County wants leadership from Tipton on gas leases
ASPEN – The Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday called on U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to lead a legislative solution to preserve the Thompson Divide area from oil and gas development.
“This is beyond politics. This is about the heart and soul of a community,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said at a meeting in Aspen. The commissioners held a work session with representatives of the Thompson Divide Coalition, a group that includes everyone from cowboys and outfitters to hippies and environmentalists, with a common goal of preserving a vast backcountry area southwest of Carbondale.
The coalition’s goals are approval of federal legislation that would prevent the awarding of any new gas leases on public lands in the Thompson Divide area, and to work with leaseholders to exchange, buy or otherwise retire existing leases, according to Dorothea Farris, a former county commissioner and the coalition’s vice chairwoman.
The area should be preserved for cattle grazing, wildlife habitat and recreation, Farris said.
Thompson Divide comprises 221,490 acres that spill into Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Delta and Mesa counties. The largest share of land, 88,100 acres, is in western Pitkin County.
Farris was known for being blunt on issues and speaking her mind as a county commissioner, but she took a diplomatic approach at Tuesday’s meeting. The Thompson Divide Coalition is working with the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado’s congressional delegation and even gas companies to find solutions that are for the broadest public good, she said. “This is not a battle we’re in,” Farris insisted.
She acknowledged that the gas companies might be a bit more responsive if they thought legislation might make it harder to work in the Thompson Divide area.
The commissioners are pressing hard for that legislative leverage, often directing their comments to Brian Meinhart, a field representative from Tipton’s office, who attended the meeting.
Hatfield said that the Thompson Divide Coalition is the most impressive organization he’s seen in four decades of working on environmental issues. The coalition is incredibly diverse, he said.
“You can’t call them outside of the box, radical [environmentalists],” he said.
Commissioners Rachel Richards, George Newman and Rob Ittner also expressed support for the coalition’s efforts to prevent oil and gas development. It would threaten a very special outdoor area that is important to the economy of western Colorado, they said.
Farris said Gunnison and Garfield counties have also endorsed their goals.
Meinhart made no promises but stressed that Tipton wants to collect as much information from the counties as possible about stances on Thompson Divide. He said Tipton would prefer to see the coalition, counties and the gas companies worked cooperatively on solutions to gas development in that area, thus not requiring a legislative solution.
Tipton is scheduled to meet with representatives of the coalition in September.
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