Energy corridor conundrum

County asks: could future imminent domain displace conservation?

By Katherine Nettles

A federal proposal for assigning an “energy corridor” where oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines, electricity transmission and electricity distribution facilities or other energy-related infrastructure could be placed in the future has raised questions of how it might impinge on private property, conservation easements and wild and endangered species habitat. The energy corridor proposal, called the “West-Wide Corridor” spans Colorado and ten other western states. Gunnison County commissioners are preparing their commentary for the three federal agencies involved, because the Colorado section intersects Gunnison County to the south.

The proposed corridor runs along Highway 50 from Pueblo to Montrose and then south along Highway 550 through New Mexico. The US Department of Energy, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service (USFS) have asked for stakeholder input on their proposal, which must be received prior to September 23. 

The commissioners discussed the issue with county attorney David Baumgarten on September 17 and will be filing their request for a narrower corridor running through Gunnison County.

“It’s important for us to comment on this,” said commissioner Jonathan Houck. “If there’s a lesson learned with some of these large projects, I would point to development of Blue Mesa; I would point to the uranium tailings project out at Chance Gulch.”

Houck said these federal projects have an impact on the Gunnison sage grouse, and then “the local community is kind of left holding the bag” on the decline of the sensitive and endangered species or its loss of habitat.

“The irreconcilable paradox” as Baumgarten called it, “is that this is probably the most important habitat for that species left on the planet. And the same government that listed it, somehow is not recognizing that they are impacting it.”

Commissioner John Messner brought up the question of imminent domain because the proposed route crosses both public and private property and spans in width from 1,000 to 5,000 feet—up to a mile wide in some places.

“So the intent is to create an additional easement on private property, under imminent domain?” asked Messner.

Baumgarten said he believes so, but the agencies have been reticent about that subject.

Houck said it seems like a huge place holder for convenience. “I think it’s just a lack of any thoughtfulness to the fact that we’ve got a federally listed species, we’ve got habitat concerns…yet in their own planning process they paid no attention to any of that.”

Baumgarten suggested they request that the corridor be narrower in this Gunniosn county area to protect private properties, big game migration corridors and the prime sage grouse habitat from being altered.

The commissioners agreed that they were uncomfortable with the potential targeting of conservation easements, and wildlife habitat. They authorized Baumgarten to finalize comments based on their discussion and go over it with them individually later. The county will then ratify its comments on a future agenda since the due date is approaching.

“We’ve openly, publicly discussed the content and the desire of what we want to see,” said Houck. “I don’t anticipate any changes there.” More information and full maps of the energy corridor proposal, as well as a link to provide input, can be found at http://corridoreis.anl.gov.

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