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Cost vs. benefit of energy development aired

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The North Fork Valley's Citizens for a Healthy Community group attended the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Monday to present results of a study the CHC has produced.

The study is titled "Economic Impact of Natural Gas Development in Delta County." It finds that a natural gas development proposed by Gunnison Energy LLC which would place three wells in Delta County -- The North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan -- will produce a net economic loss of revenue to Delta County.

Others in attendance at the meeting disputed the study's findings.

Presenting the CHC report to the commissioners was the study's author, Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, associate program director for CHC. After explaining that little information is publicly available on "the cost/benefit analysis" of such projects, Gudmundson explained the research program and statistical methods used in the report.

The study concludes that the proposed North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan would result in loss of revenue to Delta County, including losses in property tax revenue because of decreased property values in the North Fork Valley. Other revenue-negative economic impacts to the county would come from loss of agritourism sales tax dollars and loss of sales tax revenue from a decline in outdoor recreations visits to the area because of the project, he said.

Gudmundson's report offered suggestions and recommendations to the commissioners for additional study.

Also at the commissioners' meeting was the county's representative for oil and gas issues, Bruce Bertram, who took issue with the report's focus and methodology. He said the study excluded points on the positive impact of oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley. Bertram said statistical methods used in the study "raise a big question mark" on the report's conclusions.

Also present at the meeting and asked by commission chair Doug Atchley to comment on the presentation was county assessor Debbie Griffith. She told commissioners that recent information her office has gathered on home values and sales in the North Fork area, especially at Paonia, "indicate (natural gas development) is not having negative impacts" the report claims. Griffith also said that the county gains "much larger revenues" from oil and gas operations than the report states.

Also at the commissioner's meeting was David Ludlam, director of the West Slope Oil and Gas Association. He gave the commissioners a 10-page letter contesting findings of the CHC report. He said the report contained "many misrepresentations" and he offered the commissioners a long list of public benefits made possible by money from gas royalty payments and severance taxes. Those benefits include water projects for agriculture, numerous local public works projects, and Delta County's own schools.

Also, Eric Sanford, area projects manager for natural gas operator SG Interests, noted the CHC report's conclusions are at odds with its premise: Paonia is thriving economically, Sanford explained, even as energy development has been taking place there "on an increasing level for 15 to 17 years."

Natasha Léger of the CHC told commissioners that her organization's intent is to work toward a community discussion of the cost/benefit analysis issues of energy development. "We all need to do more and be more transparent," she said.

Commissioner Doug Atchley replied, "The conversation will continue."

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