Housing in state wildlife area? | AspenTimes.com

Housing in state wildlife area?

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. ” The Garfield County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a special-use permit for Orion Energy Partners to build temporary housing for up to four people in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area.

Orion is currently building one exploratory well and natural gas and water pipelines in the habitat about 3.9 miles south of New Castle after the company reached a surface-use agreement with the Colorado Division of Wildlife in June.

That agreement mandates several requirements the company must follow to lessen its drilling impacts on wildlife in the area, which the DOW owns and uses as winter range for elk and deer.

The need for temporary housing at Orion’s well pad “is dictated by the location of Orion’s operations and the requirement to have personnel on site 24 hours a day during typical drilling operations,” wrote Jerry E. Holder, operations superintendent for Orion Energy Partners, in a letter to the county’s building and planning department.

“The installation of this housing will reduce daily traffic to and from this well pad and enhance the safety of Orion’s operations,” Holder wrote.

Holder, in his letter, added that temporary employee housing was necessary for the drilling rig because long-term, affordable housing is not “readily available in Garfield County.”

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The company’s temporary housing facilities were already in place for eight days before commissioners decided about whether to approve the special-use permit for them, said Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the DOW.

However, it is the county’s current policy not to enforce county zoning regulations on temporary housing facilities that house four or fewer people.

That’s because targeting those companies now would be largely a moot point because county regulations over small temporary housing units ” often called “man camps” ” for up to eight people are set to be in place by Sept. 1, county officials said.

The commissioners approved those new temporary housing rules in early April. Commissioner Tresi Houpt voted against them.

The new regulations allow the energy industry to establish small temporary housing units for up to eight people without having to obtain a special-use permit from the commissioners. The county calls that process “use by right.”

Companies would still have to notify the sheriff’s office and area fire protection districts of occupancy of the small temporary housing units and comply with about 20 performance standards mandated by the county. They would also have to have a surface-use agreement with the landowner, said Commissioner John Martin.

Holder told county commissioners on Monday that Orion’s temporary housing facilities are expected to remain in the wildlife area for about two or three more weeks.

Although many local DOW officials are opposed to Orion drilling in the Garfield Creek Wildlife Area, they can not prevent it from occurring because the state does not own the mineral rights below the surface of the 13,200-acre habitat.

“I would prefer they not drill in the state wildlife area, personally,” said Ron Velarde, northwest regional manager for the DOW, adding the surface-use agreement that the DOW reached with Orion is one of the most “intense” the agency has ever reached with an energy company. “We want them out of (Garfield Creek) as soon as possible.”

Velarde said that drilling has also occurred in the Bosque del Oso and the Piceance Creek state wildlife areas.

Drilling of Orion’s well, which started eight days ago, should be completed in another four days, Holder said. Completion of the well is expected to be done in mid-October before the beginning of the elk hunting season. Production from the exploratory well is slated to last 20 years, according to a memo provided to county commissioners.

If the exploratory well proves successful, it could lead to further Orion operations in the area, Holder said.

pyates@postindependent.com

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