Battle brews over pipeline near Aspen
ASPEN ” A proposal to build a pipeline through 8.3 miles of inventoried roadless areas is spawning a battle that cuts to the heart of the conflict between wilderness campaigns and America’s energy industry.
Environmental and hunting groups have teamed up to oppose a proposed pipeline that would cut a permanent 50-foot swath through three roadless areas, Clear Creek, Bald Mountain and East Willow, all southwest of Carbondale in the White River National Forest and Grand Mesa, Uncompaghre and Gunnison National Forests.
Roadless areas are the necessary precursor to wilderness designation by Congress, a goal of some of the environmental groups that argue that building a new pipeline would be illegal under what is known as the Clinton rule, a law against building new roads in inventoried roadless areas.
“The Clinton roadless rule prohibits the construction of roads even if they are temporary,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop. “Not only is it illegal, it’s bad landscape ecology planning. You don’t bifurcate large wildlife corridors with disturbances like this.”
The joint proposal for the 25.5-mile pipeline comes from a Dallas company, SG Interests and Gunnison Energy, a subsidiary of the Oxbow Corporation.
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“The pipeline right-of-way is not a road, it is considered a right-of-way,” said Brad Robinson, president of Gunnison Energy. “It comes into the definitions of roads under the Clinton rule.”
The Forest Service identified the route through the roadless areas as the preferred route, in opposition to alternate, longer routes that would not cut through the areas.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife wrote a letter opposing the chosen route, noting that it “had the most negative impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitats of all four routes which we analyzed.”
Robinson said that his company would prefer the route with the least impact and that it will abide with the decision of the Forest Service. He said the alternative 38-mile and 32-mile routes were not cost prohibitive but that the shorter route made sense and was what the Forest Service chose.
Robinson said the impacts of the new pipeline would be nominal because of an existing 5-inch pipeline and because of revegetation following initial construction.