News @ Noon

News @ Noon / 28 February 2013

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Welcome to News @ Noon for Wednesday 27 February 2013 brought to you by Gila / Mimbres Community Radio in a community media collaboration with The Grant County Beat – your daily newspaper for up-to-date information about Grant County.

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Residents visit the solar array
under construction at wastewater treatment plant

Created on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 20:34

On a windy day at the water treatment plant, about 20 people gathered to admire the six acres of about 4,000 solar collectors being installed to create 1 megawatt of electricity to power the treatment plant.

The projected savings of using solar energy to run operations at the plant are expected to be about $4 million over the 20-year contract with Affordable Solar Inc., which is installing the array.

Dignitaries and residents
Dignitaries and residents gather in front of one of the solar arrays
at the wastewater treatment plant / Photos by Mary Alice Murphy

Ryan Centerwall, Affordable Solar owner told the Beat the town has been a good partner. “By jumping on the bandwagon early, the town got the best savings. The Office of Sustainability was created right when PNM was just starting its renewable program, so the town locked in a lower rate. Silver City has blazed a trail for small municipalities, and stands to save about $70,000 a year for no financial output. The guaranteed energy savings contract is with me. It’s a good deal for the town for not putting out any capital.”

Affordable Solar crew
The workers on the solar array pose for a photo

The solar array is expected to be operable in late May, and the Office of Sustainability plans an event at the end of June after the first bill is received to celebrate savings for the next 20 years.

The project began 2 1/2 years ago and is nearing completion. Nick Sussillo, Office of Sustainability director, said the town hopes to do similar, but smaller projects on town buildings. He pointed out that the solar array is not an independent facility, but is on the grid, because it needs extra energy to run the pumps.

Grant County Commission regular meeting 02/21/2013, part 1
Created on Friday, 22 February 2013 21:02

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on the Grant County Commission regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, with some commentary from the Tuesday work session.

Public comment took up about half the meeting

The Grant County Commission held one set of meetings in February because of conflicts with legislative duties by elected officials and staff.

The regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, held a full house of people giving a great deal of public comment on several issues, some of which were on the agenda and others not.

The calm before the storm of public comment was a public hearing on an ordinance “authorizing a tax rebate to benefit low-income property taxpayers for taxable years 2013-2014.” It must be considered in the odd-numbered years.

At the work session on Tuesday, it was explained that a residential property owner having income of less than $24,000 a year, if the person pays taxes, could qualify for a rebate up to $350 or half that, if filing separately. Attorney Abigail Robinson said she had compared Grant County numbers to Santa Fe and Los Alamos, which are the only two counties in the state with the ordinance. Santa Fe, although it is five times larger in population than Grant County, has similar demographics to Grant County. She took what Santa Fe County has had to pay and divided it by five, coming up with a potential bill for Grant County of $60,000 to $100,000 a year. The resident takes the rebate on their taxes, the state sends a bill for the rebate to the county, and the bill must be paid within a short time.

During the Thursday regular meeting, Commissioner Hall made a motion to disapprove the ordinance. The motion passed.

To start off public comment, Sally Smith, who served on an advisory committee for the New Mexico Environment Department’s proposed copper rule, spoke to the issue of the resolution of support for the rule, which the county would consider later in the meeting. Smith is also a co-founder of the Gila Resources Information Project begun in 1998 to ensure “adequate closure plans for the mines. I have followed the permitting of the mines.”

She said she believed the copper rules were not correctly written. The purpose of the rule is to protect surface and groundwater. “Water is more precious than jobs or the economy. You have the responsibility to protect water. There is no question water is polluted above quality standards.”

Smith read part of a long list of complaints and said many residents live within 15 miles of the mines. She reported that 20,000 acres of water are damaged by different contaminants. “It is assumed that water contamination will remain for at least 100 years.”

She said, in the process of the advisory committee, “which was dominated by Freeport McMoRan, we reached an agreement in June. We submitted comments and then we were dismissed. Then Freeport submitted comments to the Environment Department, which were inappropriate to the protection of water.”

Walter “Ski” Szymanski said the commissioners were well aware that under the Arizona Water Settlements Act, the four southwest counties of Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna “are entitled to receive and use $66 million for any water project that meets a water supply demand.” In 2011, a regional water supply plan was proposed, and the county and municipalities within it signed onto the plan.

The stated purpose is to serve approximately 26,000 people with reliable access to local public supplies of drinking water, making new sources available to meet demand and conserving local public water supplies by re-using municipal effluent water through return-flow credits.

“No harm would come to the Gila environment as a result of our proposal,” he quoted from the plan.

“To the best of my knowledge that proposal is still part of the planning process.”

He said the plan made sense to him and many others in the community. “As of two days ago, it is also a project that you are now being heavily pressured to withdraw by John Arthur Smith under his threat to, at great taxpayer expense, construct a major Gila River diversion and pipeline to pump Gila River water to Las Cruces.”

Szymanski pointed out that if the AWSA water were utilized in the county, users would have to pay the Central Arizona Project to ensure water to downstream users. “You should know that the CAP water needed for this exchange is neither guaranteed nor is it cheap…. By the time a new Gila diversion could be built, the exchange cost (for the 14,000 acre-feet allocated to the region) may be well over $2 million per year.

“So, I do not support, and you commissioners should not support Sen. Smith’s diversion project, because it is too expensive, would destroy the ecological values of the Gila River that provide economic benefit to the region from recreation and tourism, and it increases the odds of exporting Gila River water and other water rights into the Rio Grande,” he said.

Szymanski said: “I do support common-sense, cost-effective non-diversion AWSA water projects, like this regional water supply and distribution system project. … I urge you not to support the withdrawal of the regional water supply and distribution system project now pending before the ISC.”

Kasten said he had not been contacted by Smith to withdraw the project.

Art Martinez, retired Western New Mexico University professor and self-described community activist, said: “In Santa Fe, they have once again been reviewing and have tabled the bill to prevent (driver’s) licenses to illegal immigrants. The license for them is humane and moralistic and should remain.” He asked Sheriff Raul Villanueva not to join the effort to repeal the law.

“Many of us have realized that you county commissioners have positive intentions,” Martinez continued to another subject. “But for the Southwest County Commissioners Alliance, you haven’t realized many yet. …It’s embarrassing when others, not commissioners, come forward with ridiculous comments. I hope they will not continue.”

He said the reality appears that the political undertaking is “suffering from backfire resistance. Many have lost confidence and trust in this effort. There is increasing criticism of this entity. Keep your good intentions in front of you. There is even talk of retaliation at polling places. In the end, there is a hell of a lot of work you can come back and do for us. Keep a level, balanced look at it.”

Allyson Siwik, Gila Resources Information Project director, said she opposes the copper mines rule as inconsistent, because it will allow the pollution of groundwater. The New Mexico attorney general is also in opposition because it allows pollution. “The New Mexico Water Quality Division has statute to oppose this.  How can the commission support groundwater contamination? You allow, on one hand, to have the mines waste water, and on the other hand you want to divert water to get more.”

Siwik then said she was speaking with her “Gila Conservation Coalition hat” on about the decision on whether to use Gila River water, which would have huge impacts on the area and the residents. “You potentially support this diversion, and potentially will withdraw the cost-effective regional water plan, before you have the Bureau of Reclamation results of the full analyses.”

“I strongly encourage a public debate on what’s going on right now,” Siwik continued. “The decision can’t be made in a back room contrary to public transparency.”

Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance director, said she supports the regional water plan, the reuse of effluent by Deming and Bayard, and agricultural and municipal conservation.

“The Deming project would cost $323 million, more than double the $128 available, and the exchange costs by 2018 will be $2 million a year,” Stevens alleged. “It is estimated operating and maintenance costs would be $3 million a year, with the area left holding the bag. Taking the water in a pipeline to Deming increases the possibility of it going to Las Cruces.

“I must also mention the Forest Service travel management plan,” Stevens said. “At the meeting, you said 1,200 miles of roads are not mentioned in the plan, but they are mentioned on page 46. The roads were closed and decommissioned.”

Jim McIntosh, a teacher with a rare snow day off work, said he wanted to speak up about support for non-diversion alternatives to use AWSA water.

“We are finally learning what we need to protect for our country,” McIntosh said. “We are learning to live within the Gila River limits. Also the Rio Grande is living within its limits and creating blessed limitations.”

He said he wants to keep the Gila water within the watershed. “A pipeline to Deming will open the way to divert water to Las Cruces and El Paso. We need to steward the respective watersheds.”

The next article will begin to cover other public comment, beginning with Gabe Holguin, the Gila National Forest fire management officer, discussing predicted weather for the upcoming months.

Grant County Commission
regular meeting 02/21/2013, part 2

Created on Sunday, 24 February 2013 14:37

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on the Grant County Commission regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, with public comment, as well as addressing some agenda items.

Gabe Holguin, Gila National Forest fire management officer, spoke during public comment to Grant County commissioners at their regular meeting Thursday about the predicted weather for fire season.

“We are preparing, because we are in a severe drought,” Holguin said. “The only certain thing is that we will have above average temperatures for the next few months. The moisture is still uncertain.

Robert Garrett returned to the issue of the Sen. John Arthur Smith bill to divert Gila River water to Las Cruces. “Deming, Luna County and the Office of the State Engineer don’t have the best interests of Grant County at heart. I support an open and transparent process and that it not be disrupted. I hope the commissioners commit to supporting the open transparent process.”

A.T. Cole, who owns property south of Silver City, said: “Our retirement goal is to restore the Burro Cienega to grow grass to feed cows and wildlife. Piping water to another community is not what we support. People were supportive of the Central Arizona Project because they wanted the water in Phoenix. In Pinal county, by the time the water got there, the cotton farmers couldn’t afford it. We see big communities not caring about smaller communities. Mesa, Chandler and Phoenix have bought up water rights to groundwater. Surface water is the most important commodity for tourism and recreation. The Gila River is your future.”

He said he sees a conflict between the short-term goal of politicians and the ones who look long-term. “If you look at short-term, the community collapses. I do not support this boondoggle.”

Shelby Hallmark, Silver City resident, said he seconded the remarks about the Arizona Water Settlements Act. “I agree with Allyson Siwik that you should continue to make public comment a part of the process. It should be obvious to residents that our land is unique and valuable, but also fragile. Be mindful that we need to be good stewards and not do things future generations will regret.”

Frances Brown, who said she lives close to the forest, the river and the wilderness, said, on her 80th birthday, her family came. “We hiked in the wilderness and ate in good restaurants. For tourism we want the wild river to still be there. A diversion and pipeline are not only hugely expensive, but clearly would do damage to the ecology of the river. I want my taxes to pay for water projects that are cost-effective and environmentally sound. I ask that you do not give your support to this proposal.”

Ramos pointed out that “no one up here is backing the project to send water to Las Cruces.” Hall said no one had asked him to pull the county project. Kasten said the only project the county has is for effluent reuse. “We supported Silver City’s regional water plan.”

“This isn’t a decision this commission will make,” Hall said. “The Interstate Stream Commission will make the decision along with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.”

“I will not support a project that takes water out of Grant County,” Kasten said, “but, to be fair, I may support some diversion.”

Karen Morant of the new Disability Advisory Council spoke next. The group is funded with a grant from the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities and operates under the Grant County Community Health Council. “We represent stakeholders with an interest in disabilities. We want to come to present information to you, Silver City and the Health Council. We have an email list, will implement focus groups to talk about accessibility issues, are developing an informational card on disabilities and want to develop a resource center for disabilities.”

Kim McCreery of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance said her group supports non-diversion alternatives, economic tourism, the ecology and a cost-effective way to use water and funding, as allocated by the AWSA.

Alicia Edwards, The Volunteer Center director, said she had to leave for another meeting but wanted to ask the commissioners to approve Resolution 13-13, which would support Senate Bill 80, House Bill 56, HB 100, and SB 219 of the 2013 legislative session. The bills relate to funding for New Mexico fruits and vegetables for school meals, accelerating food growth in rural communities and development and promotion of New Mexico farmer’s markets.

Marilyn Fogleman said she lived in west Texas when water was diverted from the Pecos River. “We lost our farm. I think it’s time rivers should remain as rivers. We should live within our water budget.”

Nancy Kaminski said she supports non-diversion water uses, the travel management plan and the wolf program.

“I want you to read the Headwaters Economic Report,” Kaminski said. “Tourism helps existing businesses. Every time a retiree moves here, it increases your tax base. It will increase the tax base, if you get rid of stealing from your children and grandchildren. I’m rather upset with (ISC Deputy Director Craig) Roepke when he said southwest New Mexico has a shortage of water. They’re coming after our water and are going to take our water and destroy tourism. Are we going to trash the forest? I expect us to be stewards of the resources.”

She then referred to the Southwest County Commission Alliance and said: “It seems the alliance is against everything I’ve been working for all these years. You are satiating a thirst for development. We can’t do it. Instead of Goliath, we should be David.”

After public comment ended, the agenda was addressed.

A number of expenditure reports were given by County Manager John Saari & others.

Earl Montoya, concerned citizen, who had asked to be placed on the agenda, concerning road closures in the Gila National Forest Travel Management Plan, spoke to the issues discussed at a special meeting, which included  the TMP topic.

The next article will begin with an update from Ray Aaltonen, New Mexico Game & Fish Department Las Cruces Division chief, on deer management.

Grant County Commission
regular meeting 02/21/2013, part 3
Created on Monday, 25 February 2013 16:05

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles on the Grant County Commission regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, addressing agenda items, including an update from Ray Aaltonen, New Mexico Game & Fish Department Las Cruces Division chief, on deer management.

“I was last here on July 12,” Ray Aaltonen, New Mexico Game & Fish Department Las Cruces Division chief, said. “At that time we had two prongs of our management plan in place—lethal removal and trap and transplant. The trap and transplant was not successful, so we geared up for larger nets.

“This is not a complete removal of deer from the area,” Aaltonen explained. “We are trying to get them to bring down the population, which is causing problems all over the state.”

“We will do a study on hard and soft releases to make sure the deer are surviving,” Aaltonen said. “We are trapping on four different locations in conjunction with land owners. We may come back in March for more trap and transplant.”

Commissioners approved a $15,000 appropriation to the SRAM Tour of the Gila. Jack Brennan, race director, said he has been working with County Manager Jon Paul Saari to get more out about tourism in the area.  He said the TOG was using a woman out of California who was utilizing social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as press conferences and press releases, in addition to interviews of riders as the races occur to be posted to the TOG website.

“We plan to promote the Pro Men and Pro Women races,” Brennan said. “We think we can promote our area as a tourist destination, using the Tour of the Gila to promote tourism to Grant County and New Mexico.”

He said Saari talked about how to promote the beautiful area, with hiking and fishing. “People who follow the race are outdoors people,” Brennan said. “Last year’s economic impact on the area was $561,000.”

Under contracts and agreements, commissioners approved:
• An amendment to a grant agreement with the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration for the DWI Program in the amount of $91,300
• A memorandum of understanding with the Grant County Community Health Council for the purpose of planning and coordinating local health and wellness-related services, with the council serving as a clearinghouse for requests for commission funding to see if it meets anti-donation state law and if it serves a wellness-related need
• Ratification of professional service agreements with Mary Lorraine Zunich for $4,200, and Lindy Kerr for $3.360 for services in the Juvenile Probation Office for the Restorative Justice program. The agreements were approved by Saari, on behalf of the commissioners, and brought to the commission for ratification
• A grant agreement with the New Mexico Department of Transportation Aviation Division for reconstruction of the public apron, phase three, for $555,500, with the county being responsible for $13,887; and
• An amendment to a federal grant with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency in the amount of $10,728.43 for a portion of the emergency manager’s salary.

Other resolutions approved include:

  • Acceptance of roads for county maintenance within the Pinos Altos Ranch Sudivision
  • Support of New Mexico Senate Bill 199 to allocate $150,000 for marketing the Tour of the Gila
  • Support for Senate Bill 80, increasing funding for New Mexico fresh grown fruits and vegetable for school meals; House Bill 56, accelerating the growth of food entrepreneurs by working with multiple rural communities to develop their respective food assets to create a statewide cohesive food infrastructure; and House Bill 100 and Senate Bill 219, to develop and promote New Mexico Farmer’s Markets. The Volunteer Center Director Alicia Edwards said HB 56 is promoting rural agriculture.  The Mixing Bowl Program out of Albuquerque, which will create new jobs, has Grant County as a target community for the program; HB 100 and SB 219 to promote farmer’s markets. SB 80 will provide funding for fruits and vegetables for school meals. Edwards said New Mexico is a 98 percent state, with that percentage of food production going out of the state and the same percentage coming into the state from outside
  • Authorization to the county manager to approve and execute professional services agreement and amendments for anything under $20,000, and then bring back to the commission for ratification, particularly in the case of carrying out the mission of the Juvenile Probation and Parole Office. At the work session, Saari asked if it were only for the JPPO or other agencies. The commissioners asked for other agencies to be included
  • Designation of the Tyrone Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association as a colonia. Traci Burnsed spoke at the work session that only the Tyrone townsite is a colonia. The resolution includes the MDWCA service area. The item was added at the work session; and

The last resolution to be considered by the commissioners was support for the New Mexico Environment Department’s Proposed Copper Rule.

Richard Peterson of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. Communications said the copper rule was proposed to bring improvements to make the rules clear and consistent.

“Individual interests were heard,” Peterson said. “These regulations provide consistency across the state, primarily on groundwater protection.”

The resolution passed.

Grant County Commission
continues to hear county reports part 4
Created on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 20:59

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of five articles on the Grant County Commission regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, addressing agenda items, including county reports from the Tuesday work session and the Thursday regular session.

Reports were presented by

  • Public Works Department Manager Justin Reese
  • Road Superintendent Earl Moore
  • County Manager Jon Paul Saari
  • Joseph Andazola of the Detention Center
  • Assessor Randy Villa
  • Treasurer Steve Armendariz
  • Sheriff Raul Villanueva

Saari said because the meeting in March would conflict with the last week of the legislative session, only one set of commission meetings will be held, with the work session on March 19, and the regular session on March 21.

“We’re getting ready to go into union negotiations April 15-19,” Saari said. “The union will take the contract before the members and then, when ratified, it will come back to the Commission for approval.”

Saari said capital outlay requests had gone in, and “we hope to get $400,000, but we may have to scale back.” He said the Ford Escapes for Senior Services were expected from Lawley Ford soon.

Kasten asked for highlights on Sen. John Arthur Smith’s bill to appropriate “our water.” Saari explained the bill Smith introduced into capital outlay called for a pipeline from the Gila River to metropolitan Las Cruces. “Sen. Smith said he was frustrated that the process hadn’t gotten anything done. He doesn’t want the water to go to Arizona, but wants to keep it in the four counties.”

Part of the problem for the four counties is that if the water goes to Las Cruces, because of many unused water rights in the area, they could be appropriated and the area would lose them to Las Cruces. If the state of New Mexico loses a lawsuit filed by Texas, the metropolitan area would lose its water, which would cause a $1 billion impact. “We can’t compete with that. Smith’s not attempting to harm anyone in the four counties. It’s an attempt to keep the water in New Mexico.

Ramos said Smith made it loud and clear that if the four counties don’t use the water, the state will.

Cobre School Board discusses infrastructure needs
Created on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 16:04 / By Margaret Hopper

The Cobre school board meeting of Monday 25 February 2013 was preceded by a closed session to discuss student identifiable information, superintendent’s evaluation and pending litigation, but no decisions had been made. The regular session followed and four members were in attendance, Frances Kelly, Frank Gomez, Ralph Sepulveda and president Frank Cordova.  Freddie Rodriguez was not present.

After receiving a letter from a Chino Federal Credit Union officer, the board approved the use of facilities for Chino on March 27, for its annual meeting. It plans to use the cafeteria and some visual equipment that evening. The board said the evaluation of interim superintendent George Peru showed “a job well done, overall,” for the past year.

In the superintendent’s report, Peru said this year the district would do a math adoption, and it was important to “keep all schools aligned vertically and horizontally,” doing the same assignments across the district. There was still staff development work to be done, and Cobre would share its training sessions with other districts of Region VIII, including Lordsburg, Reserve, Animas, Deming, T or C and others who cared to come, by way of Regional Educational Cooperative, which will train for Common Core.

Various maintenance issues were discussed regarding the high school including:

  • Roof work
  • Paving
  • Erosion issues
  • Installation of curbs

Student Representative Hampton Burnette reported that the College Day program had seen representatives from seven or eight colleges talking with seniors. Chuck Gerheart of the music department had recently been honored as New Mexico Educator of the Year by NM Music Education Association. Cobre’s band has offered outstanding performances for several years. In sports, Cobre was a 2-A sized school, competing well against mostly 3-A competitors. At the state competitions, Cobre had two wrestling champions, Oliver Perrault and Chico Perez.

During public input time, Cordova said the next board meeting would see a new face, that of Robert Montoya, who would be seated with them at future meetings, and he would need to be sworn in by a judge. Likely, all the rest of the board would be re-sworn at the same time.

As for the School Board Association Region VIII scholarships available to area high schools, Cobre and Animas would not be eligible to receive any this year, as they had received one each in the past year. With the financial crunch, the SBA planned to offer ten $1,000 dollar scholarships this year, whereas last year, it had twenty-five across the state.

At the recent state school board training sessions, there had been a session on shooting incidents in which schools were encouraged to write their plans, but more importantly, to have actual practice with the students, as unpracticed planning would be unlikely to help in a real emergency. Community law enforcement needed to be an aware part of that plan. Peru said the district had hired two “preventionists,” Anita Costa, the district’s social worker, and an aide, Marisella Sanchez, to work with these plans and move them into the classrooms. Bullying was another topic explored at the state training sessions.

Under finances, Peru asked the board to approve a list of budget increases as presented.  The board approved them all.

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Earth Matters

Earth Matters / Todd Schulke on AWSA Pipeline Threat

This week's program focuses on a funding proposal by NM  State Senator John Arthur Smith for a pipeline which threatens the Gila River and a cascade of developments regarding the Arizona Water Settlements Act. Earth Matters co-producer Allyson Siwik of Gila Resources Information Project and the Gila Conservation Coalition hosts this week’s program with Todd Schulke, senior staff and co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity in which they discuss […]

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