During public comment, 17 spoke in favor of implementing a master lease plan to further protect cultural, recreational, health and environmental values. None in the public spoke up against it.
But the proposed regulatory plan has been divisive, with Montezuma County commissioners arguing current regulations are enough, and La Plata County officials suggesting that more are needed.
“There are divergent perspectives, so the best way to make a fair decision was have these meetings,” said Ruth Welch, BLM’s Colorado Director. “It’s a cumbersome, but important process.”
A subgroup of the BLM’s Southwest Resource Advisory Council was created to address the matter. It’s made up of representatives from both counties and various interests groups, including energy, environmental, cultural and recreation.
Officials said hundreds of pages of comments have been submitted. Those urging protection of the Phil’s World bike trails on BLM land east of Cortez were the most prevalent.
“Protecting those trails is important to the community and the economy,” said subgroup member Pete Eschallier, co-owner of Kokopelli Bike and Board in Cortez.
He suggested that current BLM regulations of “Controlled Surface Use” at Phil’s World be upgraded to “No Surface Occupancy” (NSO) in order to keep drilling rigs and roads away from trails.
The BLM land on the northern escarpment of Mesa Verde is managed as an NSO because it borders the national park and contains Native American cultural sites.
“Essentially (BLM) stipulations can be waived or exempted, so I would like to see that NSO become a guarantee,” said working group member Jimbo Buickerood, of San Juan Citizens Alliance.
The BLM has the discretion to waive or exempt restrictive measures, called stipulations, in certain circumstances, but officials said it is a rare occurrence and involves public notice and comment.
Buickerood also suggested more BLM stipulations are needed to reduce oil-and-gas impacts on conservation easements and agricultural lands, such as creating setbacks from irrigation ditches.
Eric Sanford, representing the oil and gas industry on the committee, pointed out that most of the land within the proposed MLP boundary is private land with private minerals that could be developed at any time.
“It does not fall under BLM management,” he said.
Gregg Dubitt, and outfitter on the committee, said federally lands “are what we can control and should get the highest level of stewardship.”
He questioned whether the current regulations are adequate. Industry winter access to a compressor station on Madden Peak Road was supposed to be via tracked vehicles over the snow, he said. But, after a year, the road was plowed instead, eliminating over-the-snow recreation there.
“Recreation is becoming the dominate use here, and I don’t see the (current regulations) addressing that economic value,” Dubitt said.
Public weighs inPublic comments focused on protecting recreation, cultural sites, wildlife habitat and environmental health.
“I see a lack of information at this meeting on cultural resources in this area,” said Dan Simplicio, a member of the Zuni Pueblo and cultural specialist at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez. “Also I don’t see any Native Americans on the committee, even though we are talking about our ancestral properties that we want to protect.”
An outfitter said an MLP can do more to protect elk winter range migration areas from the impacts of energy development.
“I’ve seen a lot of migratory routes get squeezed down so they can no longer migrate,” he said.
Chris Eastin urged that the MLP boundary be expanded to include land around McPhee Reservoir.
“Seismic effects of drilling and injecting water could compromise the dam embankment and put at risk our irrigation source depended on by our economy,” he said.
MB McAfee, of Lewis, supports including the Gothic shale gas play in the MLP noting that the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing occurred on wells near McPhee Reservoir that are outside of the proposed MLP boundary.
Ellen Foster commented that oil-and-gas drillingwould negatively impact the proposed Paths to Mesa Verde trail from Cortez to Mancos.
A representative of Osprey Packs said an MLP will help preserve the outdoor recreation values depended on by the company and community. Issac Murphy advised people to look towards Aztec and Farmington to see what happens when oil and gas development overtakes recreation areas on public lands. And Lew Matis, of Mancos, commented that “The federal lands in this community are priceless and I’d like to see the maximum protection of that resource because we do not have a say on private lands.”
The next step is for the MLP subgroup to make their recommendation on the MLP idea to the full Southwest Resource Advisory Committee.
That committee then takes a majority vote on whether to recommend or not recommend an MLP go forward. The BLM makes the final decision.