North Fork in the News: After BLM decision, Paonia at a crossroads

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After BLM decision, Paonia at a crossroads

by Madeleine Osberger, Aspen Daily News

There was traffic on Paonia’s main street, and it wasn’t even Mountain Harvest Festival weekend.
“Traffic” meant waiting for two other cars to pass through the intersection of Grand and 2nd, but on this cloudless late October day the increased midweek activity could be witnessed in the check-stands of Don’s supermarket, in the block-long line of work trucks parked outside Dependable Lumber, and in front of the Remedy café and adjacent bike “boutique,” where cold-pressed juices seemed to fly out the door.
New faces — and there are more of them these days strolling Grand Avenue — are greeted with a hearty hello or a slightly wary eye by locals who have seen folks come and go, most recently through the loss of mining jobs in nearby Somerset that has followed the fossil fuel industry’s decline.

… A town and a valley that was naturally evolving through economics and demographics may see further changes after the Oct. 3 final record of decision (ROD) by the Bureau of Land Management to open up nearly 20,000 acres of federal and private mineral estate near Paonia to oil and gas leases.
“The plan provides a framework for developing up to 146 natural gas wells, four water disposal wells and construction of associated access roads and pipelines for leases operated by SG Interests I, Ltd (SGI),” according to a statement from the BLM that was part of the recent ROD.
“The plan is a part of the President’s America First Energy Plan, which includes environmentally responsible development of oil and gas, coal, strategic minerals, and renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, and solar,” it continued.

…In September, Colorado Creative Industries announced it had selected Paonia over Carbondale and Crested Butte for a collaborative effort that would help artists in rural mountain towns with affordable housing.
“Having felt the devastating effects of two mine closings and a recession that has lasted a decade, we are thrilled to have been selected for a Space to Create project,” Stewart said in a published statement last month. “The creative industries are becoming a major part of our economy, and the Space to Create project is a substantial step forward in developing this resource and moving us toward a sustainable financial future.”
This is the kind of development that people like Steinmetz, owner of the Flying Fork, believe will best serve the town and one that’s well entrenched in the community.
“I feel that the future of the valley will be best served by following the path of least negative impact on the valley itself,” he said. “That translates into taking advantage of and aligning ourselves for eco-tourism and overall sustainable practices, including solar-energy training [the Solar Energy International headquarters is outside of town] and wineries.
“I feel that if the oil and gas presence is increased the local agricultural industry and subsequent eco-tourism will be compromised.”
Real estate sales within both the town and the county are on the rise, according to numerous anecdotes, though actual numbers were not available from the Delta County Board of Realtors before publication. Two new bakery/coffee shops have opened this year, as has a Boulder-based herbalist.

…Over a century later, increased demand on the land for natural-resource extraction may again be competing against an emerging new economy.
“People here think we have a great set of ingredients, quality of life, great scenery, a lot of public lands with recreation, and building out broadband” to allow for high-speed connections, Kolbenschlag said. “People see a different future for the valley than oil and gas extraction.”

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