The Paonia Board of Trustees has submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management regarding the North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan. The letter recommends that the BLM reject its preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzing the proposal's impacts and conduct the more in-depth Environmental Impact Study.
The project would encompass 34,906 acres of public and private lands located north and west of Paonia and would be accessed by Highway 133. The project is expected to produce up to 700 billion cubic feet of natural gas over its estimated 30-year life.
The letter cites concerns over potential impacts identified in the EA, including surface water impacts and sediment; air quality; impacts on wildlife, farmlands and traffic; groundwater and drinking water sources within the watershed; impacts on the town's economy; concerns over possible costs to emergency management services; and possible health impacts due to the development's proximity to town.
Language was approved at a June 6 special meeting, the second such meeting called in as many weeks. Town administrator Ken Knight drafted the letter based on comments received at the first meeting on May 30, and on information submitted by the Paonia-based Western Slope Conservation Center and Citizens for a Healthy Community.
Trustees voted, 4-1, to approve the letter with minor changes and to direct Knight to submit the letter to the BLM prior to the June 9 deadline. Trustee Bill Bear cast the no votes. "I know there's a lot of angst about the oil and gas industry, and that if the town wanted to support it, the best action would have been to stay silent," said Bear after the meeting. "But now the town has chosen to, how do I say it kindly? To basically be a mouthpiece for the environmental organizations. I think that we've abdicated our responsibilities as a town."