As I sat in the Carbon County Commission meeting last week listening to the people who love Nine Mile Canyon worry about what was going to happen there, I wondered if the officials of the gas exploration and development company that was applying for a conditional use permit to put in a compressor station really understood what kind of passionate people they are dealing with.
Almost everyone who got up to comment I know personally at some level or another. These people are not raving environmentalists; they are not part of SUWA or the Sierra Club. These are local citizens who have a stake emotionally and in many cases, also economically, in the betterment of the place that has become known as the "longest art gallery in the world."
Having written some articles about the Bill Barrett Corporation and their plans, and having done some research on their practices, I felt pretty good about their past record when I walked into the meeting.
But local speakers who commented on the proposal, none of whom said they were against development in the canyon area, but instead insisted they were looking for responsible development with input from local experts on the canyon, made me think a little bit more about what is at risk here.
The canyon has had a long history of inhabitants, many of which left their mark, some positive, some negative. In the course of the geologic history of the canyon, the gas development is just a blink of an eye; a transient occurence that will disappear in 50 years.
But a lot can happen in the blink of an eye. A star can supernova, an auto accident can take a life or a lightening bolt can start a fire in a tinder dry forest.
How the company reacts over the next few months to what transpired and was said in the meeting will be a true test of their commitment to the area.
Pam Miller, one of the advocates for protecting the canyon said something very profound at the meeting.
"The Bill Barrett Company has a chance to be a real hero here."
Everyone is watching to see if they will be that hero she spoke of.