[Editor's Note: Grant County commissioners held a short special meeting right before a long work session on Nov. 14, 2023. This is the first of a series of articles covering them and later the regular meeting on Nov. 16. 2023.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

Grant County Commission Chair Chris Ponce at the meeting beginning at 9 a.m. on Nov. 14, 2023, noted that the special meeting would take place first to address the recent election canvass of votes. "We will hold this one first, then adjourn and go directly into the work session."

After approval of the agenda, Ponce announced public input.

David Barton spoke of his concerns about the speeding on Lance Drive. "We have had two fairly severe accidents. I talked to a sheriff deputy, a sergeant, and a captain, as well as a lieutenant at the main building here. I also went to the county maintenance department and asked to get speed humps put in. The problem is that it is the only paved road into the area, so it would hinder police, fire and medical emergency vehicles. It seems they have stepped up patrol and written some tickets, but it's not unheard of for cars to be going 70-80 miles per hour. Some of them on my camera footage, I couldn't even tell you the color of the car."

He said his second concern was the price of fuel in Silver City and Grant County. "They claim it's because of transportation costs because we're way out of the way, but in Angel Fire you can pay 40 cents less than here. A gallon of regular gas costs $1 less in Las Cruces. After I mentioned it on Grant County Information on Facebook and how to file a complaint with the Attorney General, the prices dropped 60 cents that week. Why do we pay even 10 cents more than Quemado and Reserve, which are much more remote than we are? I talked to the main companies and to the independent one. The independent one said he is restricted on what he can charge, or they won't deliver to him. I don't have a problem with people making money, but I have a problem with price gouging."

Back to the road issue, he said the county could pave Fillary, Broken Arrow and Camino Serna to relieve the traffic and speeding on Lance.

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he would like to follow up.

Carol Ann Fugagli, a resident of Silver City and the executive director of the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, said: "which is why I'm here this morning."

"I am respectfully requesting $35,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act to transition our successful pilot project to a permanent, community-based climate solutions and economic relief program, here in Silver City. This project is called New Earth Project; both for the new soil we create and for our vision for the planet," Fugagli continued. "During the COVID pandemic, food supply disruption was a real challenge for communities putting many families in the position of being food insecure. Regional growers are struggling with soils that have been depleted of necessary microorganisms and are looking for a solution to give their crops a needed boost for increased food production."

She said that if the county could support the request, "it would provide  unique living soil for agricultural producers in our county which can increase crop yield, allowing growers to become locally independent of outside distribution and would help to prevent food insecurity in the future."

Fugagli also noted that supporting the funding would provide up to 20 part-time living wage jobs for youths and adults, with the potential, using the local multiplier, of investing $144,000 in the local economy. "The New Earth Project focuses on fertilizer replacement, food security, food waste reduction, childhood education and youth employment."

She explained the process: "We take leftover food from school cafeterias, grind it in a garbage disposal, and combine it with shredded wood from backyard waste or slash from forest thinning projects and put it into a special compost system called a Johnson-Su bioreactor."

The material does not require turning, doesn't create smells, there is no liquid drainage and "with a little bit of water every day, it takes care of itself, producing a fungal dominant compost teeming with microbial life."

She said it can increase the soil's potential to fix nitrogen, draw down carbon and increase plant growth and food production reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

"In only seven months, our pilot project has diverted 12 tons of food and 24 tons of organic matter from the county landfill that has reduced methane emissions," Fugagli reported.

She emphasized the economic relief the project gives the community. "In the past year, we've hired over 20 part time people to make this project happen with the majority being under the age of 25. Youth employment is a target for our project."

"A couple of weeks ago, I attended a luncheon given by the Chamber of Commerce with the topic being Resilience in Grant County," Fugagli said.  "At one point the discussion focused on local employment and if I may paraphrase Commissioner Ponce, he elegantly described that the people who stay in Grant County are the people who grew up here.  A perfect example of this is a young lady whom we've just hired. Her name is Sidney Quezada. She grew up in Hurley and is completing her degree in Botany at WNMU.

"She told me she wants to remain in the area to have an opportunity to give back to her community," Fugagli continued. "This job will give her that chance. She will be learning how to educate grade schoolers about sustainability practices and will be learning about soil science and how this unique type of compost benefits our agricultural growers."

The funding, she explained would pay for a pole barn structure so they can work with a roof over their heads and provide classroom space for learning.

"I greatly appreciate your consideration to fund this project," Fugagli concluded.

Richard Lutz gave the next public input. "I am a disabled veteran, and I, also, am concerned by the speeding on Lance." He confirmed that it is the only paved road leading to the back areas, so paving could be an option.

"There are no sidewalks, and it's too dangerous for me to walk on the street," Lutz said. "Some days I use a walker and some days a cane. I no longer try to walk on the road. It's just too dangerous. I realize it's downhill and easy to pick up speed. But I've had to curb my outside activity because of the speeding. I appreciate your listening to us with our concerns. Lance is the one paved road leading to all those back areas. "

Shelby Hallmark said he was an "'extranjero,' but I plan to stay in Grant County until they carry me out. I'm here to support The New Earth project that Carol Ann Fugagli presented. It is unbelievably positive. I want to educate the commission. They have done the pilot for close to a year. They have worked with professors Johnson and Suh at New Mexico State University. They have taken the project and enhanced it with incorporating it with food waste at the schools. It keeps food waste out of the landfill, and it teaches the students, who do the sorting, about the benefits of taking wasted food and making a fantastic inoculant that can replace fertilizer, save water and restore depleted agricultural land. It teaches the students recycling, carbon sequestration and protection of the earth. It's a win-win-win. It reduces carbon, which addresses climate change and may be the only way we're going to get out of this problem. This project is cutting-edge and could be expanded to address food waste everywhere. I would be happy to meet with you and tell you more about it. It's exciting that it's going on right here in Grant County."

Teresa Salazar introduced herself as Richard Lutz's caregiver. "I'm very concerned because he absolutely needs to be walking for exercise and be active in his life. He has fractures, bad knees and an issue with falling. Right now, he spends a lot of time sitting at the window watching the birds and such. The speeding on Lance is terrible. We recently moved here, because Silver City attracted us so much. We love Silver City, the weather and the people. I have a habitat license, because I get to feed the birds, and take care of the little animals. It's just beautiful to see the quail, the bluebirds, the jays. And quail are diminishing in New Mexico, so I love to see 50 come onto the front yard. My main concern is Richard cannot get out; he cannot walk around. It's only two lanes on Lance and people are literally flying on Lance. I want to thank the lieutenant at the Sheriff's Department. He was so kind and he said he would send more patrols, and he has. But they're not there when people are flying to get to work and in the evenings when they are flying to get home. They might as well have wings. They fly so fast, you can barely see them. The motorcycles also fly by. It's a small neighbor and a beautiful area, but I'm afraid to walk across the street. I get in the car and drive to get across the street to Richard's house, and it's like 20 feet. I think speed bumps are fine or flashing lights. You can put one right in front of our house if you want to. We've offered our land for the sheriff's deputies to park there. I'm mostly concerned about Richard being able to get out and walk."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked if there is any materials or studies on the effectiveness of the flashing lights, "because obviously for emergency reasons, we can't put in speed bumps."

Planning Director Randy Hernandez said the county has no such studies, "but we can call the Department of Transportation and see if they have any studies or do one and see what the results would be. I'll be glad to do that."

The one item of new business was to consider the Nov. 7, 2023 regular local election canvass.

Clerk Marisa Castrillo said: "The election was successful, and we're just asking for approval of the canvass."

Commissioners approved it.

With no commissioner reports, the special meeting adjourned.

The next article will begin with the Grant County work session immediately following the special meeting.

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