By Mary Alice Murphy

After the standard opening items of call to order, Pledge of Allegiance, approval of agenda and minutes, the members of the Grant County Water Commission and interested and invited guests heard an update on the joint-powers agreement. The agreement had received approval previously by the members' entities, Grant County and the municipalities of Silver City, Santa Clara, Bayard and Hurley. The member commissioners approved the JPA on Feb. 23, 2023.

Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director, had said at the February meeting that they could get approval from the New Mexico Department of Finance and Authority quickly.

The JPA was submitted at the end of February and received DFA approval on March 2, 2023, after the DFA general counsel reviewed and approved it.

The next item on the agenda was the update on the financial analysis, but Karl Pennock,Rural Community Assistance Corporation financial analyst, was not yet online. He reported later in the meeting.

Updates on the funding came from Lucero. "We submitted the grants to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) through The Dallas area EPA has not received it yet to review it. I reached out to the Congressional delegation to expedite it in any way they can. Although the EPA does not have the actual application, they have all the attached documents."

Kristy Ortiz of the Rural Partners Network of the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) said she was trying to get access to the grant application.

Lucero said that at the Colonias Infrastructure Fund meeting that morning, she has learned that it had received 48 applications with $92 million in requests. "The fund has $66.7 million available."

George Esqueda of Stantec, who also attended the meeting, said 21 of the projects were for water improvements for a total of a bit more than $31 million; 11 for wastewater plant improvements for a total of $39 million; 2 flood prevention projects for a total of $3.5 million; 12 for road and drainage improvements for a total of $16.2 million; and for solid waste a total of $914,000 in requests.

Lucero said the presentation of projects would take place on April 25 and 26 at Ruidoso Downs.

Silver City Town Manager and Commission Chair Alex Brown said although the application was submitted by the town of Silver City, "it would be good to have all five board members there to show that it is a regional project."

Lucero, in another update on funding, said she and RCAC Representative Blanca Surgeon had met with Andrea Telmo of the New Mexico Environment Department. "She told us that the EPA no longer has an agreement with the New Mexico ED. The EPA will do the review. That may be a positive, but I'm not sure."

On the preliminary engineering report (PER) update, Brown asked if anyone had any changes to the scope of work that had been handed out at the previous meeting. No one brought forward any changes.

Esqueda said, although the federal funding, although allocated, had not yet been secured, "we are working with Alex to start the process."

Raymond De La Vega, also with Stantec, reported: "We are going to move forward with the first process. We will be gathering all the data, while we're waiting on the actual contract. We already have a lot of the data on projects we've worked on with the member entities, so we will take that from our database. We will develop individual questionnaires to give to each entity to get other information we need. Hopefully, as soon as the contract is ready, we will be ready to move forward. That's what we have planned."

"This shows that everyone is on board with this project to get it moving," Brown said. "With you all, the federal agencies, the state agencies, and the engineers, all together, if the federal process slows down, we'll use town operating funds until we get the federal funding."

Esqueda said be believed Stantec had all the information up to 2013-14, "so we're looking for what has occurred in your systems since then, such as hydrogeologic reports or water quality reports that we weren't involved in. We're hoping to get the questionnaires out next week."

De La Vega said they would also like information from the mutual domestic water associations. "The second step I foresee is working with water systems' operating staff. If we haven't thought of something, reach out to us. We want recent reports, recent improvements and future plans, so we can get an overall picture."

Pennock came online and said: "I'll be working with the engineers as information for the PER comes in. As we get going, I will be requesting financial information and audits from the individual entities."

Brown addressed the timeline. "Ultimately, I hope we can pull all this together by the end of the year, so we can present to the legislative session early next year to get state construction money to have a match for the federal funding available. Good numbers will be needed from all of us. We need to know what rights-of-way we will need, for instance, so we can make sure this happens."

With no public input, and no commissioner input, the meeting adjourned after setting the next meeting tentatively for April 20, 2023.

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