HD Mountains drilling challenged

The call has gone out to halt drilling in the HD Mountains. This week, the San Juan Citizens Alliance urged the San Juan National Forest to honor the recommendations of the Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force and rescind its approval to drill in the roadless area just east of Bayfield.

The San Juan National Forest recently released its preferred alternative for drilling gas wells in southeastern La Plata County. The approval covers 125,000 acres, including the 28,000-acre HD Mountains Roadless Area. In its decision, the Forest Service approves 130 new gas wells and 70 miles of new roads. In addition, up to 20,000 acres of the HD Mountains could be open to energy development and road construction.

Just prior to approval, Howard Sargent, San Juan National Forest deputy supervisor, commented, “We believe it does the best job of balancing the concerns we heard with reasonable enjoyment of the leases.”

Around the same time, the Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force released its findings. Following a mandate from Colorado Governor Bill Owens, the task force conducted a statewide scoping and numerous public hearings in order to guide management of Colorado’s roadless areas. The task force has called on the Forest Service to not waive existing rules prohibiting road building in roadless areas.

“Any lease stipulation that includes no road building or restricts road building shall not be waived,” stated the task force’s recommendations, which were released last week.

San Juan Citizens Alliance has asked that the San Juan National Forest respect the recommendations with regard to the HD Mountains.

“We just want the Forest Service to follow the guidance of the state’s roadless task force,” said Mark Pearson, executive director of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The task force took comment from thousands of Colorado residents, and based on that testimony recommended that the Forest Service honor existing prohibitions on road building contained in current leases. Given the tremendous concern from the public and local governments about development of the HD Mountains Roadless Area, it seems like common sense to prohibit new roads where existing leases call for no new roads.”

In its preferred alternative, the San Juan National Forest has offered to waive the prohibition on new roads for a two mile stretch in the northern HDs. The agency has also permitted three gas wells and a compressor station on roadless acres. Pearson noted that Mark Rey, the Undersecretary of Agriculture, promised that the Forest Service would provide interim protection to roadless areas, pending the development of state-specific rules. He asked that the local Forest Service also honor this promise.

“Since Colorado is in the midst of crafting its state-specific rules, the Forest Service should honor Rey’s promise and defer from approving new roads inside roadless areas on leases that prohibit new road construction,” Pearson concluded.

The San Juan National Forest was unavailable to comment on San Juan Citizens Alliance’s request.


San Juans heliskiing up for review

It may be months before the first snow flies, but heliskiing is making moves to have a more permanent presence in the San Juan Mountains around Silverton.

Courtesy of revolving conditional permits, Telluride Helitrax has had a heliskiing operation in the region for the last decade. The company is currently seeking a 10-year approval to access local skiing via helicopter. Richard Speegle, recreation project leader with the Columbine Ranger District, commented that Helitrax operates in the same vicinity as the Silverton Mountain Ski Area. Now that the ski area has received its permit, Helitrax no longer needs to operate on one-year conditional permits.

“We’ve been keeping them on a conditional permit because we wanted to see what would happen with the Silverton Mountain Ski Area,” Speegle said. “They’ve had permits for the last 10 years on Forest Service and BLM land. Now, they’re reupping.”

Speegle said that the agency would like to reduce the acreage open to Helitrax for use. In addition, a review process will consider impacts on lynx reintroduction, a factor that did not exist when the company first got approval in 1995.

“They’re actually willing to reduce what they’re able to ski by about 25 percent,” Speegle said. “They do ski quite a bit up there now. But mainly they choose to ski closer to Telluride.”

The BLM will accept comments on the Helitrax permit through Sept. 8. They can be sent to: Richard Speegle, Recreation Planner, 15 Burnett Court, Durango, CO 81301 or emailed torichard_speegle@blm.gov.


Rocket sign safely goes into storage

The sign that stood for years at the entrance to Durango’s historic Rocket Drive-in is now safely in storage at Fort Lewis College. Last week, college workers and a crane company cut the sign off its support posts, hoisted it onto a trailer and transported it to the college.

The college plans to incorporate the sign when it constructs a new college union building, so that the piece of Durango nostalgia will be preserved and also appreciated by future generations.

The Rocket was one of the last remaining drive-in theaters in the state when it closed in October of 2004. Developers are planning to tear down what remains of the drive-in and build a residential community, Escalante Park, on the site along U.S. Hwy. 550/160.

However, last month, the developers also donated the sign to the college in order to save the landmark from destruction.

College workers are building a crate to house the sign and keep it safe within a campus warehouse until a new union is built.

LPEA refunds $2 million to members

The checks are in the mail. La Plata Electric Association has announced that more than $2 million will be refunded to its customers/owners. The refunds will be credited to electric bills or mailed as checks from now through early September.

“These refunds are a major point differentiating us from other types of utilities,” said Greg Munro, LPEA chief executive officer. “We give the money back to our members instead of giving it to investors. Our sound fiscal policies combined with strong growth have allowed us to return to a positive financial position. As a result, we’re able to refund patronage capital to our members.”

When times are good for LPEA and certain equity requirements are met, the energy cooperative is able to refund money to its members. Customer/owners who have been paying into the utility since 1986 will receive the largest chunk. However, anyone who has been a member prior to 2006 will be entitled to a refund. Refunds will show up as a credit on the electric bills of most members. Members with refunds over $250 and members with inactive accounts will receive checks.

-compiled by Will Sands


In this week's issue...

July 18, 2024
Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale