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Judge grants easement for gas pipeline

District Court Judge Gregory Lyman, in a July 31 ruling, authorized Fosset Gulch Pipeline Company to take immediate possession of a portion of the Candelaria Ranch running along Fosset Gulch Road, for installation of a natural gas pipeline that will move coal bed methane out of the HD Mountains to a larger pipeline system south of the project area.

The ruling follows the pipeline company’s March 2009 request that the court condemn an easement across the Candelaria property, after — attorneys for the company alleged — negotiations between them and the Candelarias failed.

The court ultimately found that negotiations between the pipeline company and the Candelarias had in fact failed — hence the ruling.

Petrox Resources Inc. in conjunction with Fosset Gulch Pipeline Company is one of the major players in the HD Mountains. With mineral leases scattered over a 12,000-acre federal unit with plans for about 25 well pads, Petrox, Exoc Inc. and the Fosset Gulch Pipeline Company intend to build a 16-inch, 21-mile pipeline in order to move the resource from wells in the HD Mountains into the Fosset Gulch line, and on to a much larger pipeline known as the San Brito System. The San Brito line will carry the methane to larger markets east and west and well beyond the borders of Archuleta County.

From a practical and logistical standpoint, the project appears straightforward. From the well pads, trunk lines will connect to the pipeline proper as it runs along Fosset Gulch Road. The placement of the pipeline next to the existing roadway and the pipeline construction specifics are detailed in, and mandated by, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) for the Northern San Juan Basin Coal Bed Methane Project.

According to Steve Muns, manager for Fosset Gulch Pipeline Company and Mike Clark, owner of Petrox Resources Inc, the easement across the Candelaria property was the last piece of the puzzle needed to construct a pipeline that would move gas from their leases and wells on and adjacent to the Candelaria property into their own line and then on to the San Brito system.

Unfortunately, and according to courtroom testimony June 29, months of wrangling between the pipeline company and the Candelarias over a variety of issues, including road repair, reconstruction, maintenance and snow removal yielded a stalemate — the pipeline company willing to pay for the easement across the property, and the Candelarias digging in their heels and refusing to play ball — hence the company’s request for judicial intervention.

In Lyman’s July 31 ruling, Lyman granted Fosset Gulch Pipeline Company a 9,850-foot long by 60-foot wide easement across the Candelaria Ranch. The easement runs immediately adjacent to Fosset Gulch Road and will be used to construct and install the pipeline. In exchange, the company was required to pay a deposit of $24,276 based on their appraiser’s testimony during the June 29 condemnation hearing.

A valuation hearing will be held at a later date to determine if the amount is just compensation for the easement.

Also in Lyman’s ruling is language stating that the Candelarias “may not gate or fence the road in any way that would restrict the Petitioner from the full use and enjoyment of the rights granted in this order.”

The language refers to a long-standing issue with two gates the Candelarias placed across Fosset Gulch to restrict travel on the roadway as it crosses their 440-acre parcel ranch.

Although Annette Candelaria, spokesperson for the Candelaria Family Trust, did not respond to a request for comment, she said in a previous interview that she authorized installation of the gates after what she said has been years of neglect regarding maintenance and repair issues on Fosset Gulch Road.

“We want a written road maintenance agreement with legitimate negotiating and regulatory groups or agencies. If it is a public road, then someone, other than us, should maintain it,” she said.

According to Muns, the gates still stand, and pipeline company employees have keys to the gates, allowing them access, as necessary, to Fosset Gulch Road as it crosses the Candelaria property. Nevertheless, Fosset Gulch Pipeline Company isn’t the only party interested in uninhibited access to the road.

According to United States Forest Service staff, Fosset Gulch Road is an “open public road” that any citizen should be able to drive, from its intersection with Colo. 151 to it’s intersection with U.S. 160.

That said, the Forest Service has engaged the Candelarias in the past regarding removal of the gates, and according to Cindy Hockelberg, land forester for the Columbine Ranger District, those efforts continue.

“We’re currently consulting with our office of general counsel to determine a course of action,” Hockelberg said.

In the meantime, while the Candelarias maybe be preparing for a fight with the Forest Service, Muns and Clark continue with their companies’ plans for the pipeline project.

“The design and engineering have been approved by the Forest Service, but we’re waiting on formal permits to begin construction,” Muns said.

james@pagosasun.com