Massive N.M. drilling plan approved

Neighboring Northern New Mexico will continue to be peppered with oil and gas wells over the next 20 years. The Bureau of Land Management recently approved the Farmington Resource Management Plan, which calls for 12,500 new gas wells to be drilled around the city before 2022.

The San Juan Citizens' Alliance has expressed concerns that the plan fails to address impacts to area air quality. Mark Pearson, the organization's executive director, has likened the emissions from the 12,500 compressors to 3.5 million new cars and said that pollution will blow into the Durango area. Pearson has added that this will not be the end of area oil and gas development.

"All together, there are probably another 15,000 wells proposed in the area," he said. "There are also two more coal-fired power plants proposed for the Farmington area."

Steve Henke, manager of the BLM's Farmington Field Office, takes a different view of the situation, saying: "The Record of Decision provides for an environmentally responsible approach to natural gas and oil development while meeting the President's National Energy Plan goals. We will continue to require site-specific environmental analysis and reviews to ensure all projects comply with existing laws and policy before any permit decisions are made."

Henke added that the BLM will continue support of air-quality monitoring, modeling and future mitigation of emissions from natural gas compressors.

The plan will guide management of 1.8 million acres of federal public land and 3 million acres of federally owned mineral estate administered by the Farmington Field Office plus oil and gas development on the portion of the San Juan Basin administered by the Albuquerque Field Office. In addition to oil and gas, the plan addresses land-ownership adjustments, off-highway vehicle use, specially designated areas and coal-leasing suitability.

A plus side of the plan is the creation of 13 Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) management units that will limit OHVs to maintained roads, designated trails and other areas considered suitable for cross-country travel.

The Record of Decision is available online at www.nm.

River Trails decision delayed again

After another marathon session before another large crowd last Tuesday, the Durango City Council decided to delay its decision on the controversial River Trails Ranch until Nov. 4.

Earlier this year, the development team of Bob Wolff and John Wessman forwarded a plan for 800 homes on the 245 acres formerly known as the Kroeger Ranch. Seizing on the New Urbanism approach, the plan calls for a variety of housing types. The development plan also contains space for businesses, schools, parks and open space.

Development of the Kroeger Ranch always has been controversial, and currently a group called Friends of the Animas Valley is challenging the development. Wolff and Wessman are seeking city approval to bring the ranch within city limits, a necessity driven by utility service.

To this end, the council has now held four meetings on the annexation to gauge input from the proponent and the public. During the prior three meetings, public comment largely ruled the floor and the discussion was characterized by steadfast opposition from Friends of the Animas Valley. Last Tuesday, the applicants were given an opportunity to rebut the concerns.

After 4`BD hours, the council voted to delay a decision until its Nov. 4 meeting. Council member Dale Garland was the only dissenting vote, saying he advocated a decision at the council's Oct. 21 meeting.

City Planner Greg Hoch said that in his perception, the decision reflected the overwhelming volume of information and comment on Wolff and Wessman's proposal.

"They haven't delayed it per se," he said. "They simply have so much information to process and comments to receive that they've had to set up continuing public meetings."

Mayor Virginia Castro commented, "Basically because the public hearing is now closed legally we have to make a decision within 35 days. I would be surprised if a decision is not made Nov. 4. At this point, it's a question of the council sleeping on it and deciding what to do."

Deer mouse population on the rise

An ongoing study performed by a Colorado State University has reported a sharp increase in the population of deer mice in a Hesperus monitoring station. In previous years when such an increase has occurred there have been human hantavirus cases in the Durango area, according to the San Juan Basin Health Department.

Charles Calisher, a professor in the Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology Department at CSU, said that he is not "suggesting or predicting that there will be hantavirus cases in the Durango area, but (area residents) should be aware that these observations indicate such a possibility."

The CSU study will continue to watch the relationship between deer mice populations and changes in hantavirus infection rates this fall.

The health department noted that hantavirus is associated with deer mice and cautioned people against living in homes with rodent populations; disturbing rodent-infested areas; cleaning cabins, barns, outbuildings or any area contaminated with rodent droppings; and to use caution when planting or harvesting field crops. For more information, call the department at 247-5702.

FLC finalizes reorganization plan

Fort Lewis College has finalized a plan to streamline its finances and improve the quality of the educational experience. The college's board of trustees accepted the college's reorganization plan at their regular meeting in Denver last week.

Fort Lewis College President Robert Dolphin Jr. said that the plan is the result of a campus-wide collaboration and that all the input was greatly appreciated. "The reorganization plan was revised after a great deal of input was received from various members of the campus community, including individuals, departments, students and the Faculty Task Force," he said.

The first goal of the reorganization is to realign the role of the president consistent with the changing environment, allowing the president more time to secure state, federal and private support for the college. A second goal is to provide a more balanced distribution of the faculty among the three schools. The deans will have additional authority and responsibility for academic, fiscal and personnel affairs. A third goal is to enhance the quality and effectiveness of the lower-division student experience in order to improve retention and graduation rates.

Plan implementation will be phased in, and completion is expected by July 1 of next year.

"In order to maintain an organization that is viable and that can effectively respond to ongoing changes in the environment, a formal evaluation of the structure will be conducted after three years," said Dolphin. "If, after the first year, there are areas where it is apparent that the new organization is definitely flawed, then consideration will be given to initiate realignment."

City to thin Durango Mountain Park

The city of Durango is taking Fire Wise Durango, a community effort to lessen wildfire risk, into the Durango Mountain Park this week. Beginning Oct. 16, crews will thin a buffer between the Crestview area and the undeveloped city park that is laced with trails.

A professional fuels-mitigation company will be doing the work which will stretch from Leyden Avenue to Crestview Avenue. The work should be completed by Oct. 31 and the defensible space will be a strip behind the homes that is approximately 100 feet wide and 1,500 feet long.

Kevin Hall, parks, open space and trails development manager, said that there should not be any conflicts for trail users. "Any trails that are impacted will be clearly signed and easily bypassed," he said.

- compiled by Will Sands





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