U.S. Forest Service personnel from the Gila National Forest and the Burned-Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team presented updates on the Silver Fire to Grant County commissioners at their Thursday, June 27, regular meeting.
Gabe Holguin, GNF fire staff officer, stood by a large map of the fire and pointed out locations for the commissioners.
"We still have full suppression objectives," Holguin said. "We have built a line around the west side and are looking at utilizing the road from Wall Lake. The fire activity to the south is minimal, because it has run into piñon and juniper and a lack of grass underneath, so it is going out by itself. It is burning along McKnight Road and in the East Canyon, where it is finding thick timber and a lot of fuel."
He said, when the winds are the prevailing ones from the southwest, the fire is blowing back on itself and stopping. "The fire behavior is strong on the north side."
Holguin reported the staff meteorologist is predicting a probability of up to 1/4 inch of precipitation over the fire Tuesday into Wednesday.
"We have done a lot of prep work," Holguin said. "We have protected the McKnight Cabin. The fire has already passed it. We had a public meeting in Hermosa, and we found good support there."
He predicted it would be a "big growth day today." (See http://www.grantcountybeat.com/index.php/news/news-articles/11154-silver-fire-update-06-27-13-1-p-m)"
We're prepared for Cooney," Holguin said. "The state has brought in inmates from Los Lunas, who are cutting branches and preparing the community."
Al Koss, BAER Team leader, said, even though the fire is still burning, the team assembled about a week ago, with a hydrologist, a soil scientist, an archaeologist and a recreation specialist to scout severely burned areas to prepare for erosion and possible flooding.
"For the treatments, we have put in the dollar costs and sent them to the Forest Service in D.C.," Koss said. "Because it is an emergency, with the monsoons likely to come soon, there will be a short turnaround time, and we hope to know by the middle of next week how much funding we will receive. We are looking at the east side by Hillsboro and Kingston, and the Gallinas area, from which flooding would impact San Lorenzo and the Royal John Mine areas."
He said the team is, as its priority, doing seeding with native annual grasses to get vegetation on the burned areas as quickly as possible. "We are also looking at the south side of the fire. We will enter phase 2 of our process next week, once we get a satellite shot on Saturday. We know Noonday Canyon is a concern, and the satellite shot will give us a better idea."
Koss said he had been on the ground in Gallinas where the seeding will take place. "The native seeds germinate quickly and then die out, creating a duff for plants to grow in. We are putting them down aerially."
He said the New Mexico Department of Transportation was cooperating with the incident management team to put in erosion structures and clean out drainage systems to open New Mexico 152, as soon as it is safe.
"We are also assessing trails and campgrounds, Koss said. "We will let contracts the first part of July, so work can start quickly."Commissioner
Gabriel Ramos asked what the area is looking at for flooding.
"The hydrologic model shows a 25-year storm with one-hour peak rainfall," Koss said. "Some areas of the Gallinas drainages were severely burned, so we are looking at 40 percent more erosion and flooding than normal. As for Noonday, we will have a better idea with the satellite shot, but are expecting at least a 30 percent increase. There will be some increases in the Mimbres area. We are keeping people informed at inciweb.org. Our BAER Team office is set up at the Grant County Business and Conference Center."
During public input, Johnny Reed, representing Grant Soil and Water Conservation District said the agency would be working with emergency and fire officials on the watershed impacted by the Silver Fire after the fire is over.
"With the fire cresting at McKnight, if it goes northwest, it could affect the Upper Mimbres drainages," Reed said. "We are working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Sierra County on plans. The NRCS is providing assistance. We approved serving as sponsor for the assistance. Grant County may be able to partner with Sierra County on this project. NRCS's program is a 75-25 match. We bear 25 percent, so we are in touch with agencies that may be able to help. Our biggest urgency is education on what could occur."
He said a public meeting would be held at 6 p.m., Friday, June 28, at the Thunderbird Lodge.
Commissioners heard two updates. The first was from Cissy McAndrew, Southwest Green Chamber of Commerce executive director, who presented the quarterly update on Visitor Center statistics. "As of yesterday, we had had 15,934 visitors to the center (since we took over almost a year ago)." The organization has also mailed out more than 5,000 visitor guides. The average daily visitation is 48.9, which is 10 more than this time last year, during the Whitewater-Baldy Fire.
"We are working with the Forest Service, which brings in staff daily to update information," McAndrew said. "They are doing a lot to say that Silver City is still open for business and that the west part of the forest is open. We are much better prepared this year and are keeping the message out."
She reported that local restaurants and lodgings are feeling like business is returning to the area. "Real estate sales are up for existing houses."
McAndrew said the Silver City Museum has seen a 30 percent increase in visitors this year, and the Western New Mexico University Museum has seem more than 1,000 visitors this year.
"We are broadening our outreach and updating the area maps," she said. "We will have a new Visitor Guide in the fall. We always need more volunteers."
Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said he hopes the statistics prove out. "We've been losing students out of our schools for the past 20 years. I hope that is changing."
McAndrew admitted that most people looking at houses are couples. "We are working to bring in families."
"I ask the Green Chamber to give us written support of the gross receipts tax increase to help with retention of families," Kasten said. "The ballots are going out July 29 to be returned to the county by Aug. 19."
The second update was from John Strand on the SunZia transmission line, which will come close to Grant County. He said the final environmental impact statement has been published June 14, with the remaining comment period being only on land use on particular segments near Socorro and north of Deming, with other comments closed.
"SunZia studied 2, 200 miles of routes and the Bureau of Land Management came up with the final route for the lines," Strand said. "We expect the record of decision in September, and then we will go out and get permits and rights of way."
He explained the transmission line would run from northeast New Mexico, which has "world class wind," and will take the energy to tie into the Arizona transmission line. "The question I hear is why are we creating power for California. The wind power being created near Santa Rosa is paid for by California. Once the power is online, it can be taken off where it is needed. It benefits New Mexico, because by 2025, 20 percent of the power is mandated to be from renewable sources. Most of the energy from the plant north of Deming is bought and paid for by Tucson Electric and Power, which is one of the three partners, along with Freeport McMoRan and PNM."
He pointed out that Arizona has solar energy, but does not have the winds that New Mexico has. "We need natural gas, too. It's a combination of everything. The project is for two 500 KV lines. This project will tie into smaller transmission lines in New Mexico."
Strand said on about a 20-mile stretch of Grant County near Hachita, the line, as well as a peaking station, would be in Hidalgo County on the western border of Grant County.
"Grant County could upgrade smaller lines to tie into the large transmission line," Strand said.
Kasten said companies could relocate to the area and tie into the line.
Strand said Luna County had authorized industrial revenue bonds of $7 million over 25 years and $10 million for solar energy. "Payment in Lieu of Taxes is falling off. This is another way the county could see revenues come in. I think you will see something happen in solar near I-10."
Kasten pointed out that where wind is, is not necessarily where people are, so "we have to have lines to get the energy to people." He said by 2017, the state would lose two coal-fired power plants near San Juan, which would have to be replaced with renewable energy. "I look forward to a solar array in the county."
County Manager Jon Paul Saari said he is working with a company to put in solar arrays in Grant and Hidalgo counties.
Strand said the Deming power plant is running at only 50 percent capacity, but "PNM will tie into the upgraded transmission line. The company has three substations it is going to build."
The rest of the meeting concerned agenda items and county reports.