In response to a challenge by five conservation organizations and Pitkin County, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals today issued a temporary injunction halting all construction on a natural gas pipeline in roadless areas in the Clear Fork Divide in western Colorado.
Represented by Earthjustice, the groups filed suit in March against the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, challenging approval of the Bull Mountain natural gas pipeline that will require construction of more than eight miles of new roads in roadless areas, in violation of federal environmental laws and policies.
The appeals court set a June 18 hearing to decide whether the injunction should stay in place until the Colorado district court can rule on the lawsuit.
The 25-mile Bull Mountain pipeline roads would cut through three separate roadless areas within the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison and White River national forests in western Colorado.
The pipeline project includes a 100-foot-wide “construction corridor” for heavy trucks and equipment traffic, complete with a “travel lane” and “passing lane.” The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management claim that these travel ways are not roads and thus the construction does not violate a nationwide ban on road building within pristine roadless areas.
“A road, is a road, is a road — no matter what the government calls it. And roads are illegal in roadless areas,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice staff attorney.
“The Bull Mountain Pipeline would cut through some of western Colorado’s best big game habitat and would diminish the remote, wild character of this area for many years to come. We are pleased that the court saw the wisdom in taking the time needed to look at the details of this case,” said Dan Morse, Public Lands Director for High Country Citizens’ Alliance.
“We are happy that the court exercised its authority before that authority was usurped by the bulldozers ripping through the roadless area,” said Sloan Shoemaker, Executive Director of Wilderness Workshop. “And, we are hopeful that this temporary stay of execution will lead to these roadless areas being permanently spared the executioner’s axe.”
The conservation groups believe that the agencies’ decision could open the door to the construction of roads in the nearly 60 million acres of currently protected forestland.
“We hope the court will slam the door on the Bush administration’s latest attempts to undermine protections for America’s last, great forests by opening up these special places to development,” said Paul Spitler, Public Lands Director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Earthjustice represents the Wilderness Workshop, Western Colorado Congress, Western Slope Environmental Resource Council, High Country Citizens Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity. Pitkin County is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.