its right, we find that there have been and may continue to be competing philosophies regarding issues. For that reason we do not believe that membership by either of us in the other’s organization is beneficial or desirable,” Schwenke wrote.

Schwenke was out of the office and could not be reached for comment Friday. A message left late Friday afternoon with chamber board President Betty Bechtel was not returned.

Tischbein said she and Schwenke had a “very respectful and congenial conversation” for an hour or hour and a half after Schwenke delivered the letter. Tischbein, though, said she was confused by some of the details in the letter and expressed her regret to Schwenke that she wasn’t invited to speak to the chamber board before it made the decision.

“It’s a disappointment to not have an opportunity to come in and have people get to know people before taking this kind of action,” said Tischbein, Western Colorado Congress’ executive director for six months.

She said she was not with the organization when Cox wrote the letter but said staff members assured her that the chamber did, in fact, support the new rules contemplated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Tischbein said she didn’t ask about — and Schwenke didn’t explain — other incidents at which the letter hinted.

Asked whether she believed the controversy involving Brady Trucking factored into the chamber’s decision, Tischbein replied, “I am taking this whole thing at face value now.”

Western Colorado Congress led a petition drive to overturn the City Council’s decision to assign light-industrial and industrial-office zoning to nearly 13 acres of land owned by Brady Trucking. The chamber responded by vowing to oppose letting voters decide zoning issues.

Tischbein said Schwenke invited her to join a program for executives that the chamber will start in January. She said she accepted the invitation.

“I thought that was a first step that we could take to resolve whatever this difficulty is really about,” she said.


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