[Editor's Note: This is part one of the Grant County Commission work session on March 7, 2023, and the regular meeting held March 9, 2023. This one begins with public input and gets into presentations.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

Grant County commissioners on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the first work session of the month, heard public input from a resident of Cliff.

Marilyn Rosenbauer said she is concerned about losing access to her home. "There is a cliff on one side of the only way into and out of my property and the Gila River on the other side. I have no other access to the home and the bank is caving in."

In a photo she showed to the Beat, it showed the riverbank eroding and the erosion-caused hole encroaching within inches of the roadway.

The first presentation from Hidalgo Medical Services Chief Executive Officer Dan Otero was tabled due to his being out of town.

Dr. Teresa Arizaga presented the Tu Casa update. "I would like to reiterate that we continue to provide an entire series of services to our clients. We are starting a group for veterans. We spoke to Sen. Siah Hemphill, and she has provided $500,000 to better serve veterans."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said, through the district attorney, he understood that $100,000 has been provided for veterans' services.

Arizaga said the funding is helping to start a trauma center for veterans. "We are looking at becoming a certified community behavioral health clinic for veterans. Right now, we're starting with the group. We are looking to provide all veterans' services along with the Veterans Administration clinic here."

The following presentation came from Stephen Parker, engineer with Stantec Consulting Inc., on the Silver Acres water and sewer system preliminary engineering report (PER).

"Alternatives form the tool we use to determine problems and differences," Parker said. "Currently the area has a potable water system, but it's not up to standard on fire flow. Ideally, we want the system to provide enough safe pressure for appliances. The area has no sewer system. The homes rely on septic systems. If they are not installed correctly or not maintained, they can impact the groundwater."

He presented the alternatives, the first of which was No Action, which he said he would not discuss. "We looked at the water system, we have two alternatives 1) improving the existing water system; or 2) improving and expanding the water system. For the sewer, the two alternatives are 1) gravity flow; or 2) the system starts with gravity flow and includes lift stations to get the sewer system uphill."

Parker explained that the improvement of the existing water system would involve increasing the size of pipes up to enough for homes and the fire flow. It would also require pressure relief valves to manage the pressure throughout the subdivision. "Right now, in some places, it's up to 190 psi (pounds per square inch), which is not good. We want about 70-80 psi, but even lowering it to 100 psi would be better. The valves would be in isolation throughout the system, so we can narrow down where a water outage will be, if we need to turn off the system. That way it would impact a smaller number of homes."

To improve and expand the system would extend the system into the residences along several streets. "It would provide municipal water service to additional residents, and it would also provide loops in the system, which offers better flow and better pressure management."

On the sewer system, because there is no sewer system in the subdivision, the pipes would come off the main sewer line that runs along Ridge Road to get to the Silver City Water Treatment Plant. The first alternative is to use gravity flow of the wastewater. The system would have manholes for maintenance and would bring the sewer to 98 residences. It would include removal of septic systems and remediation due to the removal.

For alternative 2 of the sewer system, it would involve gravity flow with lift stations to get the wastewater to the next section of gravity flow. This would add 82 more residences to the system. "Almost doubling the number of served residence adds capital costs, as well as infrastructure maintenance, including of the lift stations."

Parker presented estimated costs. The first water service alternative involving increased pipe sizes to homes already being served, is estimated to cost from $3.3 million to $3.4 million. For the improvements and expansion to more homes is estimated to cost about $5.3 million.

He noted the sewer price jumps between the two alternatives, "because we're starting from scratch. The first using gravity flow is estimated at about $10.1 million and alternative 2, with gravity flow and lift stations increases the cost to $23.7 million. It's a significant investment, but it can be phased."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked if the sewer project had had any testing showing environmental damage. Parker said not to his knowledge.

"If the septic tank is installed properly and maintained, there is less likelihood of damage," Parker said. "If the septic was not installed correctly and has not been maintained, there is a possibility of contamination."

Browne asked if those not on the municipal water system are using groundwater, and Parker confirmed they are. "But some have both the city water and wells into the ground water."

Browne asked what the county role is in the projects.

"The county will do the construction, and when completed it will turn the system over to the town of Silver City to maintain and the town would cover its costs through billing," Parker replied.

After Browne pointed out that the looping does have one dead end, Parker confirmed that observation, but said it also allows more looping in another area.

Browne asked if no looping hinders pressure lowering.

"It's better with looping," Parker said. "But the pressure relief valves also help. Those close to the PRVs may have lower pressure, and PRVs may need to be put higher up to keep the pressure low enough."

Browne, whose district the project lies in, also asked if both water and sewer could be done at the same time.

"There are economies of scale if we do both at the same time, on the design side and the construction side," Parker said. "Even the bidding can put them together. However, usually, one cannot put water pipes and sewer pipes in the same hole, unless the water pipe is concrete-encased, which would raise the costs."

Browne asked if Stantec had done any consulting with residents.

"We have not," Parker said. "But we have talked to the county, which held public meetings, as did the town."

Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Romeo Cruz presented the next update—this one on the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center, which the chamber manages.

"The Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center is doing great," Cruz reported. "Our trend is continuing to move upward. This January improved substantially from last January. In February this year we had a few discrepancies, when Freeport-McMoran canceled the use of two rooms, lowering the previous estimate of $13,000 by $3,100. But the revenue to date for the fiscal year is $107,162.50. The record amount last year was $80,000. We project this year to be a total of $140,000."

Cruz also noted that they were looking at modification to the archery room to be multi-functional, so it can be turned into a ballroom, "so we could hold three weddings at the same time. It will also require another door for exit and sound proofing of the room."

"Everyone is pleased with our service," Cruz said. "Here, we are the cheapest in the county, because the armory and the community center have raised their rates. We are one of the cheapest in the state, too. I would like to commend IT for always being on top of our needs."

Ponce said he has brought it up before, but "is there any update on getting the words Veterans Memorial on the sign outside."

"We're working on the bids," County Manager Charlene Webb replied.

Browne asked: "Do I remember correctly that the five of us when we approved the first contract for the chamber to manage the conference center were not expecting much except maybe break even on the costs and revenues? It's amazing what you've accomplished."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings said he recalled that, too. "Good job you're doing."

The final presentation came from Aaron Reynolds, NRCS (National Resource Conservation Services), state program manager, who discussed the EWP (emergency watershed protection program.

"I am in the NRCS Albuquerque office," Reynolds said. "After the Black Fire, the county and your Emergency Manager Justin Gojkovich reached out to us because of the flooding threats."

"We hosted multiple public meetings," Reynolds continued. "We did evaluations of the risks and on the amount of damage caused by the floods. We have at least 60 landowners eligible for our total funding of $4.3 million. The NRCS would cover 75 percent of the costs and the sponsoring entities, likely the county and the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, would pay the match, which can be through in-kind services. The match would total about $1.1 million. After the county expressed interest in us helping, I got the request submitted. The Inflation Reduction Act brought us the funding. Within the next week, we can move forward to get the funding. We can have the payments ready after an agreement is signed. The entities have 220 days to use the funding after the agreement is signed, but it's not a hard date and can be extended."

He noted that whoever agrees to be the sponsor has to come up with the match. The county can provide in-kind services through use of heavy equipment, for example. The sponsor should also take on the maintenance and management of the funding distribution. "Also required are the local signed agreements with each individual landowner. The Grant Soil and Water Conservation District has expressed interest in being the sponsor."

"The NRCS can provide technical assistance where needed," Reynolds said. "The NRCS will cover the design of projects, and we will have boots on the ground to meet technical soundness of the project. If a landowner does not agree to the offer, we move on to the next one."

He said the 25 percent match is only on work that is completed and paid for. "We slightly inflated the dollars in the proposal, so we may not need it all."

"It is up to the sponsor also to find contractors to do the work," Reynolds said. "On the payments, it will be pay as you go. The sponsor can submit the invoices, and we can pay immediately as it is completed to our satisfaction. We know contractors need to be paid and not have invoices hanging out there unpaid."

As an example, he said that if a landowner has done debris removal and left it there, "that can be considered a match and we will do the disposal of the debris. We will not police the match, but there is a possibility that the feds can audit, so you need invoices. If you choose to sign the agreement, then the 220 days starts with that signature."

Ponce thanked Reynolds for coming down and explaining the process and issues clearly. "It looks like the ball is rolling. Thanks to the county manager and staff for having you come here today."

Webb said: "I think it's a good program, but I think it makes more sense for the soil and water conservation district to be the lead. We can assist. It's nice to know it's not a 1-1 cash match. In Sierra County, we did a partnership with the soil and water conservation district, and it worked well."

Billings asked if those who had already done treatments to their property could be reimbursed.

"Not after the fact," Reynolds said. "If they pulled the debris out and left it there, we can dispose of it. I know the soil and water conservation district doesn't have the financing. A 25 percent match would be hard on them, but I think the soil and water conservation district is a good resource to find someone to contract with, but financially they have limited resources."

District 2 Commissioner Eloy Medina asked if the project manager could be paid for through the funding.

"Yes, the project manager and IT can be paid through the funding," Reynolds said.

Medina asked: "What if next year the monsoon causes another catastrophe?"

Reynolds said if things are destroyed again, it would no longer be maintenance, but the county would go back and help fix things.

Webb asked if he knew of any other county that had taken the sole lead on a similar project.

"Lincoln County has taken the lead with non-profits or in this case with the Hondo SWCD, but the county is still the fiscal agent," Reynolds replied.

Webb asked if he thought if the county did something similar to Lincoln County if the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District had the capacity to take care of the technical part.

"Yes, with the NRCS help," Reynolds replied. "Their limitations are on the financial side. They do similar projects with forestry."

"So, Lincoln County took responsibility for the maintenance," Webb stated. Reynolds confirmed that.

Browne said he had heard from some sources that the funding can't be used on private land or for improvements. "What kind of project can be done with this funding?"

Reynolds said NRCS funding is intended for private land and some state land but cannot be used on federal lands. "Projects must be for damage caused by natural events, are an imminent threat to private property and there has to be a threat to human life or property. I have shared the list of specific landowners who are eligible. You cannot use federal dollars as a match, but you can use state dollars, such as capital outlay."

The next article will begin county reports.

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