Community Group Prepares for Litigation as Last Resort to Protect Their Homes, Farms & Families from Fracking (press release 1.25.13)
In a letter sent today to both state and national BLM officials, Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) is calling on the BLM to remove all 20 parcels and 20,555 acres in Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley from the BLM’s February Oil and Gas Lease Sale. Absent the BLM’s deferral of all parcels, the groups are calling on BLM to issue its final decision so that they may pursue legal action as a last resort to protect the community.
“Farmers, ranchers, sportsmen, small business owners, and other concerned residents in the North Fork do not want this lease sale to move forward. We’re asking the BLM to stop this bad idea in its tracks,” said CHC director Jim Ramey. “If they don’t remove the parcels, we’ll be forced to file a lawsuit to protect the community while we work toward thoughtful management in a new resource management plan.”
Since the lease sale was originally announced in December 2011, CHC has been working closely with attorneys at the Western Environmental Law Center to persuade the BLM to remove the parcels from its lease sale and, instead, to focus on finishing the revision of its 1989 Resource Management Plan (RMP), which guides the BLM’s management of this region. Since the time this RMP was crafted, new important developments have occurred, which the outdated RMP fails to take into account. For example, the plan does not consider how industrial oil and gas development would harm the thriving, sustainable agricultural and tourism economy in the North Fork Valley.
“The decision to lease these lands based on a decades-old and deficient RMP threatens so many of the valuable resources that make the North Fork Valley the thriving community it is today,” said Western Environmental Law Center attorney Kyle Tisdel. “There’s a very compelling legal argument to be made before a federal judge.”
The letter also refutes a blatant falsehood from the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office that ran in a story in the Montrose Daily Press on Wednesday. The article stated:
“‘What many people don’t realize is that if the federal government were to cut the parcels to zero, it would also affect all minerals (rights) in the North Fork Valley,’ said Shannon Borders, public affairs specialist for the BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office. This includes coal development, which has existed in the area since the early 1900s and is a major economic driver for the Western Slope.”
The statement confuses oil and gas leases with existing and future coal development in the North Fork. A review of BLM’s 281-page Environmental Assessment reveals no negative impacts to the coal industry if the agency decided not to lease the parcels.
The letter follows a visit earlier this week from BLM Colorado State Director Helen Hankins, and other BLM officials, to the North Fork Valley to meet with the Crawford, Hotchkiss, and Paonia Town Councils. The public was not given an opportunity to address the councils or the BLM representatives and instead had to sit in silence at all three meetings while the BLM refused to directly answer many questions and provided lengthy, bureaucratic answers.
“We were greatly disappointed that State Director Hankins and UFO Manager Sharrow ignored our request for them to meet with community residents,” said Ramey. “We have consistently called upon the BLM to hold a public hearing in order to communicate directly with the concerned residents of the North Fork Valley, and the UFO and BLM’s Colorado Office have consistently refused.”
For more information on WELC's work to protect the North Fork Valley, please click here.