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GSFWC discusses agreement with law firm, time limit to public comment

By Mary Alice Murphy

During the approval of the agenda, item 1 of old business, which addressed the proposed creation of a regional water authority by a memorandum of agreement or by the GSFWC Joint Powers Agreement, was removed from the agenda.

During public comments, which for the first time were at the beginning of the meeting, Gerald Schultz, representing New Mexico Resource Conservation and Development districts, said he had two items for public input.

"Item 1 is that New Mexico First recently released their final report for the Town Hall on "Water Planning, Development & Use" that was held in mid-April," Schultz said. "Over 300 attendees from 31 New Mexico counties came from all walks of life to develop 15 recommendations for an implementation team to bring to the Legislature over the next 12-18 months. These include: improve state and regional water plans; make our water supply resilient and flexible; plan for extreme droughts; restore watershed; protect against wildlife and water source loss; reduce endangered species conflicts; advance shortage-sharing agreements; improve water rights management; improve adjudication process; capture precipitation; assess brackish water sources; clarify brackish/produced water process; invest water dollars wisely; expand water funding sources; and conserve water and protect against contamination."

He continued with his experience of how water studies were done during his time with the Bureau of Reclamation. "The first step was to do the appraisal level of study, which then is followed by the more advanced feasibility level. Adequate completion of the first level of a number of projects would usually indicate which ones are candidates for the second one. Adequate completion of the second level would indicate then, and only then, which projects are feasible and can go on to construction. I believe the AWSA studies are being done at a certain percent (30 percent, I believe) level of full appraisal. This might place a greater burden on a full feasibility level."

Schultz went on to say: "There are those who 'jump the gun' and proclaim feasibility status when the reduced appraisal level is just getting under way. It is especially necessary that correct processes be done in the AWSA studies, since lawsuits are inevitable."

He said he had watched Mr. Gaume's presentation on CATS and noted that Gaume was fairly strong on declaring the non-feasibility of some of the AWSA projects, which he based on his expert experience. "I don't know if his 'letter report' would be accepted as a full feasibility study in court. He pointed out some are badly flawed, but I did not notice the words fatal flaws being stated. Others could also say that the ongoing 30 percent appraisal level studies have flaws, but many of these can be thought of as correctible. I believe Mr. Gutierrez implied this."

"I would like to reserve some of my comments to when you make decisions," M.H. "Dutch" Salmon, representing the Gila Conservation Coalition, said.

Anthony Gutierrez, GSFWC chairman, representing Grant County said:
"We will have a discussion period during motions."

Allyson Siwik, representing GCC and Gila Resources Information Project, said: "You have no report on the communications committee, which was meeting before this meeting, on the agenda. We are not hearing what is being discussed. Is it possible to add it to this agenda? Is there any way we can know the decisions?"

"Our committee meetings don't have to be public," Gutierrez said. "We will talk about this meeting under the agenda item: Public Outreach."

The first agenda item under New Business read: GSFWC entering into an agreement with the Domenici Law Firm to form the NM CAP entity—discuss/approve.

"Let me give a little history," Charles "Tink" Jackson, Luna County manager, said. "Everyone in this group thought the group would be ultimately a CAP entity. You can amend the JPA so the group becomes the CAP entity if the Interstate Stream Commission makes such a decision on a New Mexico Unit."

"I think the JPA reflects that," Gutierrez said.

After a motion to approve was made, Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County and the village of Virden, said he had been under the assumption that the JPA language would cover the group.

"Yes, it's built in, I think," Jackson said. "What's missing is the vehicle for funding. Some other language needs to be expanded to satisfy the legalities if the group will be handling 100s of millions of dollars."

Gutierrez noted the CAP entity would have to be a full governmental entity.

"I'm confused," Lee said. "Without the decision being made to use the water, is this premature?"

Jackson said he thought it would be a last-minute decision, because this is an election year.

"We could approve a funding source," Gutierrez said.

Rick McInturff, representing the city of Deming, amended the motion for the source of funding to be the Reservation Fund to pay Mr. Domenici.

The next agenda item was a discussion regarding setting a time limit during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"I suggested moving the public comments to the beginning of the meeting, because it works well with the County Commission," Gutierrez said. "I want our meetings to be productive. I am proposing to limit public comment to five minutes. I have never not opened up agenda items to public discussion."

McInturff pointed out that if the item would exceed five minutes, the person could ask to be on the agenda.

Dolores Dominguez, Grant County ordinance officer, who also serves as GSFWC secretary, said the agenda item was only for discussion, not an action item.

Gutierrez requested that it be put on the next agenda as an action item.

"I have a comment on the Domenici proposal, and I don't think it's a good idea to have public comment prior to the agenda items," Salmon said.

"I don't want to get into a question-and-answer period or name-calling and aggression toward the commission," Gutierrez said. "That was unacceptable at that previous meeting. The public comments will be prior to any decisions being made. I think it's more advantageous to make a comment just before the decision is made. I want it to be a comment, not a conflict period."

"We would prefer comments at the end, but I see we have recourse at the discussion times," Salmon said.

Gutierrez apologized for not seeing Salmon's hand up for the Domenici item.

"I would like to equate the years of wonderful meetings to a barrel of apples," Schultz said. "One bad apple causes changes to all the good meetings.

"I appreciate that comments can be made after a motion," he continued. "Comments can be influential to a vote for those who may be on the fence. I agree with Dutch. It's sad to see the bad apple approach."

"Five minutes is a long time, and I remind you that comments during an action item are up to the discretion of the chairman," Gutierrez said. "I want to maintain a sense of order, which didn't happen with that meeting."

Lee commended Gutierrez, for reacting to what happened. "You would be remiss if you were not to take care of it."

"I understand why you would like more structure," Siwik said. "I wonder about sufficient time for people to provide public comment. Public comment before might be different from during a motion.

"The Town Council gives enough lead time with a notice of intent to adopt resolutions," she commented." I encourage you to get meaningful public participation. People think this is the last time they can make this comment and emotions get elevated. If everyone feels like it is structured and organized, it provides people enough time to comment."

"The Town Council and the County Commission are different, because they have only five or three members, Gutierrez said. "It is difficult to get 18 commissioners here, and we have time constraints for the AWSA. Dori gets the draft agenda out way ahead of time."

Siwik said: "My suggestion is to allow some discussion during the agenda item."

During old business, Gutierrez noted the first item had been removed and explained why. "In my opinion, the JPA took care of it. An amendment should be focused on a CAP entity, as we have already discussed."

The second item was public outreach. "We did have a communications committee meeting," Gutierrez said. "We had a presentation by Mr. Binkley. The proposal he presented was out of our budget, so we discussed how to make it more affordable."

"The GSFWC will fund part of it, and other entities will be asked to fund part," McInturff said.

"As we changed the budget, we are looking at $8,000 and we have only about $7,400 in the commission's treasury," Gutierrez said.

McInturff pointed out that the percentage of the Reservation Fund, which would allow for commission expenses, had not yet been remitted to the commission.

"I ask the commission to put up $4,000 to get more information about the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission out to the public." Gutierrez said. "Maybe by next meeting we can up it to $5,000 for a cushion."

Lee moved to set aside up to $5,000, even though the commission has not yet received the final proposal.

The next agenda item was discussion on the NM ISC Input Group on projects and public meeting

Gutierrez said: "As far as I know, the next meetings have not been set."

Tom Bates, representing the Deming Soil and Water Conservation District asked if anyone in the commission knew where the ISC is on projects.

"I don't think we'll know before November," Gutierrez said.

Eve Halper, representing the Tucson Office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said: "June 25 is our target date to have Reclamation reports on the ISC website. The comment period will take place from June 25 through July 25."

The next GSFWC meeting will take place at 10 a.m. July 15, with the Communications Committee meeting at 9 a.m.

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