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  • Cliff Willmeng

Ending the Environmental Exploitation of Boulder County Through Direct Democracy

Stopping the Martin Marietta gravel mine, the expansion of Gross Dam, and ending fossil fuel extraction by a direct fight against corporate power.


There are no less than three separate but related extractive projects being advanced within Boulder County. Fracking, the expansion of Gross Dam Reservoir and the creation of a gravel strip mine by Martin Marietta on the St Vrain River share common traits of being inherently damaging to local ecology and public health and are unwanted by the community at large. All these projects are being moved forward for reasons external to Boulder County.


The expansion of Gross Dam Reservoir is a project designed to capture massive volumes of water, a commodity with growing scarcity in Colorado that Denver Water wishes to have for reasons outside of the needs of the local people or ecology. The project would take years to accomplish, remove hundreds of thousands of trees, and include earth moving that would be environmentally disastrous to the immediate area and all of Boulder County.

(Learn more about the Gross Dam expansion project here)



All of these projects share a conflict regarding local authority nearly identical to the dynamic we experience in the eastern County, as we fight to hold off 1800 oil and gas wells now. Communities like Boulder County are expected to yield local autonomy to the State and corporations and because of this legal expectation the defense of the environment and rights of

the affected people fail by design. The corporations enjoy the upper hand, the environment becomes a secondary consideration, and local officials, connected politically to the same system operating to move the projects forward, relegate themselves to talking points and superficial legal and political responses.


The identical scenario is being experienced at this moment by the people working desperately in Save Our St Vrain, the grassroots group fighting off the gravel mine proposed by Martin Marietta.

Learn more about the Martin Marietta gravel mine here


So the question facing Boulder County is if we consider it possible to protect the environment from all of these projects through the minor role local governments and people are expected to be contented with or if we feel a stronger challenge is necessary. From our perspective on the shale, it’s clear that greater leadership and stronger action needs to be taken. The laws that subjugate the natural environment and the people seeking to protect it need to be frontally challenged and this needs a multifaceted approach which looks more like movement building than lobbying and conventional legal maneuvering.


We are advocating the following:

- Creation of a home rule charter for Boulder County which codifies the independent rights of the local ecology and people, and prohibits the expansion of Gross Dam, the mining of the St Vrain River, and all new fossil fuel extraction.

(Learn more about home rule here)


- A legal defense of this effort that accepts the pro-bono legal offer from the internationally respected Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, and which challenges state and corporate law as an infringement to our fundamental rights.

Learn more about the The Community Environmental Defense Fund


- Mobilization of the County to legislatively overturn state and corporate preemption of communities though adoption of the Colorado Community Rights Act.

The Colorado Community Rights Act


This process is already underway and has brought communities together nationally. It will mean turning away from the politics of negotiated surrender now being championed by local officials. Locally it is being bolstered by new independent candidates for office, grassroots organizing, and community mobilizations. These are initial efforts, but part of this same strategy that forced oil and gas drilling to end in the County in 2012.


We can draw a line against the abusive and unjust laws which expand corporate power. That is what a grassroots movement looks like.



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