Vote ends work on Battlement Mesa HIA

May 4, 2011

Garfield County Board of Commissioners will use the second draft of the Health Impact Assessment for decisions on natural gas development in Battlement Mesa

The Garfield County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously May 2 not to extend a contract with the University of Colorado School of Public Health to produce a final report for the Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment (HIA). After evaluating information and comments gathered in the first and second draft stages, the commissioners concluded that the second draft has produced the information they need to make decisions regarding the potential health impacts of Antero Resource proposed natural gas development project in the unincorporated Battlement Mesa area when an application is submitted.

The public comment period ended April 27, 2011, for the second draft of the Battlement Mesa HIA.

The HIA was designed to be a decision making tool to address potential health impacts related to a yet unfiled Antero Resources Battlement Mesa project. The CU School of Public Health’s contract for the project only extended through April 30, and the BOCC’s decision not to extend the original contract ends the HIA with the second draft document.

“We have gathered adequate data and information in the report and the commissioners put the project to rest,” said Jim Rada, project manager and Garfield County Public Health environmental health manager. “Conflicting perspectives expressed between the oil and gas industry, the community and the School of Public Health were deemed to be irresolvable.”

Commissioner John Martin stated during the discussion that he was concerned that the HIA could become a never-ending project. Commissioner Mike Samson indicated that the original purpose of the HIA was to develop a decision-making tool for the BOCC to incorporate important community health issues into the land use decision making process. He also said he intends to utilize the draft report should Antero make application for a land use change permit. The commissioners all agreed that the HIA was not a waste of time or money and will prove to be a benefit to Garfield County.

The commissioners expressed their thanks to HIA researchers Dr. Roxana Witter and Dr. John Adgate for the integrity of the process and methods that they utilized in working on the HIA. “Although all elements of the original contract extension will not be completed,” says Rada, “the BOCC agreed to absolve the CU School of Public Health of any projects not completed, and the commissioners agreed that they will recognize the integrity of the work in a letter to the school.”

Many Battlement Mesa community representatives expressed support for the project and hoped the commissioners would complete it and put it into final form. Meanwhile, Antero’s representatives asked that the commission not view the HIA as a final document or as a basis for decision making.

The most recent comment period produced 277 pages of comments from Antero Resources, their lawyers and industry representatives. It also netted 7 pages of editorial and technical comments from the Colorado Department of Public Health and 15-20 pages of generally supportive comments and suggestions from Battlement Mesa citizens.

“The HIA is valuable, as it identified potential public health impacts of the Antero project in Battlement Mesa and the assessment developed specific recommendations for mitigation of those impacts,” said Rada. “The CU School of Public Health developed 78 specific recommendations. However, it wasn’t the intent of the project to somehow mandate that the BOCC implement all of them. The recommendations are there for the commissioners to utilize in the way they determine to be most appropriate. It is a valuable document; and I am reassured that the commissioners expressed their intent to use it the way it was originally intended to be used. I will also use the HIA when I receive the land use application for review, and evaluate the proposal against what is recommended by the HIA.”

The latest comments will be posted on Garfield County website along with the letter from the commissioners to the CU School of Public Health informing researchers of the decision not to extend the contract to the final phase.

Garfield County will continue its work with the University of Colorado School of Public Health researchers on the design of an Environmental Health and Monitoring Study, which is related to the HIA, and will work to fill information and data gaps identified in the HIA process.