Judge stops Colorado pipeline work | AspenTimes.com

Judge stops Colorado pipeline work

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Pitkin County and a coalition of environmental groups received an injunction Friday that stops a natural gas producer from building a pipeline across national forest lands in western Colorado.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the temporary injunction sought by a group that included the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop. The coalition claims 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.

The 25-mile pipeline would cut across three roadless areas in the White River National Forest and Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest. Its construction would 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 didn’t count as a road; the environmental groups thought otherwise.

“A road, is a road, is a road ” no matter what the government calls it. And roads are illegal in roadless areas,” said Robin Cooley, staff attorney for Earthjustice, representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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. (SGI), also holds mineral leases on thousands of acres of public land in Pitkin County.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim the pipeline makes drilling on those leases more likely. They said the federal agencies didn’t do a thorough job of considering the potential environmental impacts of that drilling as part of the pipeline.

While the injunction halts construction, it doesn’t settle the case. The court set a June

18 hearing to decide whether the injunction should stay in place until the Colorado district court can rule on the lawsuit.

“We are happy that the court exercised its authority before that authority was usurped by the bulldozers ripping through the roadless area,” Wilderness Workshop Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker said in a statement. “And, we are hopeful that this temporary stay of execution will lead to these roadless areas being permanently spared the executioner’s ax.”