SNOWMASS VILLAGE - Gov. John Hickenlooper praised the efforts of the Thompson Divide Coalition on Wednesday, saying what it's doing "makes perfect sense."
The governor was speaking at a fundraiser for Roaring Fork Leadership in Snowmass Village, one of several stops through the Western Slope on Wednesday, including a tour of Anderson Ranch Arts Center.
Hickenlooper responded to several questions from the audience after giving a talk about leadership. Some queries pertained to leadership, while others were more political, including a question about what the state government could do to make the community's views heard about Thompson Divide.
"I have driven out around and looked out over the Thompson Creek Divide and that whole area, and I get it," Hickenlooper said. "That's a beautiful landscape that shouldn't be developed.
"That being said, that horse is out of the barn, right? We have a system of rule by law in this country that once someone has invested - it could be an individual, it could be a company - but once they own that asset we can't just nationalize it because we've changed our minds."
The coalition last year proposed a $2.5 million settlement to the gas companies that hold leases in Thompson Divide, 221,500 acres of public land that stretches from Sunlight Mountain Resort to McClure Pass west of Highway 133. That is a good solution, Hickenlooper said, and one that he thinks is feasible.
He said something the state government could choose to do to take that even further would be to match the money raised with severance dollars from oil and gas production.
"If the local community is willing to raise $21⁄2 million, maybe the state government should match it," the governor said. "So therefore you have a real offer on the table, and now (with) that pressure maybe you get a transaction. And I think that's a legitimate way to be partners with all the work that you guys are doing."
After the question-and-answer session, Hickenlooper said the problem is analogous to what's happening in other Colorado municipalities, some of which, including Fort Collins on Wednesday, have enacted legislation banning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and drilling. Hickenlooper told the Fort Collins Coloradoan on Wednesday that he's not sure what option the state has other than to sue the city for banning fracking, according to The Associated Press.
Hickenlooper said that in the situation of Thompson Divide, he's looking for ways to help the community "not nationalize somebody else's property but to find a way that we can help them resolve the issue in a way that respects our laws."
The efforts taken by local municipalities are examples of appropriate courses of action, the governor said. More than 300 people showed up at a meeting last week in Carbondale that the Pitkin County commissioners organized to speak about the issue.
"That's impressive," Hickenlooper said. "That's unusual in the modern world. Good for them; they're doing exactly the right thing."