Garfield commissioner grills river conservancy over bias concerns
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A local river conservancy found itself on the political hot seat Monday with its annual request for funding from Garfield County commissioners to support its education and research efforts.
The nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy is seeking $10,000 from the county for 2013, which will be formally considered when the commissioners go through the budget this fall.
RFC Executive Director Rick Lofaro said at the commissioners’ regular Monday meeting that $6,000 would go toward the conservancy’s school and community education and outreach programs. The other $4,000 would be put toward the conservancy’s water quality monitoring in the Roaring Fork River watershed, he said.
The funding request is similar to what the RFC will be seeking from Pitkin County and the city of Aspen, Lofaro said.
But Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky took the opportunity to question Lofaro as to whether the organization has an environmentalist bent in its teachings.
Jankovsky related that a few years ago, his son was part of a water quality class for high school students sponsored by the conservancy.
During one of the sessions, he said the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) was invited to do a training on oil and gas industry impacts to water quality.
Jankovsky, a vocal critic of regulatory barriers to oil and gas development, said the premise was that natural gas development can lead to methane making its way into streams.
“In my opinion I considered that propaganda, and not a fact,” Jankovsky said. “It’s a huge twist.”
Jankovsky noted that, out of 9,500 active wells in Garfield County, only one was found by state regulators to be leaking methane into the water table, which was then seeping to the surface in Divide Creek. That was due to a nearby well not being properly sealed. The company paid a hefty fine as a result.
“To say that every time you drill a well there’s going to be pollution into the water, that’s not accurate education,” he said.
Jankovsky said he also continues to hear criticism for not filling out a questionnaire issued by the conservancy and used in a 2010 voter’s guide when Jankovsky was running for election. He said he simply opted not to take the survey, which was voluntary.
Lofaro said it was an “oversight” that the guide did not clarify that Jankovsky chose not to take the survey. He also said the RFC is not politically motivated, and doesn’t favor one industry over another.
“We are a conservation education organization,” he said. “Our job is to teach that we all have a stake in protecting our water resources. We don’t try to pit any industry as being against the environment.”
Over the last year, the RFC has hosted 120 education programs, reaching more than 3,000 children and adults, and 37 percent of them in Garfield County, Lofaro said.
Its water quality monitoring program examines the conditions of four waterways in Garfield County, including the Roaring Fork River (and four tributaries), the Crystal River, Cattle Creek and Four Mile Creek, he said.
“Regular water quality monitoring allows for better understanding of the river’s function in the present, as well as trends and response to changes over time,” Lofaro said in his written request for funding. “This, in turn, informs state and local decision makers along with ensuring water meets predetermined quality standards.”
The current program also includes a study of aquatic insects along the Roaring Fork and its tributaries.
Jankovsky said he supports the work that the conservancy does, and will give fair consideration to the funding request during the budget talks.
“I do have some concerns about where you’re headed, and that you may be too far to the environmental side of the spectrum,” Jankovsky said.
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An inspirational piece of 20th century artist Herbert Bayer is being installed on the staircase next to Aspen City Hall by his granddaughter, Koko.