Federal judge halts progress on Bull Mountain Gas Pipeline

Temporary measure

A federal judge has temporarily halted construction of the Bull Mountain Pipeline in local roadless areas, and will decide next week whether to extend the injunction until a lower court decides on a case filed by environmentalists, who contend the pipeline violates the federal roadless rule.

 

 

On June 6, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction halting all construction on a natural gas pipeline in roadless areas in the Clear Fork Divide in western Colorado until June 18.
“It’s a good temporary thing, for sure,” says High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA) public lands director Dan Morse, representing one of the organizations that filed the case.
The U.S. Forest Service has already approved the pipeline, proposed by Houston-based SG Interests Ltd. and Gunnison Energy, finding that the route would have the fewest impacts on the surrounding forest.
The 25-mile pipeline will traverse two national forests through five Colorado counties—Gunnison, Delta, Mesa, Garfield and Pitkin—and would enter the 120,000-acre Clear Fork Divide designated roadless complex that connects the Grand and Battlement Mesas to the West Elk Mountains.
In response to the Forest Service decision, a consortium of environmental groups—including HCCA—and Pitkin County filed suit against the Forest Service for allegedly violating the 2001 Roadless Area Rule.
The group’s attorneys appeared in United States District Court for Colorado last month to request a preliminary injunction against construction of the pipeline, which was allowed to commence after May 1 under the Forest Service’s approval.
On Wednesday, April 30, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn in Denver denied the motion, stating that the groups had failed to show their claims would prevail in court. Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed part of that decision, halting construction of the pipeline in roadless areas.
SG Interests vice president Robbie Guinn says the company has halted all work in roadless areas. “We’re not doing anything in inventoried roadless areas,” he says. “We’re shut down as far as the IRAs area concerned.” He says some work is continuing outside the areas but not much. Guinn says the work stoppage will continue until the court issues an order allowing them to proceed. “We don’t know when or if we’ll be able to get started again,” he says.
Morse says it was a necessary move to protect the roadless area until the lower court rules on the merits of the environmentalists’ case. Without the injunction, he says, the roadless area would have been disturbed almost immediately. “We had folks out taking photos of the initial construction,” he says. “It was apparent that the construction would go through the roadless areas very quickly.”
Representatives from other environmental groups agree. “We are happy that the court exercised its authority before that authority was usurped by the bulldozers ripping through the roadless area,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop, in a press release.
The environmental groups are contesting whether the activities that accompany the pipeline’s construction constitute a road—and therefore violates federal law.
“A road, is a road, is a road—no matter what the government calls it. And roads are illegal in roadless areas,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice staff attorney who represents the groups.
The conservation groups believe that the agencies’ decision could open the door to the construction of roads in the nearly 60 million acres of currently protected forestland. “We hope the court will slam the door on the Bush Administration’s latest attempts to undermine protections for America’s last, great forests by opening up these special places to development,” said Paul Spitler, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The court set a Wednesday, June 18 hearing to decide whether the injunction should stay in place until the Colorado district court can rule on the lawsuit.

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