Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bridger Canyon annual picnic Sunday

Bridger Canyon, on the east side of the Bridger Mountain Range, is a pristine and beautiful area in my legislative district, and close to my heart: I served on the Bridger Canyon Volunteer Fire Dept. for ten years as a Firefighter/EMT.




On Sunday, the Bridger Canyon Property Owners Association had its annual picnic, and I saw lots of friends. It was a lovely late summer day; sunny, but the air was cool, and the leaves are starting to turn.

Talk centered mostly around the renewed proposition of oil and gas leases on state lands in Bridger Canyon. The State Lands Board deferred the auction of the leases from September 9 to December, but this area has fought oil, gas, and coalbed methane (CBM) drilling before, and the Bozeman Pass Zoning District formed and passed its zoning around the CBM threat two years ago (after a two-year process). (See my post from May 2006.)

Now, someone has nominated three sections of state lands in Bridger Canyon for oil and gas leases. I spoke with the head of the Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation and also with the Governor's office two weeks ago when we first heard about the proposal. On some of the sections nominated for leases, people farm and ranch; other sections are sensitive lands or restricted from much activity at all because of slope or critical lands. Bridger Canyon residents, none of whom were notified--not even those living on the parcels in question--went to the State Lands Board meeting, and are working on language for their zoning district. I'm working on getting details of state lands leases, the nomination process, determining the value of a resource, notification to residents and adjacent landowners, etc.

In the 2007 Legislative session, I requested bills to address split estates (separate owners of surface land rights and underground mineral rights for the same parcel of land). I proposed legislation for oil and gas companies to post bonds for reclamation of surface lands and for polluting ground water, for required surface use agreements for access to and occupancy of drilling sites, for defined water rights for CBM development, and for compensation to landowners for loss of surface use to oil and gas operations. None of the bills passed, but the policies are right, and I'll bring the bills again.

I'm proud to protect Bridger Canyon residents from dangers to public health and safety. For most of my experience, that's been in service on the fire department. Now, it's protecting the land, water quality, and character of the canyon from what could be inappropriate exploration for and extraction of oil and gas.

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