Tri-County Commissioners Talk Uranium, Fire and Ice
by Peter Shelton
Aug 11, 2011 | 1697 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Monthly Get-together Generates Few Sparks This Time

RIDGWAY – Commissioners from San Miguel and Montrose Counties butted heads politely at their regular Tri-County meeting in Ridgway this week, over a letter San Miguel County sent to Governor Hickenlooper regarding the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill in the west end of Montrose County.

“We were trying to get answers to some of our questions about the mill,” Commissioner Joan May told The Watch following the meeting. Montrose County Commissioners Ron Henderson, Gary Ellis and David White took umbrage that San Miguel had gone to the governor without raising their concerns first with Montrose County, where the mill would be sited.

“They went into all of the benefits of the mill – the jobs, etc. – but we wanted to ask the governor to look at the cumulative effects of more mines, the effects on water, and the socio-economic effects on our tourism industry,” May said.

“When they heard about our letter, Montrose County wrote to Hick in response, saying in effect that all of their concerns have been answered. We didn’t feel our concerns were addressed.”

At the Monday meeting “We all agreed to carbon copy each other in future,” May said.

DIRECT DISTRIBUTION EXPLAINED

Commissioners from Ouray, San Miguel and Montrose Counties heard on Monday from Colorado State Department of Local Affairs representative Tamra Hooper regarding the tricky set of hoops counties and municipalities must jump through in order to receive state severance tax and federal mineral lease dollars generated by energy and mineral extraction.

The process is called Direct Distribution, and is designed to help local governments impacted by mining and oil and gas extraction. But to receive the money, either from the state or the feds, counties and towns must first prove that energy workers actually live within their jurisdiction(s).

“It has everything to do with where the employee resides,” as opposed to where he works, Hooper said.

Montrose County Manager Jesse Hunt, who came to Montrose from gas-rich Garfield County, said “It’s important for counties to get the reporting from the energy companies. Mesa County was getting millions of dollars of this money, but every one of those employees worked in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. We [Garfield County] would go out and find their trailers and put them on our GPS system if they were in our county.”

The problem is different for Ouray County, said Commissioner Lynn Padgett. “Here, because of the short season, mine employees literally can’t work the required minimum 500 hours in six months for us to qualify. Mine companies come to us and ask us to plow [the roads to their mines], but they can’t make the 500 hours to bring [Direct Distribution] income to the county.”

DOLA’s Hooper said it was worth pursuing where possible, though. The two “buckets” of money, state and federal, “Can still range from $40-80 million a year.”

USFS TALKS FIRE, BIOMASS AND ICE PARK

Forest Service District Ranger Tammy Randall-Parker updated commissioners from three counties at their regular meeting in Ridgway this week on prescribed fire in the region this season.

“The Cooperative Forest Restoration Project, which brought us $940,000 dollars in grant funding this year, has allowed us, among other things, to plan 3,200 acres of prescribed fire, which is great for the health of our forests. We have done 1,500 acres to date. Hopefully, the Norwood folks will see a lot of smoke this fall,” she said without irony. (In conversation after the meeting, Randall-Parker said, “You have discovered my passion. I love Smokey the Bear and all, but we need fire. And we need to get used to smoke in the air again.”)

She also touched on the “exciting” prospects for biomass in the area. One example: the Nucla power plant “is looking at burning 20 percent wood fiber by 2013 to meet its green standard. That could be three, four or five thousand acres a year off our forests.”

There is also the intriguing possibility of a coal gasification plant coming to the Uncompahgre Valley, Randall-Parker said; TCG Global has a patented gasification technology that can create synthetic gas and “Make coal burn 75 percent cleaner.”

With a big thumbs-up to Ouray City Administer Patrick Rondinelli, who was in the audience, Randall-Parker said the long-sought deal to sell United States Forest Service property in the Ouray Ice Park is “Going to happen. The City of Ouray will purchase the property with a GOCO (Great Outdoors Colorado) grant.” It will be done “At the latest, by the end of the year,” she said. “Let’s have a party!”

Speaking of parties, “Smokey Bear turns 100 tomorrow,” she said. “We’re throwing a birthday party for him at the Delta office. You’re all invited.”

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