Garfield County next to support the Thompson Divide Coalition? | AspenTimes.com

Garfield County next to support the Thompson Divide Coalition?

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County might become the next local government to throw its support behind the Thompson Divide Coalition, which is trying to fend off natural gas development on federal roadless lands near Carbondale.

Or, it might not.

The coalition recently appealed to the county for a letter of support, in line with similar documents passed recently by the governing boards of Carbondale, Pitkin County and the cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs.

Formed earlier this year, the coalition is a confederation of local groups, governments and individuals that has won the support of numerous environmental, ranching and wildlife conservation organizations in the area.

The goal of the coalition, which claims to have more than 120 members and to have gathered more than 600 signatures on petitions in support of its work, is to prevent development on 81 federal mineral leases in the Thompson Divide area. The coalition has specifically targeted about 122,000 acres of terrain, out of more than 211,000 total acres of “prioritized area” open to leases, and has proposed a hunt for alternatives to simply permitting gas companies to exploit the minerals beneath the target zone.

The request for support was raised on July 27 by Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, at the end of a special meeting regarding other matters.

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Martin suggested the board vote on what he termed a letter of support for the organization, although he suggested it should not include any agreement with the idea that gas development should be prevented in the Thompson Divide area.

The other two commissioners, Mike Samson and Tresi Houpt, objected, saying there had been no notice to the public that the matter was going to be discussed, and that it would be inappropriate to make a decision on that basis.

Martin relented, and the issue was set for the “public meeting” portion of the commissioners’ Monday agenda, which begins at 10:15 a.m.

According to the coalition, the area targeted for preservation is heavily used by recreationalists, hunters and ranchers; provides water for area homesteads and wells; and is the home of a wide range of wildlife and rare plant species.

The coalition, in its appeal to the county, cited figures that the outdoor recreation industry contributes more than $10 billion to the state’s economy, generates 107,000 jobs and nearly $500 million in tax revenues and accounts for $7.6 billion in retail sales and services across Colorado.

Hunting, fishing and “wildlife viewing,” the group declared, “pumps $3 billion into Colorado’s economy annually and supports 33,000 jobs.”

For those reasons, the coalition argues, the Thompson Divide area “is more valuable in its current undeveloped state.”

The coalition’s argument continues; “This is the ideal time to start a community dialog about how to protect this area from future development. A new administration in Washington, new oil and gas rules at the state level and a temporary economic slump have slowed the boom [and] provided a little time to contemplate the protection of this special landscape.”

The coalition questions the value of the oil and gas lying beneath the surface, as opposed to the ongoing economic and environmental value of leaving the area undisturbed.

jcolson@postindependent.com

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