Linman and Briedis show commitment to public input

September 19, 2012

Uncategorized

Part public forum, part group therapy session, the Citizen – Candidate Forum (9/18) was one of the most intelligent discussions on oil and gas impacts I have ever participated in. Our group wasn’t large but what we lacked in big numbers, we made up for in heavyweight content.

Inquiring minds want to know, so let’s get right to who was there.

Four panelists: Bob Arrington, Lisa Bracken, Peggy and Tod Tibbetts (also moderator)
Two commissioner candidates: Sonja Linman and Aleks Briedis
Two reporters: John Colson (Post Independent) and Dennis Webb (Grand Junction Sentinel)
Two filmmakers: Hamilton Pevec and Austin Lottimer (yes, they filmed it)

Eighteen citizens, including former county and COGCC commissioner Trési Haupt and former county assessor John Gorman, came to share their views and experiences, and/or to listen.

It’s not easy to distill content from a 2½-hour discussion. You sort of had to be there, but I can describe the highlights. My apologies, Tod and I got too involved in the discussion and forgot to take photos.  Hamilton Pevec (Faux Reel Films) shared some still photos for our photo gallery — click here.

By sharing their experiences with county and state government Trési Haupt and John Gorman contributed a lot to the discussion. Among other things, John Gorman reminded everyone that while we may be feeling shut out of the process currently, public opinion still matters and politics is cyclical. We acknowledged that while our small towns are spread across the county we are all part of a community. Change always comes from the grassroots level, not the top down.

Trési Haupt and Bob Arrington gave us background and explanation about the rulemaking process and the role of government, as well as individuals. Lisa Bracken told about her personal experiences with a process that often feels like kicking the can down the road. The burden has been on her to prove groundwater contamination on West Divide Creek and then when scientific evidence was presented from a hydro-geologist he was discredited. A shared frustration arose out of the discussion that we often feel like we’re trying awfully hard to cope with an industry that doesn’t seem the least bit interested in our survival. We discussed how in the recent past, industry, county and town governments, and citizens were engaged in a process that was more open and inclusive than it is now. Tod Tibbetts gave us an overview of the agreements Antero has made with the town of Silt, and other communities of residents on Silt Mesa and Peach Valley.

Sonja Linman said she believes the county should be a facilitator and supporter of bringing industry and public concerns to the table, including agreements between companies and the local citizens impacted. “Sometimes this can be as simple as taking into consideration the public comments offered at the meetings before making a decision,” she said. “Public input should matter in the decision-making process.” Briedis agreed and emphasized the county commissioners’ responsibility to the people they serve.

We talked about the EAB (Energy Advisory Board), which originated because of the need for mitigation between industry, local governments and the public. Trési Haupt explained that the industry eventually demanded more control over the board. As a result the EAB has moved a way from mitigation into more of a platform for industry. I pointed out the while (GOGCC Exec. Dir.) Matt Lepore praised the EAB saying it’s the only gathering of its kind in the state, the board is not an effective avenue for addressing public concerns.

I shared what I had learned thus far about the flaring on the ridge south of Silt. I described the difficulty we have had getting accurate information. Our discussion brought out that this is a common complaint from folks. Even with all the avenues we have for obtaining information – the COGCC, the oil & gas liaison, the EAB, Community Counts, the oil & gas industry themselves – it is a time-consuming, frustrating process. Lack of oversight of industry activity in the field contributes mightily to this problem.

With regard to flaring Trési Haupt and Bob Arrington agreed that county government has the right to prohibit flaring. Bob stressed the need to negotiate not best management practices but the best technology from the industry.

Aleks Briedis and Sonja Linman listened and participated in the discussion. Sonja explained the importance of land use planning when it comes to oil and gas development. Through the committee and public input process, the role of county government is to take all aspects of development into consideration including impacts.

Aleks Briedis stressed the need for economic diversity and the importance of recognizing outdoor recreation and small businesses as vital to our economy. In discussion we talked about the decline in hunters. This time of year Silt used to be wall-to-wall hunters in trucks with campers and horse trailers. Their numbers have declined drastically in recent years because prime hunting lands are now gas fields.

Sonja and Aleks also discussed the use of technology in bringing the public into the process. If county government wants public input, the commissioners need to be accessible to the public, and information needs to be made easily available.

The candidates talked and answered questions for a full hour. What I saw was two unique individuals who have devoted themselves to learning all aspects of the job of county commissioner, and beyond. Sonja and Aleks showed this particular group that they understand the issues. Clearly they share a vision for the future of Garfield County that involves the public as we work toward solutions to the challenges we face.

The evening flowed with so much meaningful discussion it’s impossible to describe in any more detail, except to say many of us felt we could talk well on into the night, including Sonja and Aleks. For me personally it felt good to be among people who share my frustration and concerns about flaring and declining air quality. A lot of folks lingered long afterward to chat and help put up chairs. A truly memorable evening. My hope is we can carry that energy forward and find a way to have more discussions like this.

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