Longmont’s nearly $500,000 air monitoring contract with research scientist Detlev Helmig and his company, Boulder Atmosphere Innovation Research LLC, or Boulder AIR, was approved unanimously by city council Tuesday night.
Members of the council and the public made clear their approval of Helmig’s work monitoring local oil and gas emissions as well greenhouse gases from vehicles in and around Longmont, Mayor Brian Bagley said before the vote.
“We’ve talked about this a lot and we’ve gotten a lot of emails,” Bagley said. “I don’t think there is any controversy at this point.”
That didn’t stop wrangling over the language in the contract that appeared to give the city the right to prohibit use of the data collected from the monitoring by Boulder AIR without written permission.
City Councilwoman Marcia Martin said the provision could prevent the data from being publicly available. “I think this is an unwelcome change … and a misunderstanding among the people of Longmont of what this project is here for.”
Staff members said that portion of the contract was to ensure they would be informed in advance when Helmig was going to provide information to the media and other publications about Longmont’s air data.
“It was never staff’s intent to deny the data,” said Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s deputy city manager.
A majority of council voted to let the city staff rewrite the portion of the contract to bring any data-restriction decision to the council.
Longmont’s current contract with Helmig’s company is set to expire Aug. 31. Under the new contract, Longmont will pay Boulder AIR nearly $465,000 to continue the program through Dec. 31, 2021.
Helmig has been sampling, analyzing and reporting atmospheric emissions and measuring greenhouse gases at two locations since March 2019. One site is at Vance Brand Municipal Airport, where Helmig began sampling in September 2019. The other sampling site is on the east side of Longmont near Union Reservoir, where he began monitoring in December 2019.
Boulder AIR, at bouldair.com/longmont.htm, posts online reports detailing levels of ozone, methane and carbon dioxide at Vance Brand Airport, and the levels of carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitric oxide, nitrogen oxides, ethane, propane, benzene, acetylene and toluene at the Union Reservoir station.
Council members did not mention claims by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association that Helmig’s findings are slanted against the oil and gas industry.Helmig’s defenders, including City Councilwoman Joan Peck, say he has been unfairly targeted by oil and gas interests.