On Thursday, Rep. Scott Tipton held an invitation-only meeting in Rifle with stakeholders regarding the future of the Thompson Divide. Garfield County commissioners, Gunnison County commissioners, Thompson Divide Coalition members, Carbondale’s mayor and a prominent Carbondale rancher were all in attendance.
One group that didn’t receive an invitation? The Board of Pitkin County Commissioners. That was particularly concerning to BOCC Chair Greg Poschman, considering more than 88,000 acres of the Thompson Divide are in Pitkin County.
“We find that most disturbing that we’re not invited to a meeting involving land in Pitkin County,” Poschman said during Wednesday’s BOCC meeting. “I hope the other municipalities understand that … we’re concerned and perhaps a little bit angry, and I think we have a plan to write a letter to that effect.”
According to Tipton’s communications director, Matthew Atwood, it wasn’t an intentional snub, and some invitations didn’t even come directly from the congressional office.
“This was the third meeting of this type. He held one at Alamosa, one in Durango and one in Rifle. With 29 counties in our district, we try to coordinate it, geographically speaking. The Thompson Divide Coalition had invited the Gunnison Commissioners,” he said. “We were also planning to hold another one at the end of September in Ouray, and we have already extended the invitation for Pitkin County commissioners to attend as well.”
While Poschman appreciates the invitation, it doesn’t make much geographical sense to him.
“You want us to drive five hours to Ouray?” he quipped. “Meanwhile, you guys did not have the courage, perhaps, to invite us to Rifle. At least two of us would have gone, and some Aspen representatives would have been there.”
Atwood noted that Tipton’s office will pursue other ways of reaching out, in addition to the closed-door meetings.
“We will schedule some conference calls too, so they can get their input in,” he said.
As for the reason for Thursday’s listening session, Tipton is gathering constituents’ feedback about the Thompson Divide for his next draft of his Colorado Recreation Enhancement and Conservation Act, which he first unveiled in July. That first draft intentionally left out the Thompson Divide in protections from future oil and gas development, much to advocates’ dismay.
“The overarching concern — obviously, with the Thompson Divide folks there — was the exclusion of Thompson Divide,” Atwood said, adding that “there was pretty good consensus” at the meeting.
“There’s nothing set in stone yet,” he continued about the bill’s future language. “It was a discussion draft; it’s not a final bill. I think that we intentionally left it out because at the time that we introduced the draft, we hadn’t received the broad consensus [about protecting the Thompson Divide].”
Poschman is skeptical of that claim — he had, after all, joined Thompson Divide Coalition members on a Washington, D.C., trip in June to discuss the matter.
“We laid it all out,” he said. “All these issues he’s brought up, we think we’ve resolved those issues, and everyone tells us we have. He should have already known this. He only found out yesterday? There’s something that doesn’t pass my sniff test.”
The Garfield County commissioners wrote a letter supporting protecting the Thompson Divide from future oil and gas development — though that support did not extend to the rest of the lands covered under the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a proposed bill sponsored by Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse, who represents the 2nd Congressional District, both Democrats.
The REC Act draft is Tipton’s response to the CORE Act. The Thompson Divide exclusion from future protections is a deciding difference between the two — though Atwood noted there’s “potential” for that to change.
Poschman, for his part, sees an opportunity for bipartisanship on the matter.
“Hopefully, Gardner and Tipton will get on. They can still be signatories for it — they can be co-sponsors,” he said of the CORE Act. “How good would that look? That’s the big thing — please come on as co-sponsors! This would look so good for you! I think the public opinion has shifted toward protecting and preserving public lands and access to public lands.”
The proposed bills are the latest in a legal battle for the Thompson Divide’s future that has spanned more than a decade. The Thompson Divide Coalition successfully garnered a 20-year moratorium on future oil and gas development in the White River National Forest section of the Thompson Divide.
That moratorium took effect in 2016. The CORE Act proposes ensuring the entire Thompson Divide be protected from any future development. The REC Act does not — for now. The Pitkin County commissioners want to ensure they have a seat at future table discussions.