Gas pipeline can proceed |

Gas pipeline can proceed

Phillip YatesGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS A federal appeals court on Wednesday lifted an injunction that blocked the building of a controversial 25-mile pipeline that will cross through national forest lands in Gunnison, Mesa and Garfield counties.The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its ruling after a hearing on Wednesday. The courts order will now allow work on the Bull Mountain pipeline to continue. However, the order did not detail why the appeals court decided to lift the injunction.The appeals court ruling stated, An opinion on the merits will follow in due course.Some construction work on the road has already begun, but it was halted after the appeals court granted an injunction stopping pipeline construction work on June 6. A coalition of environmental groups and Pitkin County celebrated the move.Those groups, which includes the Wilderness Workshop, say that the pipeline will create eight miles of roads in what is supposed to be a protected roadless area. They claimed the approval by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management violated federal law.Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, said his group was disappointed in the courts decision and doesnt fully understand the reasoning behind the appeals court lifting the injunction.We look forward to seeing their ruling, to see what their arguments and rationales are, Shoemaker said.In the wake of Wednesdays ruling, Shoemaker said it wasnt clear how his group and the others would go forward in their efforts to stop construction of the pipeline through what they say are protected roadless areas.We havent had a chance to (meet) with the attorneys yet, Shoemaker said. We are sitting on our hands until we see the decision itself. Until we see that, there is no basis to make a determination where we go from here.

The 25-mile pipeline will cut across three roadless areas in the White River National Forest and the Grand-Mesa Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest. Construction of the pipeline will create a 100-foot-wide corridor for heavy trucks and equipment traffic, complete with a travel lane and passing lane. The federal agency maintained that that didnt count as a road; the environmental groups thought otherwise.Pitkin County is involved in the lawsuit because it fears the pipeline could trigger natural gas development in the far western section of the county, southwest of Carbondale. The company that wants to construct the pipeline, S.G. Interests Ltd., also holds mineral leases on thousands of acres of public land in Pitkin County. Attempts to reach S.G. Interests late Thursday were not successful.Shoemaker said the ruling left him concerned about the national implications of this ruling.It seems it opens the opportunity for the Forest Service to call activity they want to do in a roadless area and call it a construction zone, Shoemaker said. What we are calling a road, the Forest Service is calling a construction zone. If that is what it hinges on, it leaves a huge loophole that could have pretty damaging impacts on roadless areas across the country.The Bureau of Land Management had a cease-and-desist order blocking construction of pipeline after the appeals court issued its June 6 injunction, said David Boyd, a spokesman for the BLM. But with the courts ruling Wednesday, that BLM order was rescinded and construction of the pipeline can resume.

The Aspen Times contributed to this