County, enviros appeal natural gas pipeline
ASPEN”The Pitkin County government and an environmental coalition appealed a court ruling last week in a final effort to prevent construction of a natural gas pipeline they fear will irreparably damage the White River National Forest.
The county and its allies ” which include the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop ” appealed a U.S. district judge’s decision not to grant a preliminary injunction to stop the planned work on the Bull Mountain pipeline. The plaintiffs claim construction of the pipeline will carve a 100-foot-wide swath through eight miles of roadless areas in national forest. They claimed the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management violated federal regulations in the approval process.
In addition, they claimed the review wasn’t thorough because it didn’t consider the environmental impacts that would be created by new wells made feasible by the pipeline. The Bull Mountain pipeline is in Garfield County, just past the western boundary of Pitkin County outside of Carbondale. A company called S.G. Interests Ltd. (SGI) wants to begin construction this month.
The plaintiffs claim construction of the pipeline could speed development of gas wells in Pitkin County on public land that are leased by SGI. If so, the natural gas boom that has swept Garfield and Rio Blanco counties could spill into Pitkin County.
The U.S. district judge denied the injunction April 30, based in part on his finding that there was no guarantee that the plaintiffs would prevail with their broader arguments in the matter.
The plaintiffs filed their appeal May 6, saying the judge erred by not granting the injunction. Specifically, the judge shouldn’t have agreed with the federal agencies’ interpretation that creating a construction route to build the pipeline didn’t constitute creating a road.
The county and environmental groups said federal roadless rules prohibit creating a road for any reason.
“The Court’s holding eviscerates the rule’s blanket prohibition on road construction and allows the agency to pick and choose what ‘purposes’ it deems acceptable under the rule,” said court documents filed by the plaintiffs.
The appeal was filed with the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver. It is unknown if the appeal will be heard before construction starts on the 25-mile pipeline or before it affects the 8 miles of roadless area.
As an odd formality, Pitkin County and the environmental groups had to ask the same lower court judge that denied the preliminary junction to reconsider it because of the pending appeal. The judge again denied the preliminary injunction in a ruling issued Friday.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.