[Editor's Note: This article is the second of a series of articles on the legislative forum in preparation for the upcoming legislative session. Most presentations took place in person.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
District 28 State Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, District 38 Rep. Rebecca Dow and District 29 Rep. Luis Terrazas attended the Grant County Prospectors annual legislative forum on Dec. 2, 2021, in person.
Silver City Assistant Town Manager James Marshall, Santa Clara Administrator Sheila Hudman, Western New Mexico University's Kathy Whiteman of the Outdoor Recreation Department, and Gila National Forest Silver City District Ranger Beth Ihle represented the Southwest New Mexico Collaborative. Only Marshall and Hudman spoke.
Marshall started off the presentation by saying: "It's an exciting group. Pay attention to our mission. [Editor's Note: It can be found at https://sites.google.com/view/southwestnmcollaborative/home ]
He noted the priorities of the group are to work collaboratively on restoration of vegetated corridors; economic development; youth engagement, education and stewardship; and outdoor recreation.
Hudman said the Forest Service has completed a preliminary design for the administration building at Fort Bayard. "We need to get to construction, but we cannot move on infrastructure, water, and electricity without the state allowing Santa Clara to annex a portion of Fort Bayard."
Marshall said Adam Mendonca, as Gila National Forest supervisor, had put the group together.
Dow said: "Annexation is so easy. It's just a letter to a committee. I hope people are calling the General Services Department asking what the holdup is on annexation. I will help however I can."
Hudman said she has sent the letter five times. Dow noted that it would be economic development. "I will reach out again. You are such a leader looking for solutions. We just need to get barriers out of the way."
Terrazas said he is in total support of annexation. "It would be such an opportunity for Santa Clara. I want to see Santa Clara and every municipality succeed."
Hemphill said she was happy to advocate, too, "to get things going."
Hudman said she and Mayor Bauch were open to whenever they could meet with the senator and representatives.
Hemphill said the hard stop on the special session is Dec. 19, and the regular 30-day session begins on Jan. 18.
Dow asked for a meeting between the sessions.
The next group to present was the Solid Waste Authority. Silver City Town Manager Alex Brown, who serves on the Solid Waste Authority board, presented, with Danny Lagarreta, operations supervisor, and Dora Gonzales of the business operations office also attending.
Brown said the authority had received $900,000 last year from the Colonias Infrastructure Fund for a new cell. "We also have $600,000. We are going to bid this month (December 2021). The construction will cost $1.5 million for the new space, which should last us 12 years. The total life of the landfill is about 20 years. We're in a good place. We do need a new compactor, so we need $900,000. We are asking for $575,000 this year and we have $275,000 from last year. When we get it, we will have to buy a new compactor, which is the most used vehicle at the landfill. We also are asking for $90,000 for a backhoe."
Hemphill asked if there had been any challenges with the pandemic.
Gonzales said: "We were actually very busy, because people were staying home and cleaning up their homes and land."
Terrazas said: "I just want to mention how wonderful you all are to work with. One of my goals is to stop seeing trash along the roadways. It's occurring because people aren't covering their loads, so I appreciate that you have instituted a fine for uncovered loads."
Casas Adobes presented next. "We are a mutual domestic water consumers association," Nancy Ketchum said. "Our water system was built in 1988. We are in the process of finalizing a USDA grant-loan agreement. The grant is for $1 million, and the 40-year loan is for $4 million. We need a new backup well, which was overlooked and forgotten. With no backup, at 1200 gallons an hour, it takes 17 hours to fill our tank. We are asking for funding for a new well, plus we need a new pump and a backhoe."
She noted that the system has 130 users, with 136 taps. Ketchum said that every presentation has involved water. "This is across the state. It solidifies that we should invest in water."
Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments Executive Director Priscilla Lucero said the association is having challenges with the system for preventative maintenance. "We are not getting normal USDA money."
Terrazas asked if colonias funding could help.
Lucero said because the system had been private but was now public, it qualifies for colonias funds.
Elmo Gomez, president of the Rosedale MDWCA, presented virtually for the group.
Lucero said Gomez was having problems connecting, but he did succeed in getting on.
"We need funding for our water system," Gomez said. "We secured a tap into Silver City's water system. We currently are at our maximum, but we need to allow more users."
Lucero said the project is working on a design for the system. "They are requesting construction funding."
Hemphill asked how many users the association has and how many more it needs.
Gomez replied: "We have 110. And the design will give us the information on how many more we can put on the system."
¬Lucero noted that some have been on a waiting list for 10 years. They are doing a complete assessment, so at this point it is undetermined how many more can be part of the system.
Terrazas asked if the association had never received previous funding.
Lucero said the USDA had given them funding, but the board has refused to accept it. "Now we have challenges with the USDA."
The next presentation featured Lucero, who reported on the SCNMCOG. "I want to thank you for the compliments that you give us. We hear them throughout the state. We are asking for support to increase the funding for COGs. For an award of $300,000, we cannot afford the match of 50 percent. We have had conversations with the state on this issue. We are partnering on broadband and food issues. I am also grateful to serve on the Water Trust Board. We will do public input meetings in the various water regions. They are looking to our region to put the New Mexico Unit Funds to work. Over the years, our COG region, which includes Grant, Catron, Hidalgo and Luna counties, has received 53 awards for a total of $27 million."
Emily Gojkovich, SWNMCOG economic development planner, talked about the Co.Starters program for entrepreneurs. "We have had 75 participants and 35 of them have started new businesses. We had seven youths in the Generation Program, and three have started businesses."
Terrazas said to Lucero: "I think you're an excellent person from the region to be on the Water Trust Board. Water is always a sensitive subject. My concern is that you are only one of 15 on the board. My position was that we wanted to keep local representation on the board. You are our only voice. I hope the Unit funds get spent on local needs."
Hemphill thanked Lucero "for all the work you're doing. I also thank you for being a role model and for being our voice."
Dow said she didn't support House Bill 200. [Editor's Note: HB 200 took the New Mexico Unit Fund monies, which was funded by the federal government through the Arizona Water Settlements Act, from the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, made up of local county, municipal and agricultural representatives as stipulated in the AWSA and gave it to the Water Trust Board] "but at least you are our voice. The ones here are the real representatives. I hope you will advocate for our region."
Lucero said: "I will be your greatest voice."
The next article will address the various education requests from Western New Mexico University department and entities.