Public blasts Farmington drilling plan

The Bureau of Land Management heard impassioned feedback last Thursday on the draft Farmington Resource Management Plan, which calls for 12,500 new gas wells to be drilled nearby the New Mexico city before 2022. The San Juan Citizens’ Alliance has widely publicized that its biggest complaint is its failure to address future air quality impacts.

Steve Hinkey, BLM Field Manager, opened the meeting at the Double Tree Hotel by saying that the public should not discuss whether or not to develop the oil and gas, but "how to develop the nationally significant oil and gas resource in an environmentally responsible manner."

However, numerous Durango residents spoke to alternatives. Heather Snow of the Air Quality Advisory Council of Durango remarked, “The fact is we need alternative energies besides oil and gas.” She then added, “We know you're just going to go ahead and drill anyway. Our comments are basically useless.”

Jennie Dear, Fort Lewis College professor, shared this sentiment, saying, “There is a feeling of desperation here.”

Additional comments pointed to the inadequacy of the draft plan.

“I've pulled a lot of all-nighters,” said Janine Fitzgerald. “This EIS to me looks like an all-nighter.”

Brian O’Donnell commented, “This EIS (draft plan) is vulnerable to lawsuits. This is the kind of things that earns the BLM the nickname ‘Bureau of Large Mistakes.’”

In total, 31 people spoke and their comments were overwhelmingly against the Farmington Resource Management Plan. The BLM will take these comments into consideration when selecting one of the draft plan’s alternatives, alternatives Mark Pearson, director of San Juan Citizens’ Alliance, said doing nothing to mitigate future impacts to air quality. “All of their proposed alternatives are essentially the same in terms of air quality,” he said.

Unofficial biker rally a success

As Labor Day Weekend drew to a close, bikers and business people praised a successful and safe unofficial Iron Horse rally, while police officers were grateful that their busy weekend was not marred by more severe crimes.

Durango was packed with chrome on Saturday and Sunday and bikers enjoyed a good reception and business people enjoyed the business after a slow summer. Estimates at the numbers of visiting bikers ranged wildly between 5,000 and 10,000.

“The Ride Durango Rally was a success,” commented Joe Wilson, owner of the Econolodge and the Adobe Inn. “My hotels did better than during the previous rally.”
Tony Milen, the owner of Scoot n’ Blues, shared in the boon, saying, “It was a great weekend. Our numbers were actually better than last year’s.”

While they had their hands full with calls on fights, traffic disturbances, DUIs and one hoax bomb threat, Durango police officers were grateful that no major incidents occurred over the weekend.

“We didn’t have any major incidents occur, but we were extremely busy handling a number of other incidents,” said Captain Dale Smith.

In terms of quantity of incidents, Smith added, “I think it was probably on par year’s past.”

Wilson noted that he attributes the business success of the weekend to the deliberate community and business effort to host an event and not just to bikers showing up. He added that bikers were overwhelmed by the hospitality of local residents and businesses.

“Had we not done anything it would have been a disaster,” he said, noting that Cortez and Telluride were “ghost towns” over the three-day weekend.

La Posta Road construction stalled

While resurfacing of a portion of the road is proceeding, plans to reroute La Posta Road, County Road 213, are currently stalled and the ownership of the road is in question.

The road which begins south of Bodo Park and extends to Bondad near the New Mexico state line is currently undergoing widening, paving and installation of guardrail at its northern end.

La Plata County Engineer Rick Routh noted, “The project’s that’s going on now is one that’s been scheduled for a long time, and that’s to bring the section from Allen Small’s (Top Soil) to the Animas Air Park up to county standards.”

An Animas River bridge was also planned to offer motorists the opportunity of bypassing the dangerous Purple Cliffs section of the road, immediately south of Durango. The bridge would have provided a shortcut to Hwy. 550 in the vicinity of Walmart.

“By having this project in place it helps to lay the groundwork for the Animas River bridge,” said Routh. “All the other things that are needed for the bridge are falling into place.”

However, La Plata County has yet to set a date for bridge construction and recently received a legal opinion for the Southern Ute Agency claiming that it owns the majority of La Posta Road.

“From the cattle guard on down south there has been some question of who owns the right-of-way,” said Joe Craine, county planning director. “It’s been pretty historic in terms of no one knows what they (the Southern Utes) have in terms of ownership on county roads.”

Craine noted that the financial strain of this summer’s fires were mostly responsible for the stall in bridge construction. “The only reason the bridge hasn’t gone forward has been the money factor,” he said. “It’s been a draining summer in terms of the fires.”

As for the ownership of La Posta Road, the issue has yet to be decided, and until that time and finances become available for bridge construction, crews will continue widening the notrthen section of the road. This construction and the average 20 minute delays should be completed by October 18.

Burns to be reseeded

In coming weeks, the San Juan National Forest will be rehabilitating earth scorched during this summer’s wildfires. Seeds will be dropped from the air, log erosion barriers will be erected, ground cover will be spread and larger culverts will be installed, all in an attempt to slow local erosion.

The program is known as “Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation” and will target the areas of Missionary Ridge and the Animas Valley impacted by this summer’s fires.

The most ambitious part of the plan will be the reseeding by air of close to 18,000 acres with native and established grasses, according to San Juan National Forest hydrologist Kay Zillich, “The areas of the fire that burned at a high severity will be reseeded,” she said. “We’re anticipating that some of it might sprout this fall. What does not sprout this fall should sprout in the spring.”

Zillich said that the reseeding from the air should begin on Sept. 16 and last between four and six weeks. On the ground, the Forest Service will be creating log erosion barriers on roughly 3,000 acres beginning on Sept. 9. The barriers will be constructed by dropping burned trees and covering them with earth in order to create a water bar and send water beneath the surface. Similarly, straw mulch will be spread in the areas of the Valley Fire in order to help the ground retain moisture. The Forest Service will also be installing larger culverts in problem areas to facilitate water flow, according to Zillich.

While the “Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation” will cover public land damaged by the fires, Zillich said that the Forest Service is also trying to coordinate rehabilitation of private land with the National Resource Conservation Service. However, funding could be problematic.

“We’re going to wait for the NRCS money, and if their money does not arrive in time to add onto this contract, they’ll have to do their own contract,” Zillich said.
In closing, Zillich noted that there will be a separate effort to removed damaged trees and plant new trees in the next year.

City Manager gains emergency water powers

The Durango City Council formalized a late August emergency ordinance which will give City Manager Bob Ledger the authority to impose mandatory water restrictions. If restrictions are in place, violators would receive one warning prior to a $300 fine. Currently, residents are being asked to observe voluntary water restrictions, which include alternate-day watering and no midday watering. However, the city manager can now impose strict restrictions at any time. The last time mandatory water restrictions were implemented was 1997
Ledger was on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment.






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