Dominguez-Escalante RMP needs your support!

Down the Gunnison River to explore Dominguez-Escalante. Photo by Brian Amstutz

Down the Gunnison River to explore Dominguez-Escalante NCA. Photo by Brian Amstutz

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released its draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the 210,000 acres of rugged sandstone canyons, cascading waterfalls and primal wilderness that we call Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area (NCA).  This document will determine BLM management of these lands for the next 15-20 years!

WCC finds the Dominguez-Escalante RMP to be robust and comprehensive, showing how an NCA can successfully balance a wide range of resources. However, to ensure this balance is reflected in the final plan, it is crucial for us to provide feedback on how we want our public lands managed into the future.  Join us and speak up for quiet recreation, wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers, healthy landscapes, and all the resources WCC members have worked so hard to protect!

Please read our general impressions of the RMP here. For information relating to specific locations within the NCA, follow these following links at Conservation Colorado:

Click here to submit your comments to the BLM.  Public comments are accepted through September 23, 2013.

Would you like to learn more about this RMP and how to participate in the comment process?

Join WCC and allies for a “Quiet Commotion” Comment Writing Workshop on September 17th from 5:00 to 7:00 pm in Hawthorn Park in Grand Junction.

We’ll have maps, information sheets, and paper copies of the draft RMP for attendees to use in crafting personal comments on the RMP. There will also be a number of knowledgeable individuals available to answer questions and guide you through the commenting process! For each comment you write, you’ll be entered and re-entered to win some great outdoor gear!

This is a joint effort of WCC, the Sierra Club, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Conservation Colorado.  For more information, contact Emily Hornback at the WCC office at 970-256-7650.

Submit your comments today on the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill!

Colorado Department of Health and the Environment (CDPHE) is accepting public comment on Energy Fuels’ Construction Plan and Decommissioning Funding Plan for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill until September 13th. These documents will govern not only how the mill is built, but also how the mill site, surrounding environment, and all of the radioactively contaminated buildings, machinery, and equipment working at the mill will be cleaned up and reclaimed.

If built, the Piñon Ridge Mill would be the first American uranium mill in 30 years and as such, it must be held to the highest safety standards possible if allowed to proceed.  For years, WCC members have been working to hold this process accountable and ensure public input.  Please join us once again and tell CDPHE that future uranium development should only be done in a manner that protects public health, safety and welfare.

Our region has already carried the disproportionate burdens of an industry that has left behind a legacy of toxic waste and radioactive contamination that is still being remediated by taxpayer money. We do not have to choose this again.

Please take action now and tell CDPHE to safeguard clean environments and healthy communities. Click here to sign our letter to CDPHE! 

For more information, contact Emily Hornback at the WCC office at (970) 256-7650.

Sept 7 deadline for nominees for WCC officers

WCC Annual Business Meeting features elections, bylaw change

According to WCC’s By-laws, officers are elected at the Annual Meeting for two-year terms:  President and Treasurer in even-numbered years, and Vice President and Secretary in odd-numbered ones.

The WCC Nomination Committee is recommending a second two-year term for Dennis Olmstead as Secretary, but as of August 15 did not have a nominee for Vice President.

Anyone interested in running for either officer position needs to submit his or her nomination for consideration at the WCC Board’s meeting on Sept. 7.  Nominations are not accepted from the floor at the Annual Meeting.  For more information, contact Rein van West at (970) 626-9702.

Bylaws Change

The WCC Board of Directors unanimously passed a  revision to WCC’s Bylaws that reduces the number of board meetings per year, and now asks the membership to vote on it at the WCC Annual Business Meeting on September 22.

With occasional exceptions, the WCC Board has had six meetings (not including the Annual Business Meeting) each year since 2009, when there was a perceived need to have more board involvement and oversight relative to the operations of the organization.

While the Bylaws Committee believes as many as six board meetings per year could be warranted on an “as needed” basis, it also believes the board should have the option to resume quarterly board meetings as Article V, Section 3 states: “The Board of Directors shall meet quarterly and at such other times as the Board may choose.”

WCC’s bylaws complicate the requirements for board meetings in Article IV, Section 5 (under Annual Meeting), by stating, “The Board of Directors shall present a slate of officers to be elected by the members. The members shall have the right to propose candidates to the Board of Directors’ meeting immediately prior to the annual meeting.”

This wording requires at least two board meetings during the summer when quarterly meetings would only ask for one: one meeting for the Nominations Committee to present its slate of officers to the board, and then another meeting to hear of possible member nominees after the official slate is noticed in the Clarion.

The Bylaws Committee recommends the following changes (new wording in bold) to Article IV, Section 5:

The Board of Directors shall propose a slate of officers to be elected by the members. The members shall have the right to propose candidates to the Board of Directors at the Board of Directors meeting immediately prior to the Annual Meeting. The proposed slate of officers will be noticed in the Clarion and website in the month preceding the Annual Meeting. The members shall have the right to propose nominees to the Board of Directors no later than two weeks prior to the time of that year’s annual meeting. All nominees, so nominated, shall appear on the ballot for a vote by the members present. Candidates and nominees are expected to be present. No nominations may be made at the Annual Meeting. The members of the corporation in attendance at the Annual Meeting shall constitute a quorum.

The Nominations Committee would continue to propose vetted candidates to the board for its approval to ensure desired skill sets are present.

Reasons to decrease the number of board meetings are as follows:

  • If there is good governance by the Board, then the Executive Committee has the necessary authority to act between board meetings.
  • Preparing for board meetings requires intensive effort on the part of staff and board, which could otherwise be spent on issue work.
  • It takes six hours to drive from one end of our alliance to the other. Realizing that face-to-face meetings are preferable to electronic participation, time, use of resources and our carbon footprint would be reduced.

 

Parachute Creek spill an ongoing concern

Gas processing plant along Parachute Creek in Garfield County

Gas processing plant along Parachute Creek in Garfield County

All summer long, crews have been cleaning up water sullied by oil and gas drilling near Parachute, Colorado.  The worst is over, but residents of the gaspatch have unanswered questions—and they don’t want this to happen again.

Since December of 2012, natural gas liquids (NGL’s) and diesel-range organics have been contaminating Parachute Creek and nearby groundwater.  This tributary of the Colorado River is a local irrigation water source and, as one area blogger asserts, “High benzene levels persist in the groundwater surrounding the creek.”

Spikes in benzene were detected this summer. Although levels have gone down, one monitoring well (site CS-6) saw readings as high as 9.2 parts per billion (ppb).  The July sample was the first time since May that concentrations of the cancer-causing agent were detected above drinking water standards of 5 ppb.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE), elevated levels of benzene are due to “an interaction between ground water and creek surface water in that specific area.”

Williams, one of the involved companies, plans to remove millions of gallons of groundwater at a rate of 50 gallons per minute, clean it and return it to the aquifer.  Williams says it has already recovered about 7,600 gallons of the 11,000 gallons of pollutants.

About 155,000 gallons of groundwater tainted by the NGL leak were removed in March and injected into a disposal well in Grand County, Utah.  Additionally, Williams began operation of a new vertical “air sparge” that extracts benzene from water by aerating it.  The company hopes the new sparge stops the flow of contaminated groundwater that may be causing the high levels of benzene near CS-6.  CDPHE also says approximately 130 tons/day of contaminated soil is being shipped to a treatment site in East Carbon, Utah.

In July, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined three companies after determining clean-up crews were not properly protected. According to the Denver Post, federal officials levied $9,800 in fines against Rangely-based Striegel Inc.; $7,854 against Bargath (a Williams Co. subsidiary); and $10,200 fine against Rifle-based Badger Daylighting Corp.  Federal laws say employers must give workers who are responding to chemical spills suitable respirators when necessary.

Worthy of praise?

Sometimes related companies can be legally separate entities—making it hard for regulators to connect the dots or hold companies accountable.  In January of 2012, that’s exactly what Williams did.  The company separated into two stand-alone, publicly-traded corporations. Williams became an infrastructure company, and many of its pipeline assets were held by the master limited partnership Williams Partners LP.  WPX Energy became the drilling, production and exploration group that today has over 4,100 wells in the Piceance Basin.  Bargath LLC is the subsidiary of Williams Partners that operates the Parachute Gas Plant (and was the subject of the OSHA fine).

Although they are legally separate companies, Williams has been the one talking to regulators and overseeing clean-up. Ironically, WPX Energy received three awards from the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission.

Although investigations and clean-up efforts were underway, the company received kudos for environmental achievement, efficiency, and community involvement.

Parachute Creek Spill Facts

  • 7,664 gallons of hydrocarbons have been extracted from water & soil, as of August 1.
  • 369,000 gallons of contaminated water has been brought to the surface, as of June 20.
  • More than 1,700 tons of contaminated soil have been disposed off-site.
  • The plume of pollution is estimated to be 1,500 feet long, 308 feet wide and 10 feet thick (That’s about 10.6 acres in area!).
  • Chemicals found: Benzene; toluene; ethylbenzene; all three xylenes (M, O and P); cyclohexane; hexane; methylcyclohexane; isopropylbenzene; acetone; bromoform; heptanes; 1, 2 , 3-trimethylbenzene; 1, 2, 4-trimethylbenzene; 1, 3, 5-trimethylbenzene and tetrachloroethene.

Voice your concerns to CDPHE!

David Walker, Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Project Manager
Hazardous Materials and Waste Mgmt. Division
Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Dr. S.
Denver, CO 80246
Toll free 1(888) 569-1831, Ext 3354
[email protected]

Whitewater drilling proposal draws crowd

Whitewater meeting 08 2013Nearly 75 people turned out for an August 8 public meeting in Whitewater on the Fram drilling proposal.  The unincorporated community packed a meeting hall to hear about the proposal, to consider potential impacts, and to learn about public comment opportunities.    The meeting was hosted by WCC, Citizens for Clean Air, Conservation Colorado and WCC of Mesa County.

About 15 miles southeast of Grand Junction, Fram Operating is looking to drill (and frack) up to 108 horizontal oil wells over the next four years.  From nearly East Orchard Mesa to Kannah Creek, the Whitewater-Fram Master Development Plan focuses on 26,000 acres of public land in Mesa County.  If approved, and oil prices stay high, drilling would occur for the next four years.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quietly announced Fram’s latest plan to drill for oil along western Grand Mesa in late June.

There’s been talk of drilling on the west side of Grand Mesa for a few years now.  Fram’s latest proposal for 108 oil wells takes the place of their previous proposals, the largest of which proposed to drill up to 492 natural gas wells in Mesa and Delta Counties.

Some drilling has been happening near the proposed project area already.  Fram has been drilling for natural gas, mostly on private land with oversight by the state.

However, this new proposal spans BLM land between Horse Mountain and Lands End Road.  The area includes creeks and canals, reservoirs and aqueducts, which supply drinking water for Grand Junction and irrigation water for Whitewater-area locals.  The area encompasses ranches and small farms, wineries, orchards, homes and businesses. There is even critical winter range for elk and mule deer, and inventoried habitat of the endangered Colorado Hookless Cactus (Sclerocactus glaucus).

In July and August, WCC led the charge to request more comment time from the BLM.  We succeeded in having the public comment period extended from the original deadline of July 31 to August 14. Although multiple organizations and citizens requested even more time from the BLM, over 25,000 comments poured in from across the country.

Drilling is a dirty, dangerous business that can risk agriculture, recreation, environment, public health, quality of life, and tourism. That’s why WCC and its friends are asking BLM for higher industry standards, better impact analysis, proactive mitigation strategies, investment in air and water monitors, and more. We’re also concerned about industry’s impact on agri-toursim near Palisade, roads near East Orchard Mesa, and the recreational experience in nearby Dominguez Escalante National Conservation Area.

For more info, and to get involved, contact Frank Smith at [email protected] or (970) 256-7650

Comment by Aug. 14 on Whitewater drilling proposal

Look out, Grand Junction, Whitewater, East Orchard Mesa and Palisade!  Oil & gas interests are back with a new plan to drill up to 108 oil wells along Grand Mesa - from Kannah Creek to nearly the Colorado River.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has drafted a Preliminary Environmental Assessment for the Fram Whitewater Master Development Plan, covering 26,000 acres of your public land.  Comment is accepted, but you only have until August 14 to submit your thoughts.  Join Western Colorado Congress and its friends at WCC of Mesa County to ask BLM for more time!

Send BLM Your Letter Today!
BLM Grand Junction Field Office
2815 H Road
Grand Junction, CO 81506
email: [email protected]

A few points to Consider:

  • What’s the Rush?  BLM’s creating new national rules on fracking, and the Grand Junction Field Office is in the middle of updating its Resource Management Plan (RMP).  If the agency waited for the new fracking rules and RMP before making its decision, resource managers would be better informed and industry would be held to a higher standard.  Plus, interested citizens and communities would have more time to review (and respond to) the proposal. Although there have been some amendments along the way, BLM is basing its forthcoming decision on a Resource Management Plan that was written in 1987.
  • Water. For better or worse, BLM can allow oil & gas drilling (and fracking) close to water supplies.  This proposal includes industrial facilities close to Kannah Creek and the City of Grand Junction’s watershed.  Hallenbeck and Juniata Reservoirs would have wells nearby, as would Whitewater Creek, Sink Creek, and Long Mesa Ditch.  The City of Grand Junction may have standards for drilling in its watershed, but BLM needs to ensure those rules are honored.  Also, Grand Junction could be selling public water to the oil & gas company!
  • Air Quality in the Grand Valley and western Colorado is getting strained.  Every oil & gas well emits vapors, each truck kicks-up dust, and other ancillary facilities add to the problem (ie pipelines, compressor stations or waste fluid holding cells).  Diesel trucks and generators, little by little, contribute to growing air quality issues in our region.  When it’s all added-up, Mesa County could see worse winter time inversions, higher ozone levels and more breathing problems for sensitive people.  Also known as smog, ozone forms when two oil & gas pollutants—volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—react with sunlight. Levels above 75 parts per billion are considered a health hazard. The Grand Valley has hovered in the 60’s at times.
  • Local Orchards & Vineyards could be negatively impacted.  It’s important that BLM seriously consider the negative impact oil & gas may have on Mesa County orchards, wineries and associated tourism.  Increased truck traffic on rural roads may hinder a farm’s ability to get its produce to market, and compromised water supplies could really spell disaster.  Imagine sampling some Palisade wine or peaches while seeing oil & gas rigs on the horizon.  Would you come back to tour or taste, if this was your experience?
  • More info needed!  Previously, Fram proposed to drill up to 492 wells across its leased Whitewater Unit in both Mesa and Delta Counties.  Today’s plan, however, is a scaled-back version for 108 wells in only Mesa County.  BLM should get more info from Fram about their future plans for the area, including Delta County.  Appropriate cummulative impact analyses are necessary for sensitive plants like the Colorado Hookless Cactus, and for the nearby Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.

A Few Numbers:

  • In Colorado, there are over 50,000 active oil & gas wells and more than 2000 wells have been approved already for 2013.
  • According to Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission staff reports, there were about 400 spills last year across the state-and we’ve already had nearly 200 spills this year.  Mistakes can, and do, happen-so let’s be especially careful as we consider oil & gas wells, haul routes, pipelines and “ancillary” facilities close to water supplies.
  • The Fort Collins Coloradan reported that nearly 75% of all air quality violations recognized by Colorado authorities during the first quarter of 2013 were attributed to oil & gas.

Read WCC’s full fact sheet on the FRAM Proposal here.

For more information contact Frank Smith at (970) 256-7650 or [email protected]

What do we believe about agriculture?

WCC member Jerry Neri from Grand Junction (front row, far right) and Organizer Rachel Zatterstrom (middle row, 4th from right) participated in a regional meeting to plot the course for changing the way we think about agriculture.

Western Colorado Congress is teaming up with grassroots, family farm groups in ten neighboring states to explore how we can build our power and challenge the “Dominant Narrative” in agriculture.

Corporate agribusiness is running roughshod on our politics, our food system, our health and our communities. In part, this is because the “dominant public narrative” (or common belief) about agriculture reinforces the idea that large scale, corporate, industrial food production is the only way we can feed a hungry world.

Our communities pay a heavy price for this narrative: genetically modified organisms (GMOs), super weeds, diet-related diseases, factory farming, land grabs, and the loss of viable family farming operations.

Over the years our network has had some big wins through strong organizing campaigns, but overall we’re losing ground to corporate agribusiness.

This fall, WCC will bring 15-25 members together with community allies for a pair of meetings on the Western Slope. At these meetings, we’re going to look at how the dominant narrative about agriculture impacts us, and begin the important work of shifting the narrative as a new way to build our power and take back control of our food & farming systems.

Fresh on the heels of a powerful training on dominant narrative work, which he attended along with WCC organizer Rachel Zatterstrom in Minneapolis, here’s what WCC member Jerry Neri had to say:

“I have spent decades working to improve the world of agriculture, but this is one of the few times I have seen people come together in an attempt to do something bigger than the average “I, me, mine” and move to the “we, us, everyone”. I can’t wait to unleash this powerful new tool in our community.”

Participants will be introduced to an exciting new way to think about our organizing work and learn how we can work together to achieve major change in local, regional, and national food & farming policy.

The first “Dominant Narrative” meeting is on Sunday, September 8 in Delta, with a second in early November. Participants are asked to commit to attend both meetings. Space is limited. If you’d like more information or to request a spot at the table, please contact Rachel at (970) 256-7650 or rachel(at)wccongress.org.

Local Foods Update: New Organizer Joins WCC Team

On the heels of our success with the Colorado Cottage Foods Act, WCC’s new community organizer, Rachel Zatterstrom, will be talking to WCC members and other community allies to:

  • Inform Coloradans about new economic opportunities now available as a result of the Cottage Foods Act—and explore some expansion.
  • Build a strong Local Food & Agriculture Committee—that includes you!
  • Identify our next campaign and strategize to win on our issues.

A 5th generation native born in Nucla, Rachel has been involved in various aspects of food systems work from Austin, TX, to Colorado’s Front Range for the past 6 years. She is thrilled to be home on Colorado’s Western Slope and look forward to meeting each of you as we work together to protect and enhance our food and farming future.

Call or email Rachel to find out more, get involved, or just put in your two cents:

Farm Bill Update

The U.S. House failed to pass a Farm Bill last Thursday.  US Rep. Scott Tipton voted for the Farm Bill, which contained substantial cuts to conservation and nutrition programs, and issued this statementClick here for more information on what happens next with the Farm Bill.

Food Safety Update

WCC member Monica Wiitanen has been an active participant in the Western Organization of Resource Council’s (WORC’s) campaign to ensure that the FDA finalizes food safety regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act.  Of particular concern is ensuring that regulations are workable for small producers and processers who market locally and/or directly to consumers.  WCC will continue to engage with WORC’s Food Safety Campaign in the coming months.

Stay tuned for other opportunities to contribute to national reforms on important issues affecting local food & agriculture in western Colorado through our WORC network.

Submit Comments Now on BLM Plan

We are quickly approaching the June 24th deadline for public comment for the BLM’s Grand Junction Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP).  The Grand Junction Field Office’s boundaries cover over one million acres of public land in Mesa and surrounding counties, and decisions made in this document will have a major effect on the long term vitality of our public lands and resources. These public lands surround our communities so public participation is crucial!

Here are some key concerns you might mention in your comments:

  • The BLM should protect our unique and wild places by including all “land with wilderness characteristics” and “areas of environmental concern” in the final plan.
  • Tell the BLM we support their efforts to reduce travel route density in the Draft, but that they should not elevate motorized use over “quiet trail” use and they can do more to support hiking, biking, horseback riding, etc.
  • Ask BLM to include all 14 waterways that have been identified for potential Wild and Scenic protection in the final plan.
  • Before opening up more public land for oil and gas drilling, BLM should close sensitive and valuable areas to leasing, finish BLM frack disclosure and well integrity rules, and require best management practices that protect public heath, air and water.
  • Ask BLM to improve management of air resources by completing air quality modeling, and conducing a Health Impact Assessment of potential effects of increasing hazardous air pollutants.
  • Tell BLM to withdraw areas identified for uranium development from mineral leasing and to promote more sustainable land use decisions that will not leave lands permanently polluted by radioactive waste.

Remember, COMMENTS ARE DUE MONDAY, JUNE 24.  You can either fax the BLM’s comment form (pdf) to (970) 244-3083 or email to [email protected]

For more information, contact WCC Organizer Emily Hornback at (970) 256-7650.

Air Your Concerns with Air Quality Control

The Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) of the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) is holding a rare public meeting in western Colorado on Thursday, June 20 at the Grand Junction City Hall Auditorium (250 N. 5th St). C’mon down to voice your support for clean air, healthy communities and public health.

The Air Quality Control Commission meeting begins at 9:00 am, with an opportunity for public comment at 7:00 pm.  In order to accommodate everyone who wishes to speak, comments will be limit to three minutes from individuals and ten minutes per group. Handouts will also be accepted at the time of the meeting (please bring 13 copies for distribution to the Commissioners and staff).  Click here to see the full agenda.

If you can’t attend the meeting, you may email comments to: [email protected]

A few thoughts as you consider attending:

  • CDPHE can be more involved in the regulation and permitting of oil & gas, as well as uranium, in Colorado!
  • Let’s make oil & gas safer by reducing fugitive emissions, limiting open pits and stopping flaring.  CDPHE also needs to prioritize in-depth analyses of oil & gas’ health impacts.
  • Uranium’s possible comeback in western Colorado could risk public health, and the pending Pinyon Ridge Uranium Mill air permit should include both high standards and local hearings.
  • Grand Junction’s winter time inversions this year were so bad that sensitive populations were forced to stay indoors. Something needs to be done on regional ozone before Mesa County’s air gets even worse!
  • CDPHE can help local air quality by partnering with BLM on Resource Management Plans; by advocating for strict industry pollution standards, and by managing Off Highway Vehicle travel on western Colorado’s dirt roads.
  • The Air Quality Control Commission includes some locals.  Click here to read more about the Commissioners.
  • As stewards, it’s important for CDPHE err on the side of public health and safety, not corporate profits.