There were two main themes in the discussion Friday in Rifle between Gov. Bill Ritter and a group of mountain mayors and local officials: the oil-and-gas boom and finding the funds to mitigate its impact on local communities.Rifle and Parachute have been the epicenters for oil and gas drilling, but the industry is also affecting communities in the Roaring Fork Valley, like Glenwood Springs and Aspen. Impacts on housing, labor, the environment and local economies are special concerns, local officials told the governor, as well as what will happen when oil and gas plays out in 15 years.
“Since 1890, there has been a record of undone reclamation on the Western Slope,” Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland told Ritter. “Our concern is that when it’s all said and done, communities along I-70 will have to pay to reclaim roads, take benzene out of their drinking water and maintain government services. That isn’t fair.”
Ireland stressed it was important for the governor to back an increase in severance tax rates, taxes assessed on energy production, so that more money can flow back to the impacted areas.
Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said federal mineral-lease dollars from the Roan Plateau should go back to the Roan to protect its land, wildlife and water resources, not to finance state projects or higher education.
The mountain mayors also advised Ritter that oil and gas is affecting their tourism industry, the mainstay of the economy on the Western Slope.
“We have a local tourism industry worth millions based on a wilderness environment,” New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin noted. “Now oil-and-gas rigs are getting into places you could only hike to before.”
Breslin also told the governor he was concerned that the state had no safety net in place to help communities when the oil-and-gas industry goes away.
“We’re getting killed,” the Glenwood Springs mayor, Bruce Christenson, complained to Ritter. “A third of Glenwood’s hotels are filled with oil-and-gas workers, driving tourists away, yet we get very little for our severance tax allocation in return.”
Ritter assured the group that he supports an increase of state grants to help them mitigate the growth caused by oil and gas development. He also thought that the state should set up a trust fund to ease the anticipated economic downturn when the industry departs.
“The severance-tax increase discussion for the 2008 ballot is very much alive,” Ritter emphasized.
Photos: Top: Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland; middle photo, Mayors Frank Breslin of New Castle and Keith Lambert of Rifle; bottom, Gov. Ritter talks to a round table of mountain mayors