WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton recently released a potential amendment to the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, changing the House bill from the agreed-upon wording drafted by community consensus.
The original bill had the support of La Plata and San Juan counties, and had been carefully crafted by people who live there.
“People are very disturbed that this process, which was designed locally and has very strong local consensus with support from Congressman Tipton, has become a very different piece of legislation,” said Jimbo Buickerood, the public-lands coordinator at San Juan Citizens Alliance, an environmental protection group based in Durango.
Buickerood joined the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, an initiative of the River Protection Workgroup, that discussed protection of this area. He said the intention of the plan for the area had been to “keep it just as it is.”
But Josh Green, Tipton’s press secretary, said the bill is inherently the same.
“The amendment will in no way change the outcome of the legislation’s goals agreed upon by the stakeholders,” Green wrote in an email.
In changing the language, Buickerood said the will of the community has been ignored.
The amendment has removed a small paragraph on “Use of Conveyed Land.” Currently, certain areas are open to hard-rock mining and logging. The five-line paragraph that was removed acted as a safeguard against future exploitation of the land.
“There’s nothing in here that says they couldn’t turn it over to a developer of oil or a developer of gas,” senior director of the Wilderness Society Jeremy Garncarz said of the effect of dropping the paragraph.
Green said the omission does not deviate from the stakeholders’ aims for that section.
The amended bill will be marked up by the House Committee on Natural Resources today.
The frustration stems from years of work the Hermosa Creek Workgroup had put into creating comprehensive, locally driven legislation.
The bill had been a collaboration involving two counties, multiple conservation groups and outdoor recreational groups, and more than 200 local businesses in La Plata and San Juan counties.
“The amendment guts it,” Garncarz said. “It throws all of that work out the window.”
The Senate bill remains unchanged from the version created by the drafting committee in conjunction with Sen. Michael Bennet’s office. Support for the Senate bill continues to be bipartisan.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Iulia Gheorghiu is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.