[Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a multi-series of article on the Grant County Commission work session on April 12, 2022. This one includes a presentation on a proposed new road and discussions on proposed ordinances.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
On Tuesday, April 12, 2022, at a Grant County Commission work session, Ty Bays, senior land and water analyst for Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold Inc. New Mexico Operations, presented a proposal for a new road to access an expansion to the Tyrone Mine. He said the road was engineered by Ruben Holguin.
"We need to relocate the Tyrone Thompson Road," Bays said. "It has been moved multiple times, the latest in the 1990s. It used to go through the middle of the Tyrone Mine. The current road lies along the perimeter of the proposed expansion. It's a lot of expense and trouble to move, but we know during a blast, we would have to stop traffic for hours and we will be hauling from the new Emma project to Tyrone. We met with the people at Burro Mountain Homestead, because not rerouting the road would be highly inconvenient for them not to have access for hours at a time. They were adamant that they would prefer the reroute. We are proposing rerouting the road to 1¼ mile south of its current location. It would make the road two-tenths of a mile longer and might add about 5 minutes to anyone's travel to town, for example."
He said the road would be a "good dirt road, with culverts. It does go across state land that we will have to get a permit from the State Land Trust. We will convey the road to the county, and the county Road Department would have to inspect and improve it. We have already surveyed the piece on state land. Construction will probably start in two to three months, and we hope to have the Emma permitted and operating by the first quarter of 2023."
District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he was interested in how the Burro Mountain Homestead people were contacted. "Where does the public come in this process?"
Bays said Freeport met with the Burro Mountains Homestead residents in person and virtually with the Apache Mound residents. "We met with them as recently as a month ago."
County Planning and Community Development Director Priscilla Shoup said part of the process would be a public hearing and a road review with the road superintendent and county manager.
Browne said he would have no issues giving preliminary approval. "If anything comes up with the public, can we make changes?"
Bays said the company is hoping to get a green light on the project. "We have had no major complaints, although some noted that the road would be closer to their homes near Apache Mound. It will veer away from their homes and will follow basically an old ranch road."
District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce asked if the commissioners could get a hard date for construction. "We will have to plan meetings."
Bays said he had just gotten the archaeological survey done. "Until we get the permit from the state, which will be about 30-45 days, we won't really have a timeline. I will report back to Priscilla to keep her apprised of our progress."
District 3 Commission Alicia Edwards asked what the closest distance is to a home.
Bays said the closest home at Apache Mound is about a quarter of a mile away from the road.
Next on the agenda were discussion items for commissioners.
Shoup said she believes the county needs an ordinance for so-called "community gardens" for renewable energy. "We are getting interest on solar facilities on county land. This draft ordinance is not very detailed, but it helps the county do what it needs to do to start discussions. We get a number of calls a week with interest in developing solar facilities. Without this ordinance, we can only issue flood plain permits. We want to make sure no one is building in a flood plain."
District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked what Shoup needed from the commissioners.
"Do you want it detailed or general?" Shoup asked.
County Manager Tim Zamora said the ordinance was similar to the county subdivision ordinance. "They must meet with county staff, including the manager, the road department and planning. They must have a drainage plan, a road plan, and a removal plan if they close out the project. I want any developer to coordinate with staff first."
Ponce asked if it would be two ordinances or both pieces of permitting and construction in the same ordinance.
Browne said he believes there should be an ordinance to regulate and then a policy for the process.
County Attorney Ben Young with Mynatt, Martinez and Springer said the draft ordinance presented is the way Luna County addressed the issue. "Certain things will require additional ordinances. For instance, there must be a specific ordinance for solar farm assessments. It can be this ordinance or you can do a resolution to allow administration to address each development individual, whether wind or solar, for instance. This gives the administration a green light to move forward."
Edwards said the ordinance used the term "solar garden. I think that is more for residential areas and a solar farm is for commercial outfits like on the Hatch highway."
"I think we want to address commercial solar energy," Zamora said.
Shoup those are the enquiries the county is getting, a small solar garden for a few residences, and also larger commercial gardens, not as big as a solar farm.
Billings said the legislation that was just passed calls them community gardens and "what they are talking about is 15-30 acres. Community may be misleading. It is built not for a subdivision, but to go into the grid. You would probably want to regulate the larger ones differently."
District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas said he thinks the distinction should be between private use and resale.
Browne said, except for what Young said about a special solar assessment requiring an ordinance, "I don't understand why we are focused on one industry. Why just solar? Why not other renewables?"
Zamora said the county is looking at this one industry because those "are the enquiries we are getting. Maybe we can consider zoning. I don't see us limiting things, unless there is an issue with drainage, for instance. We are not going to say solar only, because we have wind here, too."
Salas asked how the county would get revenue, except through gross receipts tax.
Zamora didn't have the details on that.
Salas said each industry would have different impacts, with solar less distracting than wind turbines. "I'm all for it, but we need to address the whole issue."
Zamora said he wanted to create a staff procedure to address the enquiries and future concerns. "I think a resolution is best at this point, but I want a policy for staff to review the process. A resolution is not enforceable, but it shows this is the direction we want to go."
Browne questioned the timing. "Priscilla is receiving enquiries. The PRC approve polities for these industries. An ordinance would require 30-60 days for protest. It could be published by the end of May."
Shoup said two have already submitted for a flood plain permit, one in Arenas Valley and one off Country Road.
Browne said an ordinance would take a minimum of 30 days. "How quickly can we get a policy?"
Zamora said it would take at least two months for an ordinance, but "we can do a policy or resolution more quickly. We can issue permits. I think an ordinance can be later."
Young said an ordinance would give the county "teeth to enforce. Staff can do the permitting. My suggestion is to adopt a resolution and then quickly develop an ordinance, saying this is what the county says has to be done, so the developer knows he has to do x, y and z."
Salas said: "What we're looking at is someone wanting to do something now. Would this be a test case? If the developer you have right now is willing to do whatever you ask, then the ordinance would require future ones. Whatever they do will not be incumbent on future developers?"
Ponce asked what the county has in place to tax the developers. "I think we need a resolution now to give direction to a developer, and I ask staff to create an ordinance with teeth."
Browne said he thought taxing would include GRT on construction and production. "I don't think the PRC (Public Regulation Commission) changed that."
Zamora said gross receipts tax is what the county can collect. "I don't have a good grasp of any other taxes." He said a draft ordinance would address solar and wind.
Billings went back to the tax question. "We can collect gross receipts, but what about property tax?"
Assessor Raul Turrieta said on the commercial side, the county can add all property taxes, including switches and other property items.
Billings said: "This is going to get complicated. If I want to put a wind farm on my property I have to worry about my neighbors. I already have a neighbor who has very mixed feelings about the Great Divide Wind farm that is planned."
Salas noted that technology is changing. "Storage remains an issue. I want us to look forward to the future."
Billings asked: "What you are looking for right now it to address drainage?"
Zamora said without limiting any kind of area where a developer wants to put a facility or without limiting any kind of zoning issues, "I want staff to have the ability to provide recommendations before we sign off on any flood plain permits. A resolution gives us guidance. I want to focus on the staff piece and let them know what we expect."
Browne said the commissioners could vote on a resolution in May and maybe issue a notice of intent for an ordinance to be voted on in June.
Zamora agreed that a draft ordinance could be done.
Browne said he would like to see something on the books as soon as possible.
Edwards said it would give the county time to develop policy. "I agree with the concurrent schedule. But also concurrent with this discussion needs to be opening up the conversation on updating the county comprehensive plan, as well."
Billings pointed out that if the county starts regulating the options, some developers will go to other counties.
Shoup said that is exactly why some developers want to come here now, "because we don't have zoning."
Edwards said she believes the issues are different between wind and solar.
"We will have staff come up with a resolution for May and a notice of intent in May to adopt an ordinance in June, along with the accompanying policies," Zamora said.
Browne asked the size of the proposals that have been received.
Shoup said she would get the information to the commissioners.
Browne noted that right now a 100-megawatt facility is allowed for a community solar system, but it can be used up in one month.
Edwards asked how much acreage is being considered.
Shoup said one was for 5ish acres in Arenas Valley, and the one south of Highway 180 behind Zocalo was for 14 acres.
The next item for discussion addresses a new ordinance for abatement of dangerous or abandoned buildings, structures, mobile or manufactured housing, wreckage and debris.
Zamora said a separate ordinance would address abandoned vehicles.
Ponce said he had received calls about vehicles, so he was glad to hear another ordinance was in the works.
Zamora said the draft ordinance for vehicles would be ready to talk about at the May work session.
Salas said a junk yard is a business. "Do we have anything to regulate them?"
Zamora said the ordinance would cover inoperational vehicles and would address private residences, but they can maybe be operating a business. "My initial focus is on individual residences."
Ponce said a business would require a county business license. "They can't move from city to county."
Edwards said in the case of a boneyard with old vehicles, "are they covered by EPA? Couldn't there be an ordinance for fencing and such?"
Zamora said he wasn't sure about EPA on vehicles.
Young said an individual on his own land could not trigger EPA, but a commercial business might.
Edwards said some of the folks who tinker with old vehicles have 20 that they tinker with once a year.
Young confirmed that what the county can say is it is committed to abiding by EPA regulations and a person can report a violation to the proper government authority.
Ponce said: "Back to the abandoned buildings ordinance. I'm not sure what changes we made."
Edwards said they hadn't gotten that far. "What happened was we asked (former planning director) Mischa (Larisch) to draft an ordinance. It was scheduled for discussion in April 2020, and we never got the red-lined document."
Kevin Hubbs, administrative assistant, said the ordinance had been introduced, but because of Covid, the hearing got canceled.
Billings said the draft he was reading "seems to me to be much better than what I remembered."
Hubbs said only a handful of people had come into the office with concerns such as that many folks are elderly and can't afford to fix up their properties.
Ponce asked if the commissioners should set up a hearing.
Browne said he would like a month to review the draft and talk to people.
Billings agreed, and Edwards suggested it be put off until May.
Hubbs said to then have the public hearing in June. He noted that because of the primary, the meeting had been set for June16, but that is the same week as the New Mexico Counties semi-annual conference. The work session and regular meetings will take place June 21 and 23.
Zamora pointed out the notice of intent for the energy projects is in May to be considered in June.
Hubbs said the clerk's canvass on the primary election may need to be done on June 16 to fulfill requirements, but it could be held by phone for those attending the NMC conference.
The next article will get into county reports at the work session.