On May 12, Rio Blanco County Commission Chairman Jeff Eskelson, who is also chairman of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC), and I attended the AGNC board meeting in Grand Junction with Gov. John Hickenlooper.
There are a multitude of issues affecting every county in Northwest Colorado. Many have not been or cannot be resolved at the state level. During this meeting, we discussed the following topics that are currently affecting or will eventually affect Rio Blanco County.
On the Greater Sage Grouse, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky of Garfield County and Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe presented the problems the BLM’s Northwest Sage Grouse Plan or an Endangered Species Act listing will create for all of the Northwest Colorado counties and their citizens. The disturbance caps, season-of-use restrictions, on public and private lands in grouse areas may put a damper on development in Rio Blanco County.
On severance tax, Marty Chazen of the City of Grand Junction discussed the effects of the state pulling 60 million off of the top of the Severance Tax Fund on energy-impacted communities and counties.
This will create a budget hit for Rangely, Meeker, Rio Blanco County and both school districts through lowered direct distribution. Also, it will lower the amount available in DOLA grant funds that all our taxing entities use.
On EPA Coal Regulations, Commissioner Mark Roeber of Delta County spoke on the current shutdown of the coal mines in Delta County and how EPA’s proposed coal rules will affect us all in loss of employment and tax dollars. Commissioner John Kincade of Moffat County gave an overview of the Colowyo lawsuit and how it will affect Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.
On Liquid Natural Gas Exports, Commissioner Mike Sampson of Garfield County asked the governor to support LNG exports as this would increase demand and therefore increase economic activity in the state.
On the Grand Junction Resource Management Plan, Commissioner Rose Pugliese of Mesa County requested that the governor ask the BLM for Mesa County to be given six months, as opposed to the 30 days given, to comment on the travel management portion of the RMP, which covers 2,800 roads. For better or worse, if a large number of routes are closed down in Mesa County, Rio Blanco County could see an increase in motorized recreation.
On the Oil Shale Trust Fund: The fund that was supposed to be used to clean up the Anvil Points test site seems to have disappeared. No one at the federal level can answer where it went. Executive director Bonnie Petersen asked the governor to look into it.
On water issues, I gave the water presentation. I proposed several reasons why increased storage statewide is the best route to solving water problems for the long term. I asked Gov. Hickenlooper to help with funding for reservoirs, streamlining the permit process and to seriously exploring the piping of water from the East instead of looking at another trans-mountain diversion. I told him that another trans-mountain diversion had the potential to make the Colorado River ecologically unsound and/or trigger a Colorado River Compact call. I also asked the governor to use his position with the state and with the Western Governors Association to achieve reform of the Equal Access to Justice Act. This well-meaning act enables groups that do not live here, do not assimilate into our communities or contribute to the economy of our communities to sue the federal government, shut down our industries and get paid by the government to do it.
Gov. Hickenlooper was very attentive and seemed interested in all that we had to say. In fact, we have already seen some results. The governor immediately wrote a letter to the Office of Surface Mining requesting that they correct the deficiencies in Colowyo’s permit within the 120 days allowed by the court.
And on Friday May 15, the governor signed Executive Order D2015-004, which directs all state agencies to be more proactive in Sage Grouse conservation.
Jon D. Hill
Rio Blanco County Commissioner