Editor's Note: This is the second and final part of a series of articles on a special meeting held by the Grant County Board of Commissioners on Monday, March 11, in the afternoon.
Public comments continued with mostly general opposition to the motion by commissioners to approve a resolution supporting a Southwest New Mexico Regional Water plan, including stipulations that it also include Grant County proposals for effluent reuse and a Grant County Water Commission proposal for a Grant County Regional Water Supply Plan.
Walter "Ski" Szymanski, Silver City resident, said he was a 30-year career labor union negotiator. "I respectfully ask you to table this, because it doesn't have what you think."
An Aldo Leopold High School student, talked to the commissioners in a loud voice. "I am disappointed that you have not allowed us to discuss this issue. The Gila River is part of everyone's life. The Gila Festival is for kids to learn about water and the ecosystem. You are not teaching younger people how to act."
A resident thanked the commissioners for their position, and then went on to say: "One commissioner is saying there is a diversion, and one is saying there is not a diversion. I don't believe the Southwest County Commission Alliance is educated enough to vote."
Editor's Note: This was a Grant County Commission meeting, not a Southwest County Commission Alliance meeting.
Winn Phillips said she is brand new to Silver City. "We were told a great number of groups were working on water rights and were part of the process. Are you only agreeing to the resolution if you get what you want?"
A Western New Mexico University student said what is most alarming about the resolution and the proposal is that it is "completely unsustainable. Once the water runs out, you have spent the money. If there is no water, the money is wasted. That's common sense."
Ella Kirk, Aldo Leopold High School student, thanked the commissioners for allowing people to speak. "We want to say for all young people, the river is important to us. We're in the desert. The Gila keeps us alive. What about endangered species? The Forest Service is working to restore the Gila trout. The Colorado River no longer flows to the Gulf of Mexico."
A resident said: "It's always been young people who focus on an issue. I was told that once upon a time you could walk in the Gila River to Yuma in the shade. No one can explain to me how Albuquerque and Santa Fe can make decisions for you. You don't know what the people in Santa Fe want. Listen to the young people; do the right thing; turn it down; and table it."
Tom Bates, the lone supporter to speak, said he agreed with the commissioners' position. "Texas has three lawsuits against New Mexico for water from the Lower Rio Grande. If New Mexico loses, the Las Cruces area stands to have a $1 billion impact. If we don't keep this water, it will go to Las Cruces."
Another Aldo Leopold High School student said: "I think it's sad that you will ruin our very important river. It's stuff like this that is ruining our country."
A student said he was disappointed. "It's not cool to take a way of life away."
Kim McCreery of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance thanked the commissioners for allowing public comment. "We do not know that the water will be piped to Las Cruces, but if it is, this is what it will look like." She showed a photo of the Gila River, south of Phoenix, Arizona, which was dry and full of tumbleweeds. "The only reason I knew it was the Gila River was because of the sign," which showed in the photo.
Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said: "I have been involved in the process for at least five years. Out of all those here, I recognize only about five who were involved in the process. I have said: 'No one will care until there is no water coming out of the faucet or unless something drastic happens.' We have spent years with no consensus. The Deming project did pass the Tier 1 and Tier 2 process, and it is still a viable project."
He said, as a lifetime resident on the Gila River, "I have my own concerns. We have heard about the frustration from the legislators year after year. The Deming project is still a viable project with the Interstate Stream Commission."
Commissioner Ron Hall asked Gutierrez to explain the decision process.
"All the 16 projects are going through feasibility studies, economic feasibility studies with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, environmental feasibility studies and impact studies," Gutierrez said. "The diversion option is still being looked at."
He explained the decision would come through the ISC, which is made up of appointed individuals, some of whom are legislators, and others, who are residents of various counties, including a representative from Grant County.
"Smith has a lot of support, and Albuquerque and Santa Fe have been making threats, too, to take the Gila River water," Gutierrez said. "A diversion may or may not be the best for Grant County, and it may not be what you want, but we had our chance."
Hall pointed out that the Grant County Commission does not make the decision how the Arizona Water Settlements Act water and money allocations will be used.
Commission Chairman Brett Kasten said any ISC decision would require a full National Environmental Policy Act process.
"It will be at least 10 years before any construction can begin," Gutierrez said.
County Manager Jon Paul Saari said he had a discussion with Sen. John Arthur Smith in the hallway at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. "He told me he had just gotten off the phone with the Deming newspaper, the Headlight, I presume, and he told me he had support for a bill for next year's legislative session that would take the water to Las Cruces."
Commissioner Gabriel Ramos, who was attending by conference call, said: "We can not do anything and let the water go to Las Cruces, or we can do something now and keep the water in Grant County or at least in the four-county region."
As Kasten called a recess in the meeting, many people shouted things, such as: "You are being bullied"; "Wait until next election"; and "This is not government, it's corruption."
During the shouts, the commission approved the motion, after which the disrespectful crowd erupted into a long booing session.
[Mom's (who is also editor) Note: "Adults" acting like two-year-olds? Been there, seen that, and didn't enjoy then or now. Thank you to the audience members who were respectful and acted the way true adults should. Your mom raised you right!]
The crowd left the room and talked loudly in the halls until well after the meeting reconvened to pass an agreement for $50,000 with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, of which the county will pay about $3600. The purpose of the agreement is to place signage along Cottage San Road and regulatory signs to Bear Mountain Road.
The commissioners then went into executive session to discuss a personnel matter in the Sheriff's Office and threatened litigation in regard to the Detention Center in 2012. Commissioners adjourned out of the executive session.