Flaming Gorge pipeline: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases report on the public comment period

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Bump and update: More coverage from The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Although he declined to provide details, Million said Tuesday that he has lined up financing for construction, which he said could start in 2013. He estimated total costs at $2.2 billion to $2.8 billion. Million has applied for a federal permit to move up to 225,000 acre-feet per year more than 400 miles from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River in Wyoming…

Water providers in Douglas County, Brighton, Fort Collins, Loveland, Cheyenne and agricultural areas along the way have indicated interest in buying water from the Million Conservation Resource Group, according to letters filed with federal authorities.
Those potential customers’ projected water demands — and conservation practices — will be reviewed and verified to determine “how much is truly needed,” said Rena Brand, a regulatory specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers.

In its summary of the comments received from people in Wyoming, Colorado and downriver states such as Utah and Arizona that depend on Colorado River Basin water, the Corps of Engineers concluded there are major concerns about the effects of diverting water from prime Wyoming fishing and recreation areas.
“They’re concerned that the project would result in a lower elevation (of water) in Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which would impact fisheries,” Brand said. “I received very few favorable comments. Most people just had a lot of questions.”

All this “is as it should be,” Million said. “We’ve had the same concerns on our side — which we’ve looked at for the last four years,” he said. “The public should have the right and obligation to weigh in on the project.”

Update: More coverage from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Corps released the comments Tuesday on its Web site as it continues the five-year process of developing an environmental impact statement for the controversial proposal…

More than 1,500 comments were received in writing; another 500 gathered at Corp-hosted public meetings last year. About 63 percent of the comments are from Wyoming, where cities, counties, conservancy districts, businesses, recreation groups and environmental or wildlife advocates oppose the project. Another 27 percent of the comments are from Colorado, where many of the same groups also oppose or raise questions about the project. Even Front Range cities like Fort Collins, where Million lives, object to the proposed pipeline route. Five percent of the comments that object or raise concerns are from Utah, where the Green River flows after leaving Flaming Gorge…

The most frequent issue cited in the comments (18 percent) is the actual availability of water for the project. The Green River and Flaming Gorge are part of the Colorado River watershed, and diversions proposed by Million could impact the seven-state Colorado River Compact, many of the comments state. Wyoming interests want to preserve development opportunities within their home state. “Any one change could upset the balance that has successfully maintained since the development of the river,” said Kenneth Fackrell, manager of the Bridger Valley Water Conservancy District.

Wyoming counties are firmly united in opposition to Million’s project, with several filing lengthy objections to it. “A trans-basin diversion of this magnitude will mean a perpetual shortage of water for basin users,” said Joe Evans, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, who cites a 30-year record of opposition by Green River users to the leasing water to the lower basin state of California.

Socioeconomic factors were cited in about 13 percent of the comments, according to the Corps tabulation. Recreation, particularly in western Wyoming on Flaming Gorge Reservoir, was cited in 7 percent of the comments, while water rights and wildlife issues were each brought up in 5 percent of the comments. The withdrawal of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir could hurt power production at the dam, said Pacificorp Energy Managing Director Bob Aramel…

The Corps now is verifying the potential water customers and needs submitted by Million in response to some of the comments that there were no end users identified in the proposal, said Rena Brand, regulatory specialist.

From the Associated Press via KJCT8.com:

The Corps of Engineers on Tuesday said it received more than 1,500 written public comments and more than 570 comments at public meetings about the pipeline…

The Corps took public comment on what issues it should consider in a forthcoming environmental study. Some local governments in southwestern Wyoming are opposing the project, saying it threatens fishing and recreation. Some Colorado municipalities and irrigation districts say they could use the water.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

HB 10-1188 passes the State House of Representatives 40-25 and moves on the State Senate

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Bump and update: From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

In a 40-25 vote, the House approved a bill that allows licensed river outfitters to briefly touch the riverbanks and portage around obstacles when streams flow through private land. Republicans Ellen Roberts of Durango and Scott Tipton of Cortez voted no because of concerns the bill could violate private property rights…

Two Durango-based rafting companies applauded the decision Tuesday. “I have had problems with landowners and various things they do like stringing fences across the river,” said Stephen Saltsman, who with Robin Fritch owns Flexible Flyers Rafting Co. Saltsman, who is also a landowner along the Animas River, said he understands the property-rights arguments, but he doesn’t have a problem if someone needs to portage around an obstacle in the river…

Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, spoke for many bill opponents. “We can’t have it both ways. Either we understand the value of property rights, or we don’t,” Sonnenberg said.

Agricultural groups oppose HB 1188, and some predicted grave harm to Colorado ranchers. But all other Western states have greater rights for public use of rivers than Curry’s bill would establish, and agriculture is alive and well in those states, Curry said. “In fact, in Montana you can get out of the boat and wade-fish on private land,” Curry said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

Sponsored by state Rep. Kathleen Curry, unaffiliated-Gunnison, HB1188 sparked debate over commercial rafters’ rights to travel public waterways and the rights of property owners. In the end, rafters won out, as the bill passed 40-25…

Opponents of the bill said it strips property owners to their right of exclusion. State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said allowing rafters portage is akin to setting aside circumstances that allow trespassing through one’s house, yard or car. “Once you allow government to start saying who can and cannot come on your property, that’s a very dangerous door,” Sonnenberg said…

The bill makes no provision for private rafters or others to float down the state’s rivers, and they are still subject to prosecution for trespassing.

More 2010 Colorado legislation coverage here.