Panel denies ranch's appeal

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— A road adjacent to the Three Forks Ranch can be built, Routt County commissioners decided Tuesday night.

The commission denied the outfitting lodge's appeal to the county's decision to allow road access to an oil-well site on Bureau of Land Management property.

The 11-mile road leading to the exploratory oil well will include a 2 1/2-mile portion through the Stull Ranch, which is adjacent to the Three Forks Ranch, in northern Routt County.

In June, the county approved a special-use permit for the stretch of road on private land. Three Forks Ranch managers appealed that permit, and the county Planning Commission voted last month to deny the appeal.

Clayton Williams Energy Inc. wanted to build the road to provide access to the well site. The company has access rights for the entire road, which does not cross the Three Forks Ranch.

The well's previous owner had access to it through the east side of the site, where the ranch now stands. The ranch denied Clayton Williams access.

Jay Linderman, Three Forks general manager, told commissioners that the ranch has substantial interest in what happens with BLM property because it is the steward of the property.

"We are the ones taking care of it. We are the ones living there every day," Linderman said.

Linderman worried about sage and sharp-tailed grouse populations at Three Forks. He said the road could disturb the birds.

Colorado Division of Wildlife officials are concerned about the project's potential to harm grouse, division biologist Brad Petch said. He said the area contains one of the largest grouse leks, or mating grounds, in Colorado.

Mike Beatty, a representative from Clayton Williams, said the company agreed to several conditions to help maintain the grouse populations in the area. The company will not do any construction or drilling during the mating season, from March 1 to June 30, and no employee will drive on the road during peak mating times during that time. The company also will install radio equipment so well measurements can be taken without workers having to drive down the road.

-- To reach Dana Strongin call 871-4229 or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com

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