Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three NM Environment Blogs Worth Reading Today

Three blogs today deal with two important environmental issues facing New Mexico, oil and gas pollution and the water table in the the Albuquerque metro area.

Two blogs deal with oil and gas pollution in our oil patches.  ProgressNow NM (click here) has a map of each state purporting to show areas of high oil and gas pollution.  The New Mexico map (click here) shows the Northwest corner and the Southeast corner as being in danger zones for public safety, and claims 145,000 New Mexicans reside within these areas. (click here) has an op-ed piece by a state senate candidate, Aubrey Dunn (the son of the incumbent NM Land Commissioner) who opposes a proposed rule (the so-called "venting and flaring" rule) by the BLM to curb such pollution.  To get down to the nitty gritty of this issue will take a little more than reading these two blogs, but it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to click from these sites to more information.  Dunn is running for Senate District 13, in Albuquerque, which extends roughly from I-40 north to the Sandoval County line, bounded on the east and west by the river and I-25.

The other issue, from (click here), deals with a proposed change to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility long term plan for water management.  The writer, Dennis Domrzalski, of the Albuquerque Free Press, (where the piece was originally published), suggests the proposed dropping of a key sentence from an update to the strategic plan might originate from lobbying by the Santolina project on the West Mesa.  The article also suggests the proposed changes to the language of the long-term plan could result in a drastic drop in the water table, which has risen 50 feet since 2009, the result of decreased groundwater pumping.
These are major issues affecting large numbers of people in the state, and they deserve your attention as a citizen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What's Up in Sunland Park?  (Part II)

The Las Cruces Sun News a few days ago quoted City Manager Bob Gallagher as saying the city has recovered financially, and was given an unmodified report; that is to say, a clean bill of health, by an independent auditor.  The city will also begin the 2017 fiscal year next month with about $5 million in reserve funds.  This is strikingly different from the fiscal situation a few years ago when the Department of Finance and Administration took over the city finances in the wake of statements from then-state auditor Hector Balderas that city councilor Daniel Salinas had spent $42,000 in border crossing funds for prostitutes, Mayor Martin Resendiz's admission he had signed nine contracts totaling over $1 million with lobbyists while inebriated from an afternoon of drinking, and a city official admitting to multiple charges of voter fraud.  Hard to believe this was only four years ago.

Equally impressive, the Sunland Park municipality is making a number of infrastructure improvements this year, some which will be visible, others not.  On the non-visible side, fiber optic networks are being installed in city buildings, allowing broadband communications between different departments, and software programs will link together community development, codes enforcement, animal control, public works, building inspections, clerk, fire, and city management departments.  This should strengthen internal communication flows and create a stronger sense of community among city workers.  Forty years of records are being scanned in digital format, making it easier to access records when needed.

On the visible side, the old bank building in the city complex is being remodeled, and a public works building is being designed.  Solar panels for the city buildings are scheduled to be installed in August, and a contract to replace city hall roofs is scheduled to be put out to bid this summer.  A concession stand will be built at the Sportsplex for liquor sales at the park.  The senior center is back up and running, with a new kitchen, a high priority for citizens, promised during the city election season and delivered now.  In short, these changes are laying down an infrastructure that will make the city able to plan and execute more efficiently, rather than move in a reaction mode from crisis to crisis.

None of this--and there is more on the way--could have happened without effective communications and consensus-building among city council members about priorities.  There is more to be done.  the council needs to raise the quality of city personnel performance, and council members need to develop stronger ties with city residents who lost confidence in the city after the lap-dancing and other scandals.  But given the shape of the city four years ago, it took a concerted, sustained effort to get the city up to this speed.  Many city councils in New Mexico would envy the accomplishments of Sunland Park in the past couple of years.

At a city council meeting on June 7 the council was unanimous in agreeing to send a letter to the Governor asking for her support for the border crossing project, and to continue to press toward a presidential permit to build the crossing.  At the same meeting I was impressed with the maturity with which the arsenic issue was handled:  the water quality has been restored and protocols are being put into place to prevent a repeat.  From the looks of things the council is making a full-court press to address major strategic issues, such as the border crossing, and improve the city's day-to-day administrative capacity to make a difference in the quality of life of the residents.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What's Up in Sunland Park These Days?  (Part I)

Since city elections on March 1 the newly constituted Sunland Park City Council has been working together on city business for about one hundred days.  How well is this working?  What's going on?

One clue was offered by the discovery that arsenic levels in the water supplied by CRUA for several months exceeded national safety standards.  After the problem was identified, in part though the diligence of state representative candidate Paul Maxwell (who lost to the incumbent) city council members conferred with CRUA staff, consulted with Senator Mary Kay Papen and state and local officials, and were able to address short term issues while glancing ahead for long-term solutions.  At a city council meeting on June 7 the drinking water was declared safe, now that a treatment plant out of commission for a year is back up and running.  However, many residents have been cautious about the water for years now, and Councilman Giove proposed providing free water for seniors who visit the senior center, now operational again.

So far the arsenic problem has been managed by the council without grandstanding or hand-wringing.  This is particularly impressive since the temptation to vent must have been strong.  The creation of CRUA as at the expense of Sunland Park (over 90% of CRUA's assets used to belong to Sunland Park), and was justified largely on the grounds that the city was unlikely to manage its water utility effectively.  CRUA's performance as a utility has if anything been worse.  Among other things, CRUA staff members apparently had knowledge arsenic levels were unsafe but failed to inform residents.  If this does not incur criminal and other legal liabilities for the board, it should.  Executive Director Brent Westmoreland, who took the job only in November, has acknowledged inheriting severe managerial issues.  Will heads roll at CRUA?  Stay tuned.

One casualty of the CRUA issue (there may have been others) was the defeat in the primary election of county commissioner David Garcia.  Just before the election Garcia told an audience of residents in Sunland Park (click here) that the arsenic problem was the fault of the citizens, for failure to pay more attention (!?).  Garcia sat on the CRUA board that failed to show concern about the unacceptable levels of arsenic in the water, until news reports brought it to the public's attention.  As he serves out the remainder of his term the honorable thing is for him to step down from the CRUA board, given his statements about who is to blame.

Bottom line:  the arsenic issue showed that among the adults in the soup of the scandal are the Sunland Park city council members, who showed a lot of poise in a situation that could have been explosive.  For now the water appears to be safe to drink, but serious follow-through by the council will be needed.

Part II is coming next!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Paul Gessing has one of the sharpest eyes in the state for spotting wasteful, inept, and counterproductive spending policies in New Mexico.  Even if you aren't a Libertarian (I am not) it is usually hard to argue with his outrage at some of the things our lawmakers are spending your money on.  The first link below takes you to a fascinating recent discussion of some of these.  The second one, from Good Jobs First, is a subsidy-tracker that tells you, for example, that Intel has received over $2.5 Billion (yes, the Big B) of your money in subsidies, which is ten times (yes, ten) more than California taxpayers have spent subsidizing this California-based company.  If you click on Intel there are further links to how much they spend on lobby efforts.  You might also be interested to know that Comcast, the cable monopoly, has received over $5 million of your money to make movies in New Mexico.  Comcast is expected to be allowed to take over Time-Warner, greatly increasing its monopoly power, which is nicely explained here.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Unsafe Arsenic Levels in the Water?  Five Candidates at Sunland Park

The question of the evening was simple:  What is your take on the news that arsenic levels in the water CRRUA supplies to Sunland Park and the surrounding areas have exceeded safety standards?  Sparks flew, and some of the answers were astonishing, but you be the judge!

(Notes:  (1)  CRRUA is the public water utility that manages the supply of water in certain areas of Dona Ana County.  According to verified reports levels of arsenic have been measured and shown to be unsafe in Sunland Park.  Inaction by CRRUA officials prompted a request by two city council members of Sunland Park, Olga Arguelles and Ken Giove, for assistance from Senator Mary Kay Papen.  She, in turn, met with Ryan Flynn, NM Environment Secretary, this week, requesting an investigation and update about the status of the water.  A report should be forthcoming this coming week.  (2) What follows is a brief summary of the responses given by the candidates, based on notes I took as they were speaking.  The event was recorded, so verification of the accuracy of my writing may be possible.  (3)  Two of the five candidates currently serve on the board of CRRUA:  David Garcia, in his capacity as county commissioner, and Bealquin Gomez, in his capacity as state representative.

Dr. David Garcia, incumbent county commissioner, member of the board of CRRUA:  The responsibility (for the poor quality of the water) is basically that of the people of Sunland Park.  They need to be more attentive to what is happening.  As of now the pumps are working.  We need more time to study the facts.  If we were to change the membership of the board of CRRUA this would not affect the quality of the water.

Raymond Lara, candidate for state representative:  CRRUA needs to be more transparent.  They should consult with citizens and explain to them how the agency works.  In response to a question from the moderator about the relevance of CRRUA transparency to the quality of the water Lara replied that had CRRUA been more transparent the situation would not have arisen.

Bealquin Gomez, incumbent state representative:  I am a board member of CRRUA.  I got $175,000 to fix the system.  The process is working.

Reymundo Gonzales, candidate for county commissioner:  The problem is the complacency of CRRUA.  Issues of water quality have not received enough attention within the organization.

Dr. Paul Maxwell, candidate for state representative:  This is a major problem, a crisis.  The governing board of CRRUA has tolerated serious violations of water quality standards for more than three years.  The issue is leadership at the top.  (Looking at Gomez and Garcia):  You knew about the poor quality of the water and did nothing.  CRRUA has failed the people.

Among those responding to the incumbent members of CRRUA present, a news writer in the audience, Gerald Smota, said:  The function of leaders is to lead.  From the time CRRUA sent a letter warning the public on April 21, you knew there was a problem.  You represent the citizens through your participation in CRRUA.  You are the responsible ones. 

City Councilwoman Carolina Renteria asked:  What has the governor and state done to improve the quality of the water?  How much money has the state provided to Sunland compared with Santa Teresa?  Replying to this comment, incumbent state representative Bealquin Gomez, also a board member for CRRUA, said, There are two years left of her administration.  Until then, nothing.

The forum, which took place at the San Martin de Porras Church in Sunland Park, had an attendance of about 30 persons.  Among the people in the audience were Olga Arguelles, Carolina Renteria, and Ken Giove, all members of the city council of Sunland Park, and Isabel Santos, a former councilwoman.  Each of these contributed to the conversation.  Mayor Javier Perea was not present. 
El Arsénico en el Agua:  Cinco Candidatos, Cinco Respuestas
Foro de Candidatos para Comisionado del Condado y Representante Estatal 

La pregunta de la tarde fué muy sencilla:  ¿Cuál es su reacción frente a la noticia de que el agua de Sunland Park y sus alrededores está contaminado con niveles de arsénico inaceptables para la salud de la población?  Las respuestas:

(Notas aclaratorias:  (1) CRRUA es la junta directiva regional que maneja el suministro de agua en varios lugares del condado.  Segun fuentes confiables las concentraciones de arsénico llegan a superar en un 35% lo permitido por las autoridades.  (2) Lo que sigue es un resumen de lo que dijeron los candidatos, hecho por mi, en base a las notas que tomé.

Dr. David Garcia, titular, comisionado del condado y miembro de CRRUA:  la responsabilidad, a fondo, reside con la población de Sunland Park, por no haber prestado mas atención. Por ahora las bombas estan funcionando, y necesitamos mas tiempo para estudiar la situación.  Si cambiáramos los miembros de la junta directiva de CRRUA, ésto no afectaría la calidad del agua.

Raymond Lara, candidato para representate estatal:  CRRUA tiene que hacerse mas transparente.  Deberían consultar con los ciudadanos para explicarles como funciona el suministro de agua.  Frente a una pregunta del moderador sobre la relevancia de los procedimientos de CRRUA con la solucion de la contaminación del agua, el Sr. Lara respondió:  Esto no hubiera ocurrido si el pueblo hubiese sido consultado desde el principio.

Bealquin Gomez, titular, representante estatal:  Soy miembro de CRRUA.  Yo consequí $175,000 para que se arreglara el sistema.  El proceso esta funcionando bien.

Reymundo Gonzales, candidato para comisionado del condado:  El problema es la auto-complaciencia de CRRUA.  La organización no ha prestado suficiente atención a la calidad del agua.

Dr. Paul Maxwell, candidato para representate estatal:  El problema es grave.  Segun fuentes fidedignas la junta directiva de CRRUA ha tolerado violaciones serias en la calidad del agua desde hace mas de tres años.  Ha habido una falta de liderazgo político.  La junta directiva de CRRUA bien sabía lo que estaba pasando con la calidad del agua, y no hizo nada.  La junta directiva de CRRUA ha fallado al pueblo, poniendo en peligro nuestra salud.

Comentando sobre las respuestas de los candidatos miembros de la junta directiva de CRRUA, un periodista sentado con el publico, Gerals M. Smota, dijo:  La funcion de lideres es proveer liderazgo.  Desde que se mandó la carta del 21 de abril al püblico, ustedes sabian que habia un problema,   El pueblo de Sunland Park no tiene ninguna responsabilidad.  Ustedes representan a los ciudadanos frente a la junta de CRRUA.  Ustedes son los responsables.  

Carolina Renteria pregunto,  ¿Qué ha hecho la gobernadora, es decir el estado, para mejorar la calidad del agua?  Que cantidad de dinero ha puesto el estado en Sunland en comparación con Santa Teresa?  En su respuesta, el titular representante, Bealquin Gomez, dijo:  Todavia le quedan mas de dos años para cumplir con su mandato.  Hasta entonces, nada.

El foro, en la iglesia San Martin de Porras del Sunland,  tuvo una concurrencia de unos 30 miembros del püblico.  Entre los miembros del püblico, figuraron tres miembros del consejo municipal, Olga Arguelles, Carolina Renteria, y Ken Giove, mas la ex-consejera, Isabel Santos.  El alcalde, Javier Perea, no estuvo presente.  Cada uno contribuyó a la conversación con una pregunta or comentario.