[Editor's Note: This is the second in a multi-part series of articles on the Grant County Commission work session of Aug. 14, and the regular meeting on Aug. 16, 2018.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
Prior to the regular meeting of the Grant County Board of Commissioners, several items that had been placed on the agenda after the work session were removed at the request of Commissioner Alicia Edwards. One was a resolution request from the USDA Forest Service to designate Bear Creek Area of Interest (Forest Road 506) as a designated motorized trail. The second one she requested be removed was a resolution requesting the USDA Forest Service to decommission certain closed roads in the Burros Mountains.
Commissioner Brett Kasten noted that if those two were being removed because of them being added late, then the item requesting proposals for opioid litigation services should also be removed because it also was added.
Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said the commissioners up until Aug. 15, which was the deadline for public comments on the first two items, didn't know it was the deadline, until they learned it was that day.
"The Forest Service gave us an extension to next Tuesday," Ramos said. "I am willing to have a special meeting Monday to address these items."
Edwards said when Beth Ihle, temporary Silver City District ranger, gave the deadline during her presentation at a special meeting, "I asked for an extension. We should have had it on the work session agenda."
Ramos said the county had gotten the extension the day of the deadline, so "we decided to put it on today's agenda."
Commissioner Harry Browne moved to remove the two items and to consider a special meeting. And amended it to the three items.
Kasten pointed out that the Open Meetings Act specifically says it is permissible to add items to an agenda.
The commissioners chose to remove the three items and place them on a special meeting agenda set for Monday, Aug. 20, at 9 a.m., which was later in the meeting was changed to 8 a.m. Because it is a special meeting, no public input will be allowed.
[Editor's Note: A separate article will address the regular monthly report from Gila Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Taffy Arias and Chief Financial Officer Richard Stokes.]
Several people spoke during public input, about varying topics.
The first to speak was James Baldwin. "Since the County Commission moved from the Courthouse, the most recent addition is two commissioners. You used to publish in the January paper the list of commissioners and the committees they serve on and their positions on the committees. I found it valuable and would like to see it published again. I was opposed to the sale of the hospital and am pleased with your decision to keep it county-owned. I wish for the flyovers for the service to train. If they don't practice, we could be taken advantage of."
Al Gamboa said, based on the Air Force plans he has seen, "it makes me happy that the Commission has decided to take a cohesive plan to address the issue. Our economy is based on natural resources, and we are tourism reliant. We have a beautiful forest that our creator endowed us with. Do I hold reservations on the military? No. I feel the training is essential to our security. But I believe the surrounding areas to Holloman are available. The inclusion of this area would be wrong and I'm against it, because our fastest growing economy is tourism. I am totally against turning our beautiful forest into a training wasteland. They have plenty of other acres to access."
Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance executive director, first asked the commissions to speak into the microphones, because it is often difficult to hear them.
"I want to speak to two resolutions you have removed from the agenda," Stevens said. "About the decommissioning of the roads in the Burro Mountains, the Forest Service made it clear the roads are already closed. Although closed, some are being used, and some are not being used, but are causing erosions. They need to be decommissioned, and the drainage problems need to be fixed. Some of the roads are duplicates running parallel to other roads, so they are unnecessary. I also want to address the road system in Bear Creek. Allowing the road contradicts the reason the property was purchased by the Forest Service. It was to conserve the land and water. The only access mentioned was hiking access to the riparian areas. The road would allow access and put at risk the endangered species in the Bear Creek area. It would be better to keep the road closed. It was private property without public access. It would not remove any public access."
James Koons, a lifelong county resident, gave some background history on Bear Creek. "I've been traveling on that road for 39 years. That road has been there. It used to be used for gold prospecting. A company bulldozed the entire creek. If you look closely you can see where major bulldozing was done. It was eventually stopped by the Army Corps of Engineers. I have accessed that road my entire life. When the Forest Service was purchasing it, they said it would allow access to the public. We're worried about what the road is going to do to the creek? What about when it was placer mined? The creek has dried up at times, too. I agree that a lot of people don't have respect for the forest. But the forest is a land of many uses. I'm on my ATV and I stop and talk to the hikers who are doing the Continental Divide Trail. We can get along. I don't see the benefits of closing the road. I'm in favor of keeping the road open. The road also needs to stay there for the Forest Service to fight fires. If you want to stop people driving on closed roads, then do enforcement. I've not seen a single law enforcement officer when I've been in the forest."
Jeffrey Fell said he would speak to the flyovers and the roads. "Mr. Koons did an excellent job of supporting Bear Creek access. I'm asking that the Forest Road 506 be motorized. I'm a firefighter and an EMT. I'm not comparing myself to the military, but the training is important. Firefighters and EMTS train all the time. It's hard to train for a low-frequency, high-risk incident, like a mass casualty and difficult to imagine them, but when we are faced with emergencies, we have to mitigate and act quickly. I've been to the Catwalk and have seen low-flying flights. I was thankful for them. They are training for the low-frequency, high-risk incidents. We are only able to enjoy these things, because of their ensuring our freedoms. We know that our freedoms are not necessarily free. They come at a price. I imagine most people hearing of expansion in their areas may have the same stance as you do, but I ask: If not here, where? If not now, when? I put up a similar stance on my personal Facebook page and, as of today, I have received 147 positive comments. So, I think I represent all those people when I say: If the U.S. military needs this space over our heads to hone their skills to protect the freedoms we all enjoy, then let them fly."
E.J. Montes said he was a two-time Cold War veteran, once with the U.S. Navy, under President George H. W. Bush, and "I served two tours in that operation. Then I joined the Air National Guard and served on the terrorist watch under President George W. Bush. I can tell you what it's like in the theater of war. In aviation, it came with losses and sacrifices. I had experience on the flight lines. The military spends a tremendous amount of their budget on aviation. They use highly refined fuel, and the aircraft are piloted by the best of what this country can produce. They are like elite athletes, with a short window when they are at their optimum. They represent the elite of our country. My support is for how essential this training is to our national defense. We should be thrilled at all the important things that have happened in New Mexico, such as the development of the atomic bomb, which ended World War II. Our Air Forces bases are a strong part of our economy. The F-16s are essential. Teddy Roosevelt was a huge supporter of natural resources, but he also was a great supporter of national defense. F-16s protected Air Force One during 9/11. I could live with the protection this training gives us."
Montes also said he was in favor of the ATVs. "I don't think there's a problem."
Sandra Griffin said she is against the F-16 flights. "I object to further militarization over the Gila. I also often hear the roads need to be kept open for the disabled. I'm disabled, and I get out there. I don't think about access for the disabled. I, as a disabled person, do not think you are representing me."
Michelle Conley said she thinks the F-16's training over the Gila is a mistake. "It's an issue between a strong military and a pristine wilderness. Yes, we need the strong military, but I think it's a violation of the Wilderness Act to fly jets over the wilderness. The economy of Grant County is growing because of tourism. We don't have to choose one or the other. It's important to have a strong military and a place for ATVs, but we need to protect the wilderness."
Glenn Griffin said: "It's about time you're addressing the F-16s. You had a woman representing 160 businesses in opposition to the flyovers. I used to work as a reporter and for a TV station. I covered a story where Myrtle Cox was shooting at F-14s, because their flights were cracking the walls of her adobe homestead. In Willcox, Arizona, I covered a crashed F-16. The deputy said he was sick of low-flying aircraft. Yes, they will start fires. I was told I couldn't go to the crash site, because it was a radioactive site from the depleted radioactive material scattered throughout the area. It was dangerous."
"On road access, go to Mud Springs to see the interchange of about a dozen ATV trails," Griffin continued. "They had to narrow the road to keep out ATVs. I thought the Bear Creek Road was closed, so driving on it may be illegal. When you load the creek with sediment, it kills life in the stream."
Patrice Mutchnik, who said she hadn't planned to speak, said she was at the November meeting on the F-16 flyover issue. "Many people spoke out against the F-16s training over the Gila. I'm pleased the Commission has come up with a well-researched resolution and that they are working together to do it."
Mara Miles supported the Commission taking a stand. "We moved here seven years ago, attracted by the beauty of the land and a dynamic community. We are concerned about economic development. The flyovers could be devastating to the economy. The decision is being made in Washington D.C., and they don't know about the community."
Ted Miles said: "Same for me. I'm in opposition. I'm a member of the Backcountry Horsemen Association. Most are opposed as far as I know. I am not authorized to speak on their behalf," he said after Commission Chairman Billy Billings asked him if he had their authorization to oppose the flights.
Richard Maynes said he was in attendance to support the ROVs. "Under the U.S. and New Mexico constitutions, the First Amendment gives us the right to worship. It states that a person has the right to worship (and to travel) under any mode of transportation. For us retired, disabled, the designation to ride ROVs on highway 180 will allow us to go to our place of worship. I share the road with bicycles. I think bicycles should share the taxes, too. If I pay for registration for my ROV, if the bicycles want to share the road, they, too, should pay registration." He said he approved all the routes for the ROVs and for them to stay within the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit. "We, the people, are the Forest Service. It belongs to us and we are all equal for use of the roads."
Raul Turrieta thanked the commissioners for the decision on the hospital. "I spent a couple of weeks at the hospital with a family member. Everybody gave amazing service to everyone. I thank the CEO on how they are handling the hospital. I continue to give the CEO and the administration our thanks and respect."
Richard Burcham said he worked in the mines for 40 years. "Thank goodness for having them here. I bought an ATV, but when they closed the roads in the Burros, I bought a trailer and loaded my ATV on it and I travel to Arizona and Utah to ride my ATV."
"I agree on the F-16s – if not now, when?" Burcham said. "Someday it could be not our planes flying over."
Luis Terrazas, who said he is 20 years old, supported the ATV usage. "It's been a big part of my youth and spending quality time with my family. I want to share it with the family I have someday."
The next article will cover the GRMC report by the CEO and CFO.