The future of land use planning in the controversial Vermillion Basin was up for debate Tuesday as the Moffat County Land Use Board weighed its options on the best way to expedite oil and gas development in the area.
Moffat County officials want to speed up the potential for drilling in the area, which is located in the far reaches of Northwest Colorado to boost county dollars. Yet, they are keenly aware that such a move will be met with legal opposition, because of the thousands of acres of proposed wilderness there.
The question for the Land Use Board is whether amending the area's current land use plan or redoing it completely, is their next best move.
"Essentially we want to have our cake and eat it too," said board member T. Wright Dickinson. "It might take a while (but the current plan) is locking away our natural resources."
Drilling is currently allowed in the area, but that use is discretionary and the agency hasn't yet gone through the process of opening up the area to oil and gas.
BLM officials previously said the area contained 80,000 acres of wildness characteristics.
Under a new or amended plan, Moffat County officials hope to allow oil and gas leases. Pros and cons come with both amending and redoing a land management plan for Vermillion, board members said at the meeting.
Amending the plan may send a confusing message to the public which has voiced opinions in the process and stated the area contained wilderness characteristics and therefore shouldn't be open for drilling, members said.
On the other hand, amending the plan may take less time at an estimated three years than the full plan revision, which is already slated to begin 2007.
Additionally a full plan revision will allow more information possibly including more protection for endangered species or county information including right of way road claims, which collectively may either help or hinder the push for the area's natural resources.
"An amendment might hold (oil and gas) leasing," said board member David Blackstun of the BLM. "You would not be smart to do that because on the one hand you would be opening up the area for leasing and on the other, telling the public you want to go in and look at amending the policy."
The need to readdress the land use policy at Vermillion Basin follows close on the heels of a recent decision by the Bush Administration to change the ways in which public lands become wilderness areas.
Today almost 12,000 acres of Vermillion Basin near Irish Canyon are somewhat protected from oil and gas development because of its cultural significance and rare plants and animals that live there.
Currently about 344,000 acres of public land is proposed for wilderness in the county's more than three million acres.
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.