GOCO chair: Residential growth poses challenges for energy biz

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Energy producers and agricultural producers have something in common: As they head into the next 15 years, they'll have to launch strong educational campaigns to garner support if they want to continue.

That was one message sent loud and clear Thursday by former Moffat County Com--missioner T. Wright Dickinson. Dickinson was the keynote speaker at the Northwest Colorado Energy Producers Association meeting in Steamboat Springs.

"We'll need more and more public and political support because more and more, just having the right to do it isn't going to cut it anymore," he said. "Your challenge is to figure out ways to reach out and educate (people) about why they want to keep you around and why they should support you politically."

Dickinson said he's seen several communities that challenged producer's rights -- whether they were owned or leased -- as more people moved to those communities.

Railways, for example, currently cross primarily through agricultural land. That relationship has been symbiotic, but as growth occurs and those agriculture lands become houses, the occupants challenge an energy producer's right to run that railroad.

Dickinson is a fourth-generation Moffat County resident and rancher who is the chairman of Great Outdoors Colorado, has served on the Colorado River Water Conservation District Board, is the past Club 20 chairman and has spent 12 years on the Bureau of Land Management Resource Advisory Council.

He's seen the rights of agricultural lands and energy producers eroded by growth.

"I see both a challenge and an opportunity as this valley continues to grow," he said.

Colorado is growing as a destination not only for tourists, but also for those looking to relocate. At the same time, natural resource development is heating up.

"How we accommodate those endeavors is going to be real challenging," Dickinson said. "It's one thing to have the right to graze and produce, it's another thing to continue that as neighbors move in."

He challenged oil and natural gas developers to follow the lead set by the coal mines in becoming active in their communities and participating in public process.

The suggestion was that producers become active in advocating for open space to avoid potential conflicts.

"When I look into the future, maybe selfishly, I'd like to see it like it is now," Dickinson said. "But I know agriculture can't sustain a community. No one industry in and of itself can sustain a community -- at least in an economically viable way."

The next Energy Producers Association meeting will be Aug. 4 in Steamboat Springs. The exact location has not been determined.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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