Coalition appeals drilling in the HDs

A broad coalition of officials, farmers, residents and activists has launched the fight against recent Forest Service approval of gas drilling in the HD Mountains. On Monday, the group filed an appeal of the decision, which authorized dozens of new coalbed methane wells in and around the designated roadless area east of Bayfield.

The appellants include the Archuleta County Commissioners, a hunting outfitter, a farmer who relies on the HD Mountains for irrigation and domestic water, and an archeologist as well as several local, state and national conservation groups.

A major concern of the appellants is the impact of drilling gas wells where the coal seam comes to the surface at the Fruitland formation outcrop. Drilling along the outcrop in La Plata County led to hazardous levels of methane gas in numerous homes in the Pine River valley north of Bayfield in the early 1990s and resulted in demolition of at least four homes. Because of these and other problems, the Forest Service continued to ban drilling within 1½ miles of the outcrop in La Plata County but approved similar drilling along the outcrop in Archuleta County despite concerns about health and safety.

“We are concerned that the Forest Service’s decision will not protect the health, safety and welfare of Archuleta County residents from potentially adverse impacts of gas development near the Fruitland outcrop,” said Archuleta County commission chairman Bob Moomaw.

Bill Vance raises hay and grain on 80 of his 360 acres that are surrounded by the HD Mountains. “My biggest concern is that a drop in the water table will cause my domestic water wells to dry up, as well as the springs that supply water for irrigation and livestock,” said Vance.  

Industry plans for drilling the HD Mountains, as approved by the Forest Service, will create at least 8 miles of new roads and up to 30 gas wells cut into some of the steepest and most rugged terrain in the San Juan Mountains. The roads and gas pads would also damage some of the last stands of old-growth ponderosa pine forests in the HD Mountains, including some more than 400 years old.

Most recreational use of the HDs occurs during hunting season, and hunters and outfitters have joined the appeal. “The HD Mountains are a main migration corridor for elk and deer, one of the few that remains intact,” said Mike Murphy, a hunting outfitter for the past 25 years. “Drilling will disrupt the migration and scatter the herds.”

The groups are being represented by Earthjustice, a public interest environmental law firm. Through the firm, they appealed the Forest Service’s April 5 Record of Decision to the Rocky Mountain Regional Forester in Denver. The appeal asserts that the Forest Service violated management standards that protect watersheds, wildlife and old growth. It adds that the decision will harm air quality, violating levels set by the EPA to protect the public and nearby Mesa Verde National Park and the Weminuche Wilderness. Further, the appeal asserts that the Forest Service failed to abide by the National Environmental Policy Act in proving mitigation measures were feasible and realistic. The Forest Service now has 45 days to respond.

Desert Rock clears another hurdle

The Desert Rock Power Plant cleared another major hurdle this week. The Bureau of Indian Affairs released its draft environmental impact statement for the massive new Four Corners power plant this week, citing few negative impacts and recommending approval of the coal-fired power plant.

In collaboration with the Diné Power Authority, Sithe Global would build the plant on Navajo Reservation land, 30 miles southwest of Farmington, for an estimated cost of $2 billion. When completed, the new plant would be among the largest in the nation and generate enough energy for 1.5 million homes. The company has already won preliminary approval from the Environmental Protection Agency for the plant, which it touts as state-of-the-art, using 80 percent less water than wet-cooled coal-fired plants and having an efficiency of 41 percent. The Bureau of Indian Affairs saw the proposal in the same light. This week’s release of the EIS favored the preferred alternative and highlighted few impacts from adding another major point-source of pollution to the Four Corners.

“This is a very important step forward,” Desert Rock Energy Company Executive Vice President Dirk Straussfeld said. Unlike the opposition, which fears negative impacts to the region’s air quality air quality, Sithe only sees positives with Desert Rock.

The company boasts that it will use the latest and best technology, provide “much-needed power to the Southwest” and contribute more than $50 million a year in revenues to the impoverished Navajo Nation.

The opposition views Desert Rock and the EIS in a different light. Lori Goodman, of Diné CARE, claimed that the document contained several major holes and failed to account for coal combustion wastes and impacts related to water consumption, and paves the way for the plant to emit more toxins than originally claimed. “This just shows how industry can do whatever they want, regardless of environmental and federal laws,” she said.

In response to the EIS, Goodman expected the opposition to kick off “aggressive organizing.”

“We’re definitely gearing up for it,” she said. “It seems stunning that you can get away with anything if you have money. But then again, we do have the people power.”

The public release of the EIS kicks off a 60-day comment period and another round of public hearings to be held the week of June 18-22. A public meeting will be held in Durango on June 21, and comments must be e-mailed through Desert Rock’s website – – since the Bureau of Indian Affairs “does not have e-mail access.”

Iron Horse announces road closures

With Memorial Day weekend and the return of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic come the requisite road closures. U.S. Hwy. 550 from Durango Mountain Resort to Silverton will be closed from 8:15 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Sat., May 26. The IHBC committee suggests motorists leaving from Durango to go to Silverton on Saturday should leave no later than 7:30 a.m.

New this year, a cut-off time will be enforced on cyclists. Riders must make the top of Molas Pass by 12: 40 p.m. or face disqualification. “The cyclists need to be realistic about how long they can expect the traveling public to accommodate their desire to have a closed highway,” said Gaige Sippy, event director. “We also think it is an unrealistic risk to have tired cyclists and a line of traffic on the highway when it is reopened.”

There will be an early-bird start at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Depot at 7 a.m. in addition to the traditional start at 8:15 a.m. with the train. Starting with the early birds gives cyclists six hours to get to Silverton.

Tim Sullivan recovery fund created

A local music icon, Tim Sullivan, is currently in need of some community support. The Durango country singer who penned “Cowboy Up,” the Red Sox theme song, is currently recovering from a construction accident at home but is in need of assistance to help defray medical expenses.

Sullivan was in Hawaii helping to build his brother-in-law’s home when the scaffolding he was standing on collapsed. He suffered multiple injuries including a broken hip, three fractured vertebrae and two fractured ribs. Friends have started a fund in Sullivan’s name at the Bank of the San Juans to help him on the road to recovery

Contributions and donations can be made to the “Tim Sullivan Benefit Fund” at the Bank of the San Juans, 144 E. 8th St. For more information, contact Jessie Morgan at 385-4880.

– compiled by Will Sands



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