Glenwood council supports gas legislation | AspenTimes.com

Glenwood council supports gas legislation

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO, Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Glenwood Springs City Council voted 6-1 Thursday to support draft legislation by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet that would remove much of the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs from future mineral leasing.

The draft bill, for which Bennet is seeking bipartisan support in Congress before introducing it next session, would withdraw approximately 183,000 acres of federal land in the Thompson Divide area from further natural-gas leases.

Existing oil and gas leases and other permitted uses on public lands in the larger, 221,000-acre area would not be affected.

However, any mineral leases voluntarily withdrawn or otherwise retired would not be made available again, under the draft bill.

“I believe this does try to satisfy both sides of the issue, without picking one side or the other,” said Councilman Leo McKinney, who brought the matter before City Council at its regular Thursday night meeting.

Councilman Dave Sturges called the draft bill a “tipping point” in the ongoing efforts by the Thompson Divide Coalition to protect the area from extensive natural-gas development.

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“This is a unique area that is enjoyed by the ranching and recreation communities and people who are interested in preservation of those resources,” Sturges said. “It is certainly highly valued by a lot of interests beyond energy extraction.”

The draft bill also has been endorsed by the Carbondale Board of Trustees, the Redstone Community Association and Aspen City Council.

However, the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, whose members include Garfield County, is opposed to the measure.

Councilman Mike Gamba cast the single dissenting vote, saying it would be hypocritical to limit gas exploration and development on Glenwood Springs’ fringes.

“This smacks of hypocrisy to me,” Gamba said. “It comes across as NIMBY to say we can extract natural gas from western Garfield County, or from Pennsylvania, but not in our backyard.”

But Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said some areas deserve to be protected, and this is one of them.

“You cannot visit Thompson Divide without saying there are places on Earth that warrant our very best effort to preserve, because they don’t come back once they’re gone,” Bershenyi said.

Several residents who spoke at the meeting Thursday also endorsed the proposed legislation and urged City Council to do so as well.

“This is something we have been pushing for going on 31⁄2 years,” said Dorothea Farris, of Carbondale, who sits on the Thompson Divide Coalition board.

“What this bill finally does is it begins the discussion of legislative action for an area that needs appropriate protection and support of appropriate use of these lands,” Farris said.

A letter that will be signed by Glenwood Springs Mayor Matt Steckler and forwarded to Bennet reads, in part:

“The Thompson Divide area is defined by abundant wildlife and wildlife habitat, essential watersheds, and historic grazing rights for local ranches that provide significant economic, agricultural, and social values to this small region of the state.

“We are concerned that the area’s clean water, rural and agricultural heritage, and recreational and sporting activities could be negatively impacted by oil and gas development,” the City Council’s letter reads.

jstroud@postindependent.com