By Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG—The Huerfano County Planning Commission took a look at a community forum that will allow a mediator to establish and maintain a dialogue between Shell Oil and representatives from the county during a Planning and Zoning (P&Z) meeting last Tuesday.
The forum was a condition on the conditional use permit (CUP) the county commission approved last June. The CUP regulates surface use of land for an exploratory natural gas well that Shell Oil plans to drill two and a half miles west of La Veta.
Planning commissioner Kent Mace made the suggestion during the June 28 planning commission meeting where the CUP was recommended for approval. That meeting generated a large protest, mostly from La Veta residents. The Board of County Commissioners approved the CUP Wednesday, June 29.
The forum was envisioned as a way for Huerfano County residents and Shell to discuss issues that all sides view as important to both the operation of the company in the county and county residents. As a condition on the CUP, it is up to Shell to establish the communication committee.
Shell then presented a document to the planning commission during an August meeting that called for a core group of three to four county residents, who will be selected by the planning commissioners, to work with an outside facilitator from the Keystone Center to recruit additional members up to a total of 12 for the committee.
The “Shell document,” was accepted by the planning commission as the official document and any changes to that document may take an action by the commission, according to planning commission chair Max Vezzani. Another document was given to the commission by the Citizens for Huerfano County outlining what they think the committee should look like. The commission didn’t recognize the CHC document.
The Keystone Center, a non-profit organization hired by Shell, looks at environmental, energy and public health problems. Keystone is headquartered in Keystone, Colo., with offices in Denver.
During the Sept. 13 P&Z meeting the commission struggled with what the forum would do, what it would accomplish and what the committee appointed to the forum would look like.
The community forum would not be able to make decisions according Vezzani. “As far as I understand, the forum will only make suggestions. And it should be made up of representatives from all over the county.”
However, Mace said that the Shell document wouldn’t work either. “I see this as a meeting between Shell and the community, with Shell agreeing to answer the questions the community asks. We’ve done this in the past and it worked pretty well. I mean with 12 people talking with Shell, what gets decided?”
With the committee possibly making recommendations to P&Z, planning commissioner Lonnie Brown suggested the committee look at important issues. “They would also bring in as much independent information as possible.”
The planning commission decided to schedule a workshop with Mike Hughes from the Keystone Center and representatives from Shell Oil. A workshop is scheduled for 10:30 am Tuesday, Sept. 27, in the county commission meeting room. The public is invited but will not be permitted to ask questions or make comments.