Pitkin County spends $135k on Thompson Divide in 2016 | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County spends $135k on Thompson Divide in 2016

An aerial view of the Thompson Divide region south of Glenwood Springs.

Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday approved spending an extra $85,000 on contract lawyers who have worked on canceling Thompson Divide oil and gas leases.

The county will have spent $135,000 on the contract lawyers by year's end and may have to spend more next year depending on what happens after Thursday, when the Bureau of Land Management is expected to announce its record of decision on the leases, said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely.

Ely said Tuesday he has no reason to believe the BLM won't confirm its previously stated preferred plan to cancel 25 oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area — 18 of which are in Pitkin County and seven in Garfield County.

Pitkin County has lobbied hard for the leases to be canceled, arguing in a letter in January that oil and gas development in the divide would eliminate or curtail ranching and recreational opportunities, pollute air and groundwater and fragment big-game habitat.

Former Assistant Pitkin County Attorney Chris Seldin performed much of the work on Thompson Divide issues but left to become Aspen's District Court judge a year ago. The county has not yet replaced him, so some of that work was contracted out, Ely said.

Pitkin County will likely have to spend more money next year if the oil and gas industry decides to sue over the BLM's anticipated Thursday decision, he said.

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"I would anticipate the record of decision would be challenged," Ely told commissioners Tuesday.

Another possible stumbling block is the election of Republican Donald Trump as president, he said.

If the oil and gas industry sues and the new administration in charge of the Department of Justice is less than engaged about defending that decision in court, Pitkin County might have to take a more active role in that defense, Ely said.

"I have no idea what their agenda might be," he said.

No money is currently budgeted next year for Thompson Divide work, though the Attorney's Office can always ask for more money from commissioners as Ely did Tuesday, he said.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

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