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Trustees weigh in on TD court battle

Locations: News Published

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

Carbondale’s town leaders on April 11 agreed to “intervene” on behalf of federal land managers in a court fight over a recent decision to cancel oil drilling leases in the controversial Thompson Divide region southwest of town.

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But the Board of Trustees declined to take a second step that, according to Mayor Dan Richardson, would have gotten the town involved in the litigation in a much more direct way.

“I was comfortable saying ‘no’ and following Jay’s (Town Manager Jay Harrington) recommendation, until we can get more information,” said Richardson in a telephone interview the following morning.

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The issue behind the lawsuit is a decision late last year by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to cancel 18 Thompson Divide gas drilling leases held by SG Interests, as well as seven leases held by the Ursa drilling company in the same area.

Carbondale, along with the governments of Pitkin County and several other municipalities, has long opposed industry efforts to drill for natural gas in Thompson Divide, based on local insistence that drilling would be harmful to area water and air quality, ranching interests and recreational activities, as well as to the region’s economy, among other reasons.

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According to the town’s special counsel for the Thompson Divide issue — Mike Chiropolos of Boulder — SG’s suit against the BLM claims the decision was improperly made and in violation of federal law. SG, Chiropolos wrote, maintains that the BLM is required by law to approve gas drilling in the Lake Ridge Unit that is part of the Thompson Divide.

Ursa, according to Chiropolos, has accepted payment from the BLM to compensate for its canceled leases, and those leases are now considered permanently removed from future threats of leasing.

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Chiropolos, in a memo to the trustees, wrote that the BLM’s process leading to the lease cancellations “was a comprehensive process involving several local governments as cooperating agencies and resulting in a balanced decision solidly supported by “cooperator” input, public sentiment … and federal law,” as well as a previous decision by the White River National Forest to remove the Thompson Divide from future leasing consideration.

The town, by intervening, would be joining with other entities supporting the BLM decision, including Pitkin County, the Wilderness Workshop, the Thompson Creek Cattlemen’s Association and Trout Unlimited, according to Chiropolos.

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The further step, Chiropolos wrote, would involve designation of a specific town representative to submit a “Standing Declaration” of the town’s involvement in the lawsuit, which was further than the trustees wanted to go without more information about the possible consequences.

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In other action, the trustees:

• Approved a “consent agenda” that included a contract for work on the Crystal Well;

• Approved several liquor license requests for local establishments and special events;

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• Adopted a salary survey intended to help the town offer competitive salaries to prospective and current employees;

• Approved outdoor dining facilities for two restaurants in the commercial core;

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• Approved a recreational marijuana license for the Tumbleweed Carbondale cannabis shop, as well as a permit allowing the shop to transfer from its original intended location on Main Street to a location at 304 Highway 133;

• Took part in a “good governance training” session conducted by an official of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

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Published in The Sopris Sun on April 13, 2017