New drilling plan raises hackles

A seemingly innocuous plan for five new gas wells east of Bayfield is raising major safety concerns. The Forest Service is currently analyzing a proposal by Petrox Resources, Inc. to access private and state mineral leases within the HD Mountains. Conservationists worry that if the company is permitted to drill the wells this summer, human lives could be in danger.

The wells are within the HD Mountains, which are currently the center of controversy over more ambitious drilling plans. However, Petrox already owns these leases and they expire after this year. To access their leases and drill up to five wells, Petrox is requesting access across the National Forest for a pipeline, gas-gathering lines and water lines.About 1.6 miles of new road would be constructed, and about three-quarters of a mile of existing roads would be improved.

The Forest Service's response is that it is required by law to provide reasonable access to state and private mineral leases. The agency says it does not have discretion over the location or design of facilities on private or state land and has limited discretion over national forest lands on top of private mineral estates.

Mark Pearson, executive director of San Juan Citizens' Alliance, said that these factors could lead to a deadly combination. The five leases are located on top of the Fruitland Outcrop, the volatile edge of the San Juan Basin.

"They're on top of the outcrop, and drilling there can cause people's houses to explode," Pearson said. "It's absurd that they're even considering this."

Pearson noted that La Plata County has prohibited drilling within 3,000 feet of the outcrop. However, the wells would be located in Archuleta County. "We don't see how the Forest Service can approve these wells when they're still considering the ramifications of drilling around the outcrop," he said.

San Juan Citizens' Alliance has objected to the proposal with the agency and is also urging the State of Colorado to reconsider. "We've asked the state to hold a hearing down here to discuss this," Pearson said. "They've already indicated that the drilling of these wells could cause the contamination of several houses. It's just insane that they'd even consider it."

The Forest Service is accepting comments on the issue through March 25. They can be sent to

Vandals hit Canyons of Ancients

High school party-goers are taking a heavy toll on the public's resources in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, west of Cortez. In early February, two signs were torn down and burned, trees were ripped out of the ground and burned, and off-roaders wreaked havoc on the fragile desert vegetation in the Moqui Lake area.

"It's really a sad situation for many reasons," said Ann Bond, public information officer with the San Juan Public Lands Center. "First of all, it's such a waste of money. Second, it's real fragile desert ecosystem. The damage they do is going to last for decades."

The sign and fire/information board that were destroyed had been located at one of the entrances to the monument. The remains of the signs were found in a fire pit adjacent to Moqui Lake, an area that has become a popular location for local high school parties.

Three tires, still on their rims, were burned in the same area.Trash, mostly in the form of alcoholic beverage containers, was strewn over the surface. One of the biggest concerns is that the fires are never properly extinguished when the parties break up, and there is a high risk of wildfire.

The signs will cost up to $1,000 each to replace, and the area where they were burned has sustained significant resource damage from the ongoing parties.

Lawsuit talks begin in Silverton

Efforts to resolve the lawsuit swirling around Silverton Mountain are under way. San Juan County has gotten involved and is currently negotiating the purchase of a contended 179-acre piece of property.

Last year, the man who also tried to open a ski operation on Storm Mountain and continues to own property adjoining Silverton Mountain filed a lawsuit against the ski operation. In the suit, he alleged that employees and customers of the ski operation as well as avalanches have trespassed onto his property.

Jim Jackson is an Aspen businessman who rose to fame when he hosted the international speed skiing championships in Velocity Basin near Silverton Mountain. Jackson also proposed developing a ski area where Silverton Mountain now is. However, where Silverton Mountain includes one dated, fixed-grip, two-person chairlift, Jackson envisioned a resort including a gondola, six lifts and substantial real estate development.

Jackson filed suit in state court in San Juan County, citing several instances of possible trespass during the last four years that the ski area has been in existence. Aaron Brill, owner of Silverton Mountain ski area, called the lawsuit sour grapes and maintained that his operation had always been in compliance with the law.

Now San Juan County has entered negotiations and offered to buy the land for up to $241,000. The purchase would enable the county to do avalanche control work above its roadway, according to Brill. A permanent easement also would be granted to the ski area.

"The county is interested in purchasing Mr. Jackson's property," Brill said. "The main interest is so that the county will be able to continue doing avalanche control work above the county roadways."

Brill said the talks are hopeful but added that he doesn't expect resolution for some time. "It's still a long ways out," he said.

Local trail closures remain in effect

Mountain bikes and hiking boots have emerged from storage in the past two weeks and local trails are beginning to dry out. However, three Bureau of Land Management trail closures will remain in effect a little longer until deer and elk move uptohigherelevations.

Large numbers of deer and elk remainin theGrandview Ridge area, east of town, and on Animas City Mountain, northwest of town, because deep snowpacks remain at higherelevations. Trails that are still closed include Animas City Mountain past the closure signs and the Big Canyon and Sale Barn Canyon trails at their trailheads. Wildlife officials will reconsider whether or not to reopen the trails later this month.

"We will monitor the weather, animal presence and forage conditions to determine when we can reopen these areas without significantly compromising deer and elk survival," said Chris Schultz, district wildlife biologist. "When there is a significant warming and melting period at higher elevations, this will allow the herds to move up in elevation."

- compiled by Will Sands




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