[Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a multi-part series of articles about the Grant County Commission work session of Dec. 18, 2018.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The Grant County Commission held a work session on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, to hear presentations, updates and to review the regular agenda.
The article on the first two updates, from Gila Regional Medical Center and Hidalgo Medical Services, can be read here: http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/48245-grant-county-commission-work-session-features-monthly-reports-121818-part-1
The next item was a request from New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity Grant County representative Gabriel Ramos (who was absent) for the NM CAP Entity Executive Director Anthony Gutierrez to present for approval a second amendment to the operating joint-powers agreement.
Gutierrez had given the commissioners a red-lined version of the JPA to show where new language was inserted to address the potential for using New Mexico Unit Funding for other water utilization projects.
"Previously the JPA addressed development of a New Mexico Unit diversion and storage, as well as potential discussions with Freeport-McMoRan for recharge of the aquifer," Gutierrez said. "Some other alternatives have already been addressed by the Interstate Stream Commission, which allocated $9.1 million to water development and water conservation projects. We have had a lot of dialogue on what to use the funding for."
He said when he talked to legislators, "their biggest concern was money in state coffers (the New Mexico Unit Fund) not being used for specific needs in southwest New Mexico. I met with Priscilla (Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director) about Community Development Block Grant and Colonias Infrastructure Fund water project requests. She said they total about $11 million a year."
"We, as members of the NM CAP Entity, have gotten the cost of the development of the New Mexico Unit to be paid for with the construction fund, which is separate from the New Mexico Unit Fund," Gutierrez continued. "Without using the New Mexico Unit Fund monies, we can develop the unit. The ISC's concern about moving forward with this second amendment was that we would get to the end of the process and the record of decision and not be able to go forward. The language used in the amendment was taken directly from the Arizona Water Settlements Act. We felt it would meet the concerns of the legislators. Ramos has been an advocate for funding for other water projects, so he supports this amendment."
Gutierrez said the money that comes in each year to the New Mexico Unit Fund from the Lower Colorado River Basin Fund has been invested and has seen a $6 million increase over the years. "That will pay for engineering and the NEPA process."
Because the amendment would have met with a tie, which would have rejected it, Commission Chairman Billy Billings tabled it.
Gutierrez said the members of the NM CAP Entity has approved it as the board at the last meeting.
Commissioner Harry Browne asked: "Without this amendment what is the process to determine where the money goes?"
Gutierrez replied: "The current JPA allows for the money to be spent only for a New Mexico Unit. The $9.1 million allocated by the ISC to other projects was finalized prior to the establishment of the NM CAP Entity."
Browne pursued his questioning. "So, if there is no amendment, it can't be spent on anything else? Relatively soon, there is likely to be new ISC membership. I'm wondering if the future ISC might be amenable to using the funding before the Record of Decision. And potentially the ROD could be moved further out."
Gutierrez said the priority of the current JPA is only the development of water. "I also want to mention that under the current requirements, the NEPA must be completed by June 2019. Even if there is an extension of the ROD, NEPA will come sooner."
Browne said it was his speculation that with the new ISC it may be possible to use the funds now.
Commissioner Brett Kasten asked if the commission wanted to add the item to the Thursday agenda.
"My guess is that things will change with the ISC," Browne said. "I prefer to wait."
Commissioner Alicia Edwards said if the commission were to pass the amendment, it would prohibit the ISC from taking money out of the New Mexico Unit Fund for other purposes. "Why did we get this just yesterday?"
Gutierrez said he doesn't give the amendments to the boards that the CAP Entity members represent, it is the members who do. "Ramos asked me to come because he was going to be absent today, but he is the one who requested it be considered by the commission. The intent of the NM CAP Entity is to keep the New Mexico Unit to be a sustainable resource for water project funding."
"I know the CAP Entity has discussed using the fund to provide operations and maintenance for the unit," Browne said. "That's another reason I'm hesitant. I don't support a unit. I prefer using the money for other projects."
Gutierrez countered that the board has not expressed using the funds for O and M. "The unit has to be sustainable on its own revenue. The entity is working on a business plan."
Billings asked if the ISC gives any authority to the CAP Entity.
"The JPA does not give more authority to the CAP," Gutierrez said. "The ISC has total authority, with advisement of the CAP Entity."
Edwards said she preferred waiting until there is a new ISC.
"I prefer to see it on Thursday, so we can vote," Kasten said.
County Attorney Abigail Burgess said she agreed that there is a need for more time to review it.
It was not placed on the Thursday agenda. But a special meeting was set for Dec. 28.
[Editor's Note: This author was unable to attend the special meeting but was told that the amendment had passed by a 3-2 vote, with Ramos, Billings and Kasten voting for and Browne and Edwards voting against. If a recording is available next week of the Dec. 28 meeting, a more extensive report will be written.]