Moffat County, lawmakers speak out against possible designation of Vermillion Basin as national monument | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County, lawmakers speak out against possible designation of Vermillion Basin as national monument

Erin Fenner

— Local and state officials are speaking out against a possible listing of the Vermillion Basin in Moffat County as a national monument.

After President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate about 500,000 acres in New Mexico as a national monument, Colorado leaders spoke out against the possibility of the administration making another monument designation in Colorado.

The Vermillion Basin is a 77,000-acre landscape rich with natural gas, so making the basin a monument immediately would halt energy production prospects.

U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday asking the administration to use the local process when making a decision.

"The designation of Vermillion Basin as a national monument would result in a lasting, if not permanent, adverse economic impact on the communities of Northwestern Colorado, including their ability to sustain and create jobs," according to the letter. "Local elected officials and stakeholders have recently sent letters asking that any consideration of the Vermillion Basin as a national monument be halted until broad consensus and community support from all sectors are secured."

The Moffat County commissioners sent a letter June 17 asking for support on the issue from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Mark Udall, D-Colo.; and Tipton.

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"Moffat County is particularly sensitive to issues around Vermillion Basin. In 2000, Vermillion Basin was proposed as a national monument by various environmental groups with zero input from the local elected officials," according to the commissioners' letter.

Area leaders have worked for years to come to an agreement on compromise that would appease environmentalists and traditional energy advocates, Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe said.

"Then in 2010, the local Bureau of Land Management office and a diverse group of locally affected interests supported a plan to responsibly manage Vermillion Basin by balancing environmental protections and allowing oil and gas drilling on 1 percent of the surface," according to the commissioners' letter.

Because area leaders and officials have worked so hard for a compromise, it's unjust for the administration to consider the area for monument designation, Grobe said.

"We've gone through a long process getting public input and everybody on board. It was a pretty good group that agreed with a 1 percent disturbance. So to have that shut down without coming back to the county and discussing it, that's where we're concerned," Grobe said. "I'm not against a monument, but (only) if you go through the process."

People have been concerned that the Vermillion Basin is targeted because of a BLM document called "Treasured Landscapes" holds a long list of areas recommended for monument designation.

Tipton and Gardner cited "Treasured Landscapes" as evidence that the Obama administration made the monument designation in New Mexico and why the executive office may consider the Vermillion Basin.

"This document includes information that the administration may take unilateral action to lock away an additional 13 million acres in Western states, including the Vermillion Basin in Moffat County, Colorado," the congressmen's letter said.

But Grobe said the document contains misinformation about the area.

The document states the Vermillion Basin is "vital sage grouse habitat."

Grobe said this is blatantly untrue.

"None of that is true. Saying it’s prime sage grouse country, none of that's true," he said.

The Obama administration has made no public statement declaring its interest in designating the area as a monument, but Grobe said the commissioners’ letter was a proactive move.

"There's something involved here even though the president's office and cabinet are kind of not saying nothing is happening," he said. "We just want to be proactive."

Last June, Grobe testified in Washington, D.C., at a small-business hearing, outlining how expanding oil and gas business could boost the economy in Northwest Colorado.

He specifically highlighted that the Vermillion Basin has 200 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

However, Conservation Colorado has commented in the past that the Moffat County commissioners focus too much on oil and gas in their political endeavors.

Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.