The Bureau of Land Management held the first of three meetings with local town councils last night. About 50 people showed up at the Hotchkiss town hall to hear what agency representatives had to say about the pending gas lease auction of parcels in the North Fork Valley. KVNF’s Marty Durlin reports.
Hotchkiss town council members sat silent as Mayor Wendell Koontz asked questions of the five BLM officials who had come to provide answers about the controversial leasing of 20,000 acres of land for gas wells in the North Fork Valley. BLM State Director Helen Hankins, flanked by four other BLM representatives, had maps and handouts for the council – but not for the public, who were forbidden to ask questions or express concerns. There were audience rumblings throughout the meeting, and at the end, a woman vented her frustration.
"Shame on you, shame on you who did not represent the people in the audience who are opposed to this sale. Shame on all of you."
BLM representatives spoke for more than an hour. Communications director Steven Hall:
"There are 116 wells drilled in the North Fork Valley in Delta County. 15 are currently producing natural gas. 29 are shut in but capable of production, and 72 were drilled, abandoned and plugged – basically dry wells. Currently in Delta County, there’s 101,000 federal acres, and 11,000 acres that are currently held by production, meaning federal leases that are proved up and producing gas."
Responding to the mayor, Uncompahgre field office director Barb Sharrow spoke to the agency’s 1989 Resource Management Plan, saying it had been amended 16 times since then, including a 2010 travel plan and environmental assessment, and that it would be amended again for new sage grouse concerns. A complete revision of the plan is in the works.
"We hope to come out with a draft sometime this Spring, April, May, June. There will be a 90-day public comment period and we will be having open houses where we’ll talk about the plan and you can ask questions."
But people wanted to ask questions last night, and felt they were shut out. Brad Burritt, from Citizens for a Healthy Community:
"We’re quite disappointed that BLM hasn’t hosted a meeting similar to this, a work session with the community, where the community can have its concerns answered."
State Director Hankins indicated that the BLM had not yet decided whether to withdraw more parcels from the sale. This evening the BLM visits continue in the North Fork Valley, with a meeting in Crawford at 5 pm and in Paonia at 7:00.