By Bob Kennemer
The late 1970s saw an interest in developing a carbon dioxide (Co2) extraction operation on Sheep Mountain near Gardner. Atlantic Richfield Company or ARCO proposed to pump Co2 from Sheep Mountain to Texas where the gas would be used to flush oil from oil wells. Residents in the Gardner and Redwing area had mixed feelings about the project. The project would create numerous well paying jobs and bring millions of dollars of tax revenue to Huerfano County, but Co2 is also a deadly gas.
Gardner, being home to several communes, had an incredible pool of talent when it came to organizing. Ranchers and Hippies alike wanted to make sure the project was done right. “Right” meant with as little environmental damage as possible and with safety at the forefront.
Larry Harris, a PhD geologist residing in La Veta was called upon to consult with the residents. Numerous community meetings were held both public and private. Harris and others noted that Co2, being heavier than air, could sink into the near by valleys should a leak occur. Of course most people lived in or along the valley floor. The residents were able to work with ARCO to develop strong safety measures and emergency procedures.
Currently the ARCO operation is still producing Co2, going beyond its expected life span. And the Sheep Mountain project continues to be a primary tax revenue source for the county.
The late 1980s presented a new environmental issue of concern to residents of both Huerfano and Las Animas counties; two low level nuclear waste dumps. One dump would be located near Aguilar and another east of Trinidad. The companies behind the idea claimed the area had ideal geologic conditions for housing the waste beneath underground salt domes. The idea was met with huge opposition.
Perhaps it was bad public relations on the part of the nuclear waste companies or maybe it was the inherent fear factor related to anything nuclear. Whatever the reason, southern Colorado citizens were outraged. The project saw virtually no local support. Even the Huerfano County Economic Development Corporation came out against the plan.
Once again Dr. Harris was consulted and asked to look at the science behind the waste dump. Harris and other consultants agreed the research and science were weak. Huge numbers of citizen activists turned out for rallies opposing the plan. Tempers flared. Curse words were exchanged. Heated debates ensued.
Then, by a stroke of luck, the primary spokesman for the project ended up getting drunk in a Cuchara bar. His loose lips ended up sinking the ship. The poor fellow basically exposed his company’s strategies to win over the local populace. He even admitted the project had numerous weak points that would have to be kept hidden from both regulators and activists.
The next day, news of the drunken expose spread like wild fire throughout the Cuchara valley and beyond. Within a week or so the company representative had moved out of the area. The activists, with a bit of alcohol enhanced help from the pro-nuclear waste faction, had won this battle.