Outfitter worried about road

Three Forks Ranch officials appeal county's decision about oil-well route

Three Forks Ranch officials are appealing a Routt County decision to allow an access road to an oil-well site on public land.

Three Forks Ranch, a high-end outfitting lodge in the northern corner of the county, is protesting the county's decision to allow a 2 1/2 mile road through the adjacent Stull Ranch property. The 11-mile road is mostly on Bureau of Land Management land, as is the proposed exploratory oilwell site.

On Thursday, Three Forks Ranch general manager Jay Lin-derman appeared before the Routt County Planning Co--mmission to request a denial of the special-use permit for the road through private land. Planning Commission members tabled the decision until Aug. 18 to gather more information.

Linderman said the road would damage nearby habitat for grouse, a species whose population is decreasing in Colorado, and would pose sediment and erosion problems for the nearby Little Snake River.

The road would run through meadows that visitors are re--quired to travel through on foot or horseback so as not to disturb wildlife or the fragile soil, Linderman said.

"This is the most blatant disregard of environment and habitat that I have ever witnessed," Linderman said.

Linderman displayed poster-sized photographs of the land and the area he said the road would disturb. Although the land is far from Routt County's population centers, Linderman said it is important.

"If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?" Linderman said. "I would say yes, and the sound is deafening."

Sierra Club members and the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley also asked the Planning Commission to review the special-use permit.

The county has no control over the road through BLM land or the well site, even though it is within the county. A special-use permit is required for the section of road through private land. Three Forks Ranch officials also appealed the BLM portion of the road and well site and asked for a temporary restraining order in federal court. That request was denied July 29.

Clayton Williams Energy Inc. is proposing to construct or upgrade roads to access the well site. The well would be close to an existing exploratory well that was drilled in 1988 and plugged and abandoned in 1989.

The previous owners of the well used the road through what is now Three Forks Ranch to access the well. However, Three Forks Ranch officials refused to allow the same access for Clayton Williams Energy Inc., which sued for the access but had its request denied in court.

The road through Three Forks Ranch would have been shorter.

Representatives from Clay-ton Williams Energy said the potential for oil on the site is great. If oil is found in the test well, larger production could take place. The company also holds mineral leases on Three Forks Ranch.

Clayton Williams Energy rep-resentatives said that after studies were done, the road was redesigned so it would avoid damaging the sage-grouse habitat. They also said the company would contribute to a wetlands bank in South Routt to mitigate the disturbance to wetlands from the new road.

"We came up with the plan that has the least amount of impact," said Charles Williams, a geological consultant with the company.

Planning Commissioner JohnAyer asked that the decision be tabled so the board could get more information from the Division of Wildlife about the effects on the animal habitat. The appeal was tabled to Aug. 18.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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