What is the Mesa County Federal Mineral Lease District, and Why Should We Care About it?

A guest post by Janet Johnson

Mesa County’s Federal Mineral Lease District is a huge slush fund that’s supposed to go towards helping areas of the county negatively affected by the oil and gas industry. But instead, most of the money has been getting funneled to Colorado Mesa University and projects that benefit the oil and gas industry itself.

On February 6, Colorado House Representative Yeulin Willett introduced HB-1152 in the Colorado legislature, a bill titled “Federal Mineral Lease District (FMLD) Investment Authority.” The bill certainly does “open an important conversation,” as the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel suggested in its February 2, 2017 op-ed on the subject.

Willett’s bill seeks to give counties “investment authority,” which would allow them to withhold some of the money the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) gives to Federal Mineral Lease Districts and invest it in a permanent fund. This request for and composition of the bill originated with the Mesa County FMLD. The other counties in Colorado that have Federal Mineral Lease Districts are Garfield and Weld County.

What are FMLDs?

Tim Foster, President of Colorado Mesa University

FMLDs get a portion of the federal government’s royalty payments from oil, gas and mineral extraction leases on federal lands within the state. The companies that do the extracting pay royalties to the state, which then in turn disperses the funds to municipalities through grants given by the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). Counties with FMLDs receive their portion of the royalties, then award the funds to local projects through a grant application process. Mesa County’s three-member FMLD Board decides where the funds will go.

Here are the rules governing use of FMLD funds:

The Federal Mineral Lease Act of 1920 and it’s Amendments give participating Counties the task of “exercising an essential public function: to alleviate social, economic, and public finance impacts resulting from the development of natural resources on Federal Lands within our counties.”
Federal Law limits how the Lease payments distributed to the County FML Districts can be used: The distribution may only be used by the state or its political subdivisions for: 1. planning, 2. construction and maintenance of public facilities, or 3. provision of public services

Mesa County’s Mission Statement for its FMLD Money Differs from Those of Other Counties

David Ludlam, Executive Director of the West Slope Oil and Gas Association, one of the three members of the FMLD Board

Weld County’s FMLD mission statement says it “is a separate legal entity responsible for the administration of all of the funding the District receives from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for the purpose of distributing the funds to areas within the unincorporated areas of Weld County that are socially or economically impacted by the development, processing or energy conversion of fuels and minerals leased under the Federal Mineral Lands Leasing Act of February 25, 1920.”
Weld County’s allotment has two direct areas of funding: public works and service. The first is the Haul Route Program (HARP), designed to improve roads impacted by the oil and gas industry’s heavy hauling on county roads. The second is the County’s Water Testing Program, which tests for volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) in water. It is free to all Weld County residents on well water.
Garfield County’s FMLD mission statement reads: “In order to alleviate social, economic, and public finance impacts resulting from the development of natural resources on Federal lands within Garfield County, the Garfield county FMLD will, expeditiously and through sound financial practices:
— ensure that the financial resources it receives from Federal Mineral Leasing activities are distributed to communities impacted by the development of natural resources, as allowed by law.
— deliver services to communities impacted by the development of natural resources, as allowed by law;
— and provide the greatest use of these financial resources for the greatest number of citizens.”

Garfield County’s FMLD Grants have consistently been awarded to projects in Rifle, Parachute, Silt, Glenwood Springs, New Castle and Battlement Mesa. The grants have ranged from major road construction projects, wastewater pond lining projects, the school district, City Libraries, housing authorities, foreclosure counseling and various other projects.

Mesa County’s FMLD mission statement is substantially different: It states that it “Serves a mission to enhance positive social and economic impact in Mesa County from the development, processing and energy conversion of fuels and minerals leased under the Federal Minerals Lands Leasing Act through grants, partnerships and leadership.” This deviates significantly from the “alleviate impacts” intention, and it was created with the business community to serve Mesa County Economic Development priorities. According to Mesa County’s FMLD, “This approach was selected because of the business-driven Mesa County Economic Development priorities.”

It is apparent that Garfield and Weld County’s FMLDs have contrasting mission statements and direct distribution styles that are quite different than those of Mesa County’s FLMD. These two counties’ missions are more aimed at helping improve quality of life for their counties’ residents. Mesa County’s mission statement, though, goes in quite a different direction: It is geared towards helping businesses.

CMU Has Gotten the Lion’s Share of the FMLD Money, and Used Much of it to Benefit the Oil and Gas Industry

Mesa County Commissioner John Justman is one of the 3 members of the FMLD Board

Initially, the majority of Mesa County’s FMLD grants were awarded to Colorado Mesa University (CMU). In fact, the entire $1.6 million dollars disbursed in the first State grant cycle was awarded to create the “Unconventional [oil shale] Energy Center” at Colorado Mesa University. Note this entity is not called an “Alternative Energy Center,” but rather an “Unconventional Energy Center.” The difference is key. The Unconventional Energy Center’s goals are:

…encouraging the development of new and emerging technologies, spurring innovation and job creation in the energy sector, analyzing and developing recommendations for eliminating duplication and streamlining energy industry regulation at the local, state and federal level, identifying new markets for natural gas and promoting natural gas consumption, and developing enhanced infrastructure for compressed natural gas transportation fuel.

In essence, the Mesa County FMLD’s heavy investment in this “Unconventional Energy Center” became a promotional, technical research and regulatory reduction center to serve the Oil and Gas Industry. It was estimated that CMU would earn $100,000 per year off this investment. Garfield County was offered the opportunity to contribute their first year’s $1.6 million allotment to help create the CMU Unconventional Energy Center, but declined.

During the spring 2013 grant cycle, CMU was awarded $556,998 toward its Ground Source Heat Exchange Expansion Project. In the spring grant cycle of 2015, CMU was awarded another $504,560 for the Tomlinson Library Renovation, Expansion and Technology Project. By contrast, in the fall of 2015, the Mesa County Public Library District was granted $49,969 for their 970 West Studio project.

Deer Creek stinkwater disposal facility approved by the Mesa County Commissioners in 2012 is making people sick and ruining property values in Whitewater (Photo Credit: Daily Sentinel)

It would seem to laypersons of Mesa County that these particular FMLD grants, totaling $2,706,998, have not fulfilled the purpose for which they were intended. They certainly did not reach beyond the boundaries of CMU to the rest of Mesa County, which continues to reel from the boom-and-bust nature of the oil and gas industry.

To be sure, the Mesa County FMLD has awarded funds to other projects: The Town of Palisade street reconstruction, the Clifton sanitation system upgrade and the City of Fruita Parks and Public Works Maintenance Facility all received Traditional Grants in addition to other projects in the County. A joint program by the City of Grand Junction and CMU received funds toward a Colorado Law Enforcement and Fire Training Center Project, and Western Colorado Community College (which, by the way, is associated with CMU) received Line Worker Training Building funding. However, as either the lone recipient or in partnership with other entities, CMU has received significantly more monies than any other single entity.

Another Problem with Mesa County’s FMLD: The Questionable Make-up of It’s Board

Craig Springer, President of Home Loan Insurance, sits on the 3-person FMLD Board

The membership of the Mesa County FMLD Board of Directors calls into question a clear lack of compliance with the Colorado State Statute which says, “Members of the [FMLD’s] board of directors may be county commissioners from the county that created the district, representatives of the governing body of municipalities, or other officials representing the interests of areas impacted by mineral lease activities.” In direct contradiction to this statute, David Ludlam, the Executive Director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, has served as the President of Mesa County FMLD Board since its inception. Questionably, Craig Springer, who was recently reappointed to another term on the Board, is the President of Home Loan State Bank and was connected to the coal industry. The third member of the Board is Mesa County Commissioner John Justman.

Other Areas of Mesa County are in Desperate Need of FMLD Funds, But Aren’t Getting Them

In consideration of Rep. Willett’s proposed legislation, HB-1552, to withhold monies from the Districts to invest, it will be imperative to question the need for, and wisdom of continuing to withhold financial aid in Mesa County.

Our county is suffering from infrastructure needs; county staff is being cut, services to residents are being terminated, the county has long had a hiring freeze in place and county employees have not been given raises. District 51 schools are crumbling, people’s homes are being foreclosed upon and the Deer Creek oil and gas wastewater pond in Whitewater is sickening children and forcing families to move because of the stench and toxins it emits. Our Sheriff and County Attorney explained that “Since 2005, there has been a 507% increase in violent crime in unincorporated crime in Mesa County.”

Sociologically, the FMLD Board has largely ignored Mesa County residents in favor of the Economic Development Council, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and CMU “partnerships” which keep us from having a balanced, functioning, healthy community and leave many residents of the county without much-needed assistance.

In connection with Mesa County’s FMLD monies, Rep. Willett might better help our County Commissioners if he urged them to look more closely at the county’s FMLD Mission Statement, examine whom it is really serving, and determine how it could be re-written to better comply with state statute and serve Mesa County residents more equitably. We also need to collectively start questioning the relationship between CMU and its Mesa County FMLD funding source. Impacted areas of the county, and county residents who have actually suffered negative impacts from oil and gas extraction activities should not continue to be ignored, nor should they have to compete with CMU for funding! To contrast with what is going on in Mesa County with other FMLD counties, there is NO evidence that any of Weld County’s FMLD funding has been given to the University of Northern Colorado. In addition, the make-up of the Mesa County FMLD’s three-member Board needs to be revamped, removing folks with obvious conflicts of interest and adding members who more directly and realistically represent the impacted residents and areas of our community.

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*Information in this piece was obtained from the Mesa, Garfield and Weld County websites; the Mesa County Board of County Commissioners meeting minutes and the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel newspaper.

G.J. Area Chamber of Commerce Continues to be Anti-Worker, Anti-Family and Anti-Local Government

Family Unfriendly Chamber – The G.J. Chamber’s ad in the Daily Sentinel 2/20/17 says the chamber opposes a bill to require large employers to offer parents limited unpaid time off to attend kids’ academic activities, like parent-teacher conferences, meetings about dropout prevention, truancy, etc.

 

In its ad in yesterday’s Daily Sentinel, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce announced it opposes HB-1001, “The Parental Involvement in K-12th Grade Education Act,” a family-friendly bill that requires businesses with 50 or more employees to offer workers 18 hours of unpaid leave per school year to attend their kids’ academic events, like parent-teacher conferences, meetings related to dropout prevention, attendance, special education services, truancy, discipline issues and the like. HB-1001 allows for exemptions in case a business is having an emergency and needs all of its employees, or if an employee’s absence would leave a business unable to operate. The unpaid leave time could not exceed six hours in any one month, and employees would have to request the leave a minimum of a week before it is needed. The bill passed out of the House Education committee on February 6 on a 7-5 vote, and went to the full House, where is passed on the third reading with a 37-28 vote. Western slope House Representatives Dan Thurlow and Yeulin Willett both sided with the Chamber and voted against the measure, making these two legislators family-unfriendly as well. Every single House member who voted against this act was Republican. Every legislator voting for it was a Democrat.

Daily Sentinel Threatens CO Sen. Ray Scott with Defamation Lawsuit

Publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Jay Seaton, publisher of the Grand Junction, Colorado Daily Sentinel, publicly threatened Colorado State Senator Ray Scott with a defamation lawsuit in his editorial column Sunday, February 12, after Scott, in a tweet, charged the Sentinel with publishing “fake news.”

Another Reason G.J. Needs a Recreation Center: The Skyline Warehouse

Skyline Warehouse: easy to miss if you’re driving on Highway 6 & 50

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a kids’ indoor soccer game at the Skyline indoor sports facility at 2522 Highway 6 & 50.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Skyline is an old warehouse that in 2011 was repurposed into an indoor sports facility. It is located behind the Auto Zone on Highway 6& 50, just west of Sam’s Club.

The Skyline Warehouse definitely serves a need in western Colorado. Its indoor batting cages and soccer field keep kids active in sports throughout the winter without their having to be out in the cold and the snow. It’s a wonderful thing for kids and parents alike to have a warm, indoor place to play sports in winter.

The Citrus Gypsies are Back!

The Citrus Gypsies’ booth at First Street and Patterson Road

The Citrus Gypsies are those wonderful people who for the past three years have been driving down to Arizona, picking up the sweetest, juiciest oranges, grapefruits, lemons and pomelos and other goodies from a long-established orchard in Arizona, driving it up to Grand Junction and selling it at two booths, one at the corner of First and Grand Ave., and the other at Patterson and First Street.

This is the best citrus around, folks, far better than what you get at the local grocery stores. The Citrus Gypsies make multiple trips back and forth to Arizona during the latter part of the winter and they get fruit from the same orchard each time, so with every trip they make, they bring back fruit that has been on the trees longer, and that is even riper and juicier. They make several trips throughout the season until the citrus harvest is done, and then these great folks disappear until next year.

It’s Time to Talk About Donald Trump’s Mental Health

The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency has made one thing clear: Americans must start considering Mr. Trump’s mental health a serious problem.

There are no two ways about it: Mr. Trump has exhibited inappropriate behaviors this week, repeatedly, raising concerns across the country about his mental status and ability lead, and Americans are getting alarmed.

Specifically, Mr. Trump has continued to lie to Americans, attributing his loss of the popular vote to his imaginary conclusion that millions of unauthorized immigrants voted for Clinton illegally in the November election. Mr. Trump restates this conclusion even after being informed that it is not even remotely possible. Mr. Trump also keeps insisting that he had “the biggest crowd in the history of inaugural speeches,” despite photographic evidence to the contrary.

Mr. Trump’s obsession with his own popularity is unnerving at best, freaky at worst. And it’s getting more and more inappropriate.

Massive Anti-Trump March in Grand Junction One Day After Inauguration

If yesterday’s massive Women’s March to protest Donald Trump in Grand Junction proves anything, it’s that western Colorado is clearly not a politically monolithic area for conservatives any more.

Grand Junction saw the largest crowd ever in its local history turn out today to participate in a march downtown in support of liberal values like women’s rights, equality, diversity and respect for all human beings. Grand Junction’s march was held simultaneously as, and in support of the massive Women’s March in Washington, D.C., as well and similar protests in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles other cities all across the world.  The marchers turned out they day after the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, who openly insulted women in many ways during his long campaign for president and in public venues throughout his life and career.

Mike Anton is Back, This Time Plugging an Events Center

Michael P. “I’m Your Worst Nightmare” Anton, author of the Grand Junction’s only negative campaign ad, and cheerleader for the chamber’s lies and political interference

Mike Anton is back, appearing on TV and speaking to groups around town, telling Grand Junction residents they should vote for an extra sales tax to build an events center downtown.

Do you remember Mike Anton?

No?

Well then let’s recap exactly who Mike Anton is, and what he has done over the last few years, so you will remember him:

Anton owns a business in town called EmTech. He sat on the board of directors of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce in 2013. That was the year the chamber backed Rick Brainard for city council.

Remember how THAT turned out?

Putting Grand Junction’s Costco Rumors to Rest

Costco Warehouse Store – Sam’s Club is the major obstacle to Grand Junction getting a Costco

For years western slope residents have been hoping and wishing that a Costco warehouse store would open in Grand Junction.

Around 2010, rumors started circulating that Costco was considering locating a new store in Grand Junction. People even started proposing possible locations for the new store in the Daily Sentinel’s letters-to-the-editor column.

But Costco never came to Grand Junction, and to this day rumors continue to abound about why the area was passed up.

People blamed the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce for chasing Costco away, saying the Chamber wanted to keep the wage scale low here, and Costco would upend our area’s low-wage apple cart. Costco is known for it’s generous wage and benefits packages, paying a starting salary of around $17/hour, or $45,000/year, and offering employees medical insurance, retirement and more.

Others claim Costco rejected Grand Junction because of our notoriously underfunded District 51 schools. 

None of these are true.

She’s Back! Self-Styled Grand Junction Missionary June Fellhauer Returns to Pitch her $99 Religious Video Series to D-51 Girls

Self-styled G.J. missionary June Fellhauer, giving a talk on “Women’s Purpose” July 12, 2015 (Photo credit: YouTube)

June Fellhauer is back, once again taking advantage of School District 51’s “PeachJar” literature distribution system to plug her $99 video evangelism series to girls 11 years and up.

Fellhauer is kind of like Grand Junction’s own Shelly Donahue, but without the plastic bags of full of spaghetti and waffles, and titillating talk about masturbation. And unlike Donahue, Fellhauer apparently preaches only to girls, not boys, at least when she preaching for money.

Several days ago Fellhauer sent out a flier to D-51 families promoting another free sales-pitch event, this one called “Becoming Love,” aimed at girls 11 and up. The purpose of the event is to recruit kids’ families to pony up $99 for their daughters to view Fellhauer’s online, four-week video series in which she teaches biblical myths to girls with the primary message that women are subservient to men rather than qualified, able individuals in their own right. Fellhauer warns girls not strike out on their own, and tells girls if they remain helpers underneath the “cover” of their men, the men will “lift them up,” and they will get their power that way.