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. I feel like you should be concerned and I support your filling the vacant FMO position."
He said the Forest Service has nine engines across the forest. "We will have four hand crews. We are struggling on air support, because there are only 11 air tankers across the country. We are trying to bring in new aircraft."
The Forest Service continues to recruit firefighters. The Southwest Firefighters Program has pack-tested 57 high school seniors, who will be ready to fight fires.
"We want you to know how much we appreciate you," Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said. "You fight not only fires on the forest, but you help us out with all your resources on other fires."
Commissioner Ron Hall asked that Holguin come back to the commission to give a full presentation. Commissioner Gabriel Ramos also expressed his appreciation on behalf of the county and its residents.
"We'll support you in keeping the fire cache here," County Manager Jon Paul Saari said. "Gabe cut his teeth on the Quail Ridge Fire and did an excellent job.
Ramos said he was glad to see homegrown people succeed.
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.
Saari gave the expenditure report, which showed the sum of $2,895,615.50 having been spent in the past almost month and a half since the last County Commission meeting. About $230,000 was spent on Grant County Business and Conference Center construction.
The financial report showed the General Fund with an actual cash balance, as of Jan. 31, 2013, of $4,564,495, with an anticipated surplus, at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, of $762,050, which does not include the required three-twelfths cash reserve of $2,105,342. Almost 60 percent of budgeted revenues have been received.
The Road Fund showed actual cash on Jan. 31 of negative $29,401, because transfers of about $840,000 to the fund have not yet been made. The surplus, after taking out the required one-twelfth cash reserve of $130,935, is estimated to be $309,919 at the end of the fiscal year.
The Corrections Fund, with the projected transfers of $1 million not yet made, had a negative balance of $426,907. The fund does not require a cash reserve at the end of the fiscal year, but estimated surplus is expected to be $112,526.
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.
"It appears to me that somehow a problem was fabricated, which convinced the Forest Service bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., that roads needed to be closed in our national forests," Montoya said. "This fabricated problem has, to date, cost the nation's taxpayers possibly hundreds of millions of dollars, with no end in sight, because of potential litigation against the Forest Service."
He said he heard agreement that there are problems within the GNF, "mainly the inability of the Forest Service to enforce existing rules and regulations and to properly maintain existing roads." He said the roads have provided good public access and, to his knowledge, there is no road problem in the GNF requiring road closures.
To him, he said it seemed the consensus at the meeting was that people could live with no new roads and that road closures had not been justified.
Montoya also said many have indicated "our legislators in Washington, D.C., have not properly carried out their oversight duties regarding the governance of the Forest Service. It appears that the Forest Service has concentrated too much decision-making power in a few individuals in Washington, D.C."
He also said Forest Service budgets "appear not to have been properly monitored to ensure that tax monies are effectively and efficiently spent and not wasted." In addition, he alleged transparency and accountability appear to be lacking in the agency. "The road closure effort has shown that the Forest Service needs to coordinate with local governments."
Montoya said each county should focus ongoing grassroots efforts "to encourage federal and state legislators to carry out the will of their constituents…. Once we lose road access, we will never get it back for future generations to enjoy our national forests."
The next article will begin with an update from Ray Aaltonen, New Mexico Game & Fish Department Las Cruces Division chief, on deer management.