Pitkin County to BLM: Don’t extended gas lease comment period | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County to BLM: Don’t extended gas lease comment period

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

The attorney for the Pitkin County commissioners has drafted a letter on their behalf that implores the Bureau of Land Management to not extend the comment period concerning 65 oil and gas leases in the White River National Forest.

Lawyer John Ely shared the draft with commissioners at a Tuesday work session. Commissioners agreed with the letter’s overall sentiment, but they also asked Ely to add their support for alternative four, one of five options that residents in the affected areas are providing public comment on. The fourth alternative would close 18 of Thompson Divide’s 25 leases. The other seven leases would be partially closed under the alternative.

Thompson Divide, which covers roughly 220,000 acres, is located south of Glenwood Springs from Sunlight Mountain Resort to McClure Pass, and includes the headwaters of Thompson, Divide and Four Mile creeks.

Most of the 65 leases in question are in Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.

The public comment period is for the newly drafted environmental impact statement, which the BLM released in November. The BLM has hosted a series of recent public meetings concerning the contested leases, but officials from Mesa and Rio Blanco counties have not attended them on the contention that the process has become politicized. They have asked for the public comment period to be extended past Jan. 8, which Pitkin County’s letter opposes.

“If there were a valid reason for such an extension, perhaps the delay could be rationalized,” states the letter, which is addressed to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Ruth Welch, who is director of the BLM’s Colorado office. “However, here the request originally made and continued by Mesa and Rio Blanco counties seeks to frustrate the process that has not seen the attendance by anyone from these jurisdictions at any of the recent public meetings and has actually been publicly boycotted by Mesa County officials.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper noted that the letter might strain the relationship between Pitkin and Mesa, but she supported it with the four other commissioners. Ely said keeping the public comment as scheduled “makes for a smoother process, so that’s the primary objective.”