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Editor's Note: This is part 3 of a multi-part series of articles on the Prospectors' Legislative Communication Forum, held Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Western New Mexico University's Light Hall. This article will cover the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, the Copper Rule, Heredia Ditch Improvements and Corre Caminos Transit.

By Mary Alice Murphy

Bruce Ashburn, Prospectors president, served as the moderator in front of in front of Sen. Howie Morales, Rep. Dianne Hamilton and Rep. John Zimmerman.

Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, executive director, said she would give an overview of the fiscal services the COG provides.

"I am responsible for 27 fiscal services, just for my four-county region," Lucero said. "In my conversations with the Colonias Infrastructure Fund and the Community Development Block Grants, I had to explain we were eligible for an advance, which comes in October. The end of July would be better. They are not accepting changes on the reimbursement forms, so entities are not be reimbursed for up to a year. That's too long."

She noted she has all Colonias funding on a detailed spreadsheet since 2012. "We are getting ready for the 2016 cycle."

On the Colonias Infrastructure Fund, Grant County received in 2012, $1 million; in 2013, $1.7 million; in 2014, $2.7 million; and in 2015, $3.6 million. That's $9.1 million just for Grant County.

"Things are moving more smoothly through the Colonias Infrastructure Fund," she said.

"You are always a font of knowledge," Hamilton said. "You can always tell me what is happening all over the area. You are greatly appreciated."

"Congratulations on your Citizen of the Year Award," Morales said to Lucero. "We appreciate all your work. I think why you have fewer fiscal responsibilities than other areas, is because the local governments are up-to-date on their audits. I thank you when you step in on emergency situations."

"The COG is also the recipient of a $250,000 award for renewable energy," Lucero said. "We will have a representative. I know. The next regional director is Jorge Ayala.

"We can do more things on a regional level with federal funding," she said. "Emily (Schilling) is working to review and renew the Local Economic Development Act ordinances and resolutions. We are working with local governments to attract businesses."

Morales asked if the COG had any requests.

"We would like to move last year's attempts forward," Lucero said. "We have a meeting next week. We are receiving a $10,000 increase, because we are waiting on the federal government for funding."

Morales asked her if she had any idea why the bill was vetoed last year.

"I don't recall, but it may be because of concerns around the state with the ways things are working in their regions," Lucero said. "They were refusing to sign our grant agreement, because some details were not complete—a portion of serving on the jobs council. They wanted specific language of the participation on the jobs council in the agreement."

"I know your participation on the Colonias board gets money for the area," Morales said.

"Thank you for your advocacy," Zimmerman said. "Don't stop with the LEDA for Little Toad Creek."

"Anything I can do to help you, I will," Lucero said.

Ashburn said: "We have Tony Trujillo, Freeport McMoRan government relations and John Brack, vice president of New Mexico Operations, talking on the Copper Rule.

"Thank you for what you do for Grant County," Trujillo said. "Your attention to our needs is appreciated. I also want to thank the Prospectors.

"We are here for three reasons, and not to ask for money," Trujillo continued. "Recently, Ryan Flynn, Environment Department Secretary, came to talk about the Copper Rule and its environmental and economic benefits. It's in the final phase in appeal to the state Supreme Court. The only voice the court is hearing is the Santa Fe voice.

"Key to the issue is the attorney general's office," Trujillo said. "We ask you, as legislators, to make it a priority to support the Copper Rule. The attorney general has contacted us to hear our side."

"I sent a letter to the attorney general and he reached out to you, so he could have a better understanding of the rule," Zimmerman said. "During Prospectors' Grant County Day will a good time to sit down and meet with the attorney general."

"It is important to find common ground," Trujillo said. "We are talking about the impact, which would be on 4,000 direct and indirect jobs. We have about 1,400 Freeport employees in the county. The loss of production would have a $450 million impact to New Mexico.

We have not changed our message. We want predictability, consistency and timeliness. The Copper Rule does all this.

It went from a four-page document to a 44-page document. We want these rules.

"It's to ensure we have water safety," Zimmerman said. "We don't want what happened to the Animas River to happen here. We want to make sure our water is safe."

Brack said the predictability, consistency and timeliness are important to him as a miner. "To me, as a New Mexican, I want clean water."

Hamilton said mining is so important to New Mexico. It's the job of anyone that lives next to an extractive industry to let people know there is no damage, no impact, and when the company is through extracting, they make it better.

"It's our way of life in southwestern New Mexico," she said.

Morales said it was about balance to have environmental safeguards and jobs.

"We're on the same page," Trujillo said. "We need the balance to keep the land and water safe while maintaining jobs. We have one more push to get to home plate."

Ashburn introduced Art Merino, Heredia Ditch mayordomo and his brother, John Merino, ditch board member.

"We have water rights on the Mimbres River," Art Merino said. "Floods have damaged our dams and ditches and we need to replace them. El agua es la vida."

He said the users of the ditch are small-scale ranchers and farmers.

"San Lorenzo is upstream of the Highway 152 Bridge," he continued. "Just south of San Lorenzo, we have 250 feet of a 24-inch pipeline near the bridge. We are in danger of losing it. We need repairs and mitigation to the dam."

The water rights of the ditch users go back to the 1870s.

"The river is eight feet from the pipe," Art Merino said. "We need funding for reconstructing or other stabilization of the pipe.

"We got $20,000 from the Water Trust Board for engineering for a positive impact on river bank stabilization for an efficient use of the water resource and erosion control," he said. "It will keep eight families having access to the water."

He showed photos of the damage.

"We are asking for capital outlay of $308,000, with $137,000 for Phase 1, $57,000 for Phase 2, and $177,00 for the final phase," Art Merino concluded.

Zimmerman asked if the ditch users had looked at USDA federal funding.

"Yes, and we want to get the first phase of the pipeline stabilized," Art Merino said. "We have also talked to the Interstate Stream Commission."

Zimmerman said the USDA last year had millions of dollars that were not used.

Lucero said the funding that Zimmerman was talking about is for public municipal water and wastewater projects. "The acequias, I'm learning, are different."

Morales asked who the ditch's fiscal agent is.

"They can receive money directly from the state, because they are a state entity, if they are in compliance with their audit and Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan," Lucero said. "I think it is administered through the Acequia Association."

"If you can do capital outlay, it's a minimum of $50,000," Morales noted.

"I hope we can get a 90 percent-10 percent loan approved," Art Merino said.

"If you're leveraging funds, it's really important to put that in the request," Morales said. "Find out the deadline for the capital outlay forms. I want on Grant County Day to make sure we are clear with the Acequia Association."

Randy Villa, Grant County General Services Director gave the report for Corre Caminos Transit. Because Grant County is the fiscal agent for Corre Caminos Transit District, "we have this request under Grant County's ICIP plan."

Kim Dominguez, CC director for Grant and Luna counties reported the district provided 114,000 rides last year, with the majority being elderly. "We also transport prescription medicines. We put about 1,300 miles on nine buses every day. We have a federal match."

She said the life expectancy of a bus is about four years or 250,000 miles. The Department of Transportation only awards one bus a year. "We are asking for funding for a bus to update our aging fleet. We have 17 buses in the fleet."

"As a board member for Hidalgo Medical Services, it's more economical to have Corre Caminos deliver for HMS daily," Hamilton said. "We can't get people used to public transportation here. If you could get more people to use it, it would help. People don't understand that public transportation can also pick you up. How far in advance to you have to be notified?"

Dominguez said one business day is required for advance notice.

"What about Corre Cantinas?" Hamilton asked.

"We've given rides to 95,000 people, keeping them off the roads after drinking," Dominguez said.

Morales said he thought the destination point to point is important. Maybe you need Ãœber sedans.

"It's a challenge—the amount of cost in comparison to revenue services," Villa said. "We can't increase fees, because we will impact those who can't afford it. We want to try to continue to go after other funding.

"All three of us agree it is important," Morales said.

The next article will begin to cover the education presentations.

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