County, wilderness group butt heads

Commissioners take offense at last-minute invitation to meeting

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A forum on the future of oil and gas development in Northwest Colorado will be held in two weeks at The Center of Craig.

Two of the forum's organizers went before the Moffat County commissioners Friday asking them to participate.

Two commissioners said maybe, and one said no.

"I will not support you," Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton told the two organizers at the conclusion of Friday's meeting.

Moffat County commissioners T. Wright Dickinson and Marianna Raftopoulos said they would consider the invitation.

Jennifer Seidenberg, northwest field organizer with the Colorado Wilderness Network, and Christi Ruppe, a representative of Western Colorado Congress, came before the commissioners to explain the reasons for the forum and what they hope to accomplish.

The forum, set for Nov. 16, at the Center of Craig, is called "Our Land, Our Rights: A Community Forum on the Future of Oil and Gas in Northwest Colorado."

The meeting will involve round table discussions and workshops.

Those on the agenda so far include representatives from Chevron Texaco, the Division of Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, a La Plata County commissioner and a Routt County commissioner.

"We're going to discuss things we need to look at in coal-producing regions in the state," Ruppe said. "Our goal is not only to begin dialogue with some of the landowners but to let them know what their rights are."

Raftopoulos said she was concerned about the fact that the forum is being held in Moffat County and, until now, the Moffat County commissioners had not been asked to participate.

"That's our concern," she said. "We see the commissioners on the agenda but we don't see the Moffat County commissioners."

The Moffat County commissioners said a land use board member brought the scheduled forum to their attention, and the commissioners then invited the forum organizers to talk to them at their

Thursday meeting.

"What concerns me most is the lack of balance in this forum," Dickinson said.

Seidenberg said organizers were trying to make it a regional meeting and set it in Craig as a central location.

"How can you view this as regional?" Hampton asked. "You're stacking the deck."

In letters to the commissioners, Hampton said the group made misleading remarks, saying the Craig Chamber of Commerce solicited them to come.

"That is not true," Hampton said.

Dickinson said he thought there was potential for the county and the groups represented at Thursday's meeting to find common ground.

"There are many issues where we can find agreement," he said. "I don't think you'll find any communities more concerned with preserving people's private property rights than we are. I see a perceived mind set that Moffat County is opposed to some of this but it's not the case. I can understand the frustration of my fellow commissioners at what they see as a lack of balance at this workshop."

But Dickinson said he would still consider attending the all-day forum.

"You have a right to hold a meeting in our community," he said. "The decision we have to make is whether or not to participate and whether or not it's a level playing field. But I'm very disturbed that you've been working for four months and we have only been contacted in the last week."

Seidenberg said they had no intentions of offending the Moffat County commissioners.

"Obviously the county and wilderness network have some differences," she said. "We have to find a balanced approach. They were always invited we just hadn't gotten our invitations out."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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