A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Environmental Politics in Northern New Mexico: Revisionist Spin Suggests "It's All Good" By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
Taos Regional Water Plan: Nearing Finalization By Kay Matthews
By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
According to the October 30 issue of High Country News, the logging economy in New Mexico has been "brought back to life" and "peace has broken out in our forests." So say Bryan Bird of Forest Guardians, Walter Dunn of the Forest Service's Collaborative Forest Restoration Project (CFRP), Luis Torres, and Alfonso Chacon, apparently the only folks that Arizona reporter Peter Friederici bothered to interview in his outrageously distorted and one-dimensional article. On the one hand, everything is hunky dory because Forest Guardians is working with community forester Alfonso Chacon on a 260 acre thinning project in the Vallecitos area with the help of a CFRP grant, while on the other hand, after spending $25 million, less than 20,000 of 3.3 million acres of overgrown forests have been treated and many community foresters have been put out of business because of environmental lawsuits and Forest Service mismanagement. But hey, nobody's been hung in effigy lately, so it's all good, que no?
Effigy of John Talberth at the La Manga site protest. Contrary to what Bryan Bird claims in Friederici's article, effigies of Sam Hitt and Talberth's wives were never hung, even though Charlotte Talberth was an active Forest Guardian
Like so many publications that claim to be "objective" in their reporting, High Country News has repeatedly brought writers in to cover New Mexico stories who have no grounding in the historical or cultural context and no relationship with the stakeholders. As a result, their work fails to reveal the complexity, the nuance, and the cumulative effects that so many of these issues engender.
Friederici's article is particularly egregious because Luis Torres, longtime board member of High Country News and norteño community organizer, clearly guided the reporter to a self-serving conclusion: the collaboration between one community forester, Forest Guardians, and the Forest Service is bringing the New Mexico logging economy "back to life."
To understand what really happened to the logging economy in northern New Mexico we need to take a close look at why el norte became the battle ground for issues that raised questions all over the country about the relationship between environmentalists, funders, the Forest Service, and indigenous communities.
Typically, the environmental movement, like so many other single issue movements, fails to analyze the underlying causes of environmental degradation and the impacts its absolutist policies like "Zero Cut" and "Zero Cow" have on land-based communities: separating people from the land, denying cultural identity, and actually threatening environmental integrity. These all or nothing policies don't distinguish between degradation wrought by corporate power and small scale, sustainable community use of resources. By instituting policies that directly affect the economic base of rural communities they also fail to address&emdash;and often actually promote&emdash;the urbanization and Disneyfication of northern New Mexico. Forest Guardians, by its own admission, has never sued a corporation, while its legal actions against small scale timber sales and grazing has directly impacted the ability of the poorest, most disenfranchised people in the state to put food on the table.
Forest Guardians and other environmental groups are also dismissive of northern New Mexico's land-based communities' unique situation. Historically, it has been members of these communities who have fought the multinational corporations that sought to exploit our public land resources. While Forest Guardians is quick to point out that the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit, an approximately 73,000 acre area whose resources were set aside by Congress to benefit the members of the isolated communities surrounding it, contains some of the best ponderosa pine forests in the Southwest, it fails to acknowledge that it was the people of Vallecitos who fought Duke City Lumber to preserve these forests. Rather than working with the community to implement a plan to benefit both the community and the forest, the group pursued court-ordered, unilateral decisions that prevented community members from utilizing these resources. Even more disturbing is the cavalier attitude with which Forest Guardians executives dismiss the economic impacts these court ordered injunctions have had on communities, saying the loss of a couple of dozen jobs hardly affects the overall economy of northern New Mexico. This is a myopic and frighteningly insensitive way of dealing with these communities. Former Forest Guardian director Sam Hitt is on record saying, "These people [Hispanos] are not traditional resource users but loggers and forest users like anyone else . . . . They may have once been traditional but they've lost that now. . The people's culture has been so contaminated by the dominant culture that they've lost any traditional ties to the land. These forests belong to the whole country; they are not meant to serve as welfare for the people of northern New Mexico." (This quote is excerpted from UNM Professor Jake Kosek's forthcoming book, Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico. Kosek's book also examines the link between the eugenics movement and the environmental movement that Hitt clearly represents).
These forests were and are meant to benefit the people of northern New Mexico. A significant portion of both the Carson and Santa Fe national forests were misappropriated by the United States government from Spanish and Mexican land grants and actually belong to the land-based communities of northern New Mexico. And as we previously noted, the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit, originally part of the Vallecito de Lobato and Petaca land grants, was specifically set aside for the special use of these communities. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has managed the Unit to benefit the timber industry at the expense of the locals. As Professor David Correia, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Unit, explains:
"El Rito district rangers [the Unit is on the El Rito district] reduced the number of permits available for locally owned cattle at the same time they increased access to timber by outside commercial timber operators. For the next 20 years district rangers continued to reduce grazing permits in the district while increasing harvesting. The implementation of this policy coincided with the Forest Service post World War II effort to expand timber production by tying district budgets to timber output. It therefore served the interests of the Forest Service at the expense of the local population. . . .
"In 1972 . . . despite promises to local operators, the Forest Service designated Duke City Lumber, a subsidiary of a transnational conglomerate, as approved operator [in the Sustained Yield Unit]. During its tenure, Duke City rarely maintained a labor force greater than 50% local, frequently circumvented labor standards, and ignored harvesting policies and covered up practices that caused erosion and water quality problems in the Unit. Yet the company continually lobbied for, and received, increases in the sustained yield of the 73,000 acre Unit. In 1985, local furor erupted when the Carson Forest Plan proposed increasing the cut to 8 million board feet. Local Hispano loggers opposed this increase given to a company that one local labor leader described as an economic terrorist.
"At a 1985 public meeting, Hispano loggers repeated their concern not only for their jobs but also for the local forest ecology. As the president of the association of local workers argued, 'Increased logging and more roads will cause long-term ecological damage to the forest, reduce the sustained yield of the unit, harm wildlife and adversely affect permittees.' Despite subsequent claims by 'Zero Cut' environmental groups such as Forest Guardians, that only a biocentric view considers the need of non-human nature, it was local loggers who years earlier were arguing to reduce the approved sale quantity, close roads and restrict future road building, and design a management plan that accounted for the needs of wildlife habitat. It certainly is not a history recognized during the intervening 'Owls versus Jobs' debates that erupted in the 1990s."
In 1995 environmentalists, led by Forest Guardians, shut-down the entire Southwest Region to logging and wood gathering as a result of the spotted owl lawsuit. Once again, they failed to distinguish between multinational corporations that were raping the forest and local communities that depended upon these resources not just financially but for heating and cooking. Even though the plaintiffs and the Forest Service negotiated a settlement (community representatives, once again, were not at the negotiation table), releasing certain areas for firewood gathering and small sales, the injunction wasn't lifted for 18 months, causing hardship and heightened animosity between the affected communities and the environmentalists.
At the same time Forest Guardians filed a lawsuit against the La Manga timber sale in the Sustained Yield Unit. This sale had been awarded to local operator La Companía Ocho as settlement of a previous lawsuit La Companía filed against the Forest Service because of its failure to uphold the mandate of the Unit. Lawsuits and appeals of La Manga and other sales in the Unit dragged on throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, bankrupting La Companía Ocho and putting other loggers out of business as well. (Friederici inexcusably failed to interview anyone associated with La Companía Ocho in his article.) Correia asserts that "The success of environmentalist strategies on the Carson National Forest depended upon their ability to frame the issue as a battle against ecologically illegitimate, culturally irresponsible loggers who care only for their own immediate material interests. [Witness Bryan Bird's unsubstantiated comment in the article that loggers felled a few big trees "just to spite us."] Indeed, the argument by Hispanos to use nature within a local, subsistence economy continues to raise the wrath of well-funded environmentalists poised to assert their power to derail timber sales. Despite a history of environmental activism by Hispano loggers that predates the involvement of environmental organizations, Forest Guardians claimed it was the only real defender of nonhuman nature." Jake Kosek quotes Sam Hitt again: "We might not always be popular but if we did not look after the forest who would? . . . We are doing something bigger than ourselves. We are working to preserve the forest for people who will be living beyond our lifetimes."
In an interview in La Jicarita News Antonio "Ike" DeVargas, one of the founders of La Companía Ocho and a longtime norteño activist, addressed the sentiment that Hitt expresses above: "I no longer refer to them as environmentalists, but as obstructionists, people with an agenda that has nothing to do with the environment. They lost their moral standing to the claim of being environmentalists. You'll never hear them criticize Ted Turner for what he's doing at the Vermejo Park Ranch, but with regard to public land you'll hear people like Bryan Bird or Sam Hitt say, 'I don't want them making money on my land.' That's what it's really all about."
Bryan Bird, who works for both Forest Conservation Council and Forest Guardians, is on record stating, "It is not the sensible fuel-reduction 'wildland-urban interface' that are the target of [environmentalists'] appeals and litigations; rather it is the deceptive 'restoration' or 'fuels reduction' projects tied to larger commercial timber sales," (i.e., any sales where a forester actually has a chance to sustain a business). Yet Bird, on behalf of Forest Conservation Council, appealed the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Project, a project which clearly targeted fuel reduction in the wildland-urban interface, had no commercial component, proposed no new road building, and limited cutting to small diameter trees. As a member of the state governing board of the Sierra Club, Bird censured the comments of the Santa Fe Group's endorsement of the Agua Caballos timber sale (within the Sustained Yield Unit) and effectively stifled all debate on the issue within the Club.
This is the actual historical context that Bird, who is cited extensively in Friederici's article, distorts with his self-serving spin that Forest Guardians is able to work with community foresters now that "Things have calmed down quite a bit since then." Contrary to Friederici's statement in the article "And it's not the calm that follows a death when there's nothing left to fight about," there really isn't much left to fight about. Not only have loggers in the Sustained Yield Unit gone out of business, but community forestry all over el norte has taken a direct hit. Max Córdova, forester and longtime activist in the Truchas area, has struggled despite CRFP funding to keep his for-profit and non-profit forestry businesses alive after years of not only dealing with the environmentalists "Zero Cut" agenda but the inability of the Forest Service to conduct timely environmental analyses of potential restoration and thinning sales. One of the most successful foresters in the Mora area eventually gave up and is currently working in California to supply wood to biomass projects there. Others continue to work part-time in the woods but are unable to make a living from the small thinning sales that are being offered by the Forest Service.
The glorified profile of forester Alfonso Chacon in Friederici's article is a blatant attempt to sell the reader the idea that logging is being brought "back to life" because of the heroic efforts of Bryan Bird and Forest Guardians, with the help of Luis Torres and a Collaborative Forest Restoration Project (CFRP) grant. In point of fact, Friederici presents a totally uninformed picture of the CFRP. Although he allows Torres to voice a few token concerns about the program (before becoming part of a funded CFRP project Torres was one of the program's most outspoken critics), Friederici essentially provides CFRP coordinator Walter Dunn of the Forest Service and former technical advisory panel member and grantee Melissa Savage a forum to extol the program and speciously assert that " there's now a wonderfully good feeling around [the New Mexico forestry] community." Apparently he didn't talk with the dozens of groups that haven't been funded or those that were left high and dry when their CFRP funding ran out.
Those groups would have told a very different story. In the first place, the granting process itself has created an unhealthy and counterproductive competition between community foresters rather than promoting collaboration. This lack of collaboration forces each group to individually shoulder the enormous expense of equipment and liability insurance. Moreover, community based forestry groups remain too small to take on large and potentially profitable restoration projects like the 7,000 acre Santa Fe Watershed Restoration Project, which was awarded to a forester from Montana. Although an application was submitted to CFRP in 2002 by the New Mexico Community-Based Forestry Alliance, which proposed to coordinate local forestry groups so equipment and liability insurance could be shared and disparate groups could be united in order to work on larger projects, not surprisingly, the CFRP advisory board chose not to fund that proposal.
Which brings us to the make-up of the technical advisory panel that makes the decisions about who gets funded and who doesn't. The advisory panel has been the subject of intense controversy because many of its members represent groups that apply for and receive funding from CFRP, including one of Friederici's main spokespeople, Melissa Savage (other advisory board members that received funding include Ron Martinez, Robert Moore, George Ramirez, Phil Archuleta and Alvin Warren). Savage not only received a grant for a project she coordinated, but is also a consultant for a group that provides "technical services" for many of the funded projects.
Those "technical services" have also proven controversial. Most foresters have had to hire professionals such as Forest Guild or Luis Torres just to negotiate the overly complicated application and business start-up processes required by CFRP. As a result, a disproportionate percentage of the grants goes for those expensive services while the people doing the actual thinning are often paid twelve to fifteen dollars an hour (in Alfonso Chacon's proposal chainsaw operators and laborers receive $12.50 per hour while Forest Guild monitors receive $50 per hour). Moreover, the advisory board's evaluation of one proposal written by Forest Guild (formerly Forest Trust) and astonishingly funded by CFRP states that the proposal, "does not indicate that community members were involved in the development of the project" and "the proposal does not build local capacity or development and implementation levels, nor does it take into consideration the existing capacity in the community." This was not an isolated incident as Savage's project on Rowe Mesa, which did not create a sustainable business, also demonstrates.
The Forest Service's own statistics further underscore the ineffectuality of CFRP. Over a period of five years at an expense of $25,000,000 only 20,000 acres (out of 3.3 million acres in need of treatment) have been treated. Alfonso Chacon's project, which Friederici's article focuses on, proposes to treat just 260 acres at a cost of $360,000. The Forest Service typically pays commercial contractors less than $200 per acre for thinning. CFRP figures are all in excess of $1,200 per acre. So where is the money going? According to a Forest Service source quoted by Friederici, "The per acre cost for CFRP projects are relatively high, but they are an investment in the future, in that the collaborative relationships we are developing with communities should pay dividends in less controversy over future activities." The implication is clear: the Forest Service intends to avoid the kind of controversy that surrounded Forest Service "activities" during the 90s by "buying" a little community goodwill. And foresters like Alfonso Chacon, who have struggled for decades to eke out a living, are being made the unwitting poster boys for both the Forest Service and environmental groups like Forest Guardians who fully intend to be the real long-term beneficiaries of the program.
Despite claims to the contrary, the controversy continues and La Jicarita News will address the latest complaints leveled at the CFRP program and non governmental funding of community forestry in an upcoming issue. In the meantime, we urge readers to further inform themselves about this issue by reading Jake Kosek's book, Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico (which we will review in an upcoming issue), David Correia's dissertation (Correia, D. 2006. Land Grants.and Lumber Barons: A Political Ecology of Rural Restructuring in Northern New Mexico, Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky) and Carl Wilmsen's Dissertation, Fighting for the Forest: Sustainability and Social Justice in Vallecitos, New Mexico, available at the El Rito library.
As Truchas minister Alfredo Padilla said, "Who the heck do they [Forest Guardians] think they are? . . .They act like they can send down commandments and that we should all get out of the way or get on our knees for them. . . .Who put them in charge of the woods? I didn't ask them to guard these forests. Who are they guarding them for? Not for the people who live here. They're guarding [the forest] so that they can have their own playground."
The Chimayó Council on Wireless Technology will present its challenge of the Rio Arriba County Planning Department's approval of the Chimayó/Dominguez T-Mobile Tower before the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, November 30 at 1:30 p.m. The Commission chambers is located at the Rio Arriba County Offices at 1122 Industrial Park Road in Española. Everyone concerned about holding county officials accountable is urged to attend. (See article on page 6)
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the Department of Energy will hold scoping hearings all across the country in November and December on its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for a program called Complex 2030&emdash;dubbed "Bomplex 2030". While NNSA officially claims the SEIS will "analyze the environmental impacts from the continued transformation of the United States' nuclear weapons complex by implementing NNSA's vision of the complex as it would exist in 2030, as well as alternatives," it essentially is seeking to replace old nuclear weapons with new and more usable ones and to consolidate and renovate nuclear weapons facilities that are currently located all over the country. Los Alamos National Laboratory is one of the sites that will be considered. NNSA hearings in New Mexico will be held at the following locations and times: Socorro at the Macey Center of New Mexico Tech, 801 Leroy Place, December 4 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Albuquerque Convention Center, 401 2nd Street NW on December 5 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Los Alamos at the Mesa Public Library, 2400 Central Ave., December 6 from 10:30 am to 2:30 p.m.; and Santa Fe at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, 3221 Rodeo Road, December 6 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. For more information go to the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety website: www.nuclearactive.org or submit comments to the DOE at Complex2030@nnsa.doe.gov
The Santa Fe Public Works and Land Use Committee voted on November 11 to forward a resolution endorsing wireless technology (WiFi) for city libraries and public buildings to the finance committee. A group of citizens testified before the Committee concerning the health effects of electromagnetic radiation and suggested that the science is still inconclusive as to the long-term effects of this kind of radiation on the public at large. A retired librarian also testified that installing WiFi in libraries will gentrify them by inducing a flood of laptops, which contavenes the intent of libraries to offer internet access to those who don't own computers or can't afford internet service. City staff and several city librarians testified that WiFi is essential for the "economic and creative" development of the city and the Committee passed the resolution without any discussion among themselves.
Congratulations to Lucy Lippard on the 10th anniversary of her publication, El Puente de Galisteo, the community newsletter.
By Kay Matthews
The steering committee and planning team took a draft of the Taos Regional Water Plan to la gente during the last two weeks of October and got an enthusiastic response. At large turn-out meetings in Questa and Taos folks expressed their support for the priority strategies that have been identified to meet current and future water needs: watershed management; water quality protection; public education; protection of traditional agriculture (acequia protection); infrastructure improvements; keeping water rights in the region; and managing growth.
The subcommittee that has been responsible for drafting the Public Welfare Statement (PWS), mandated by the State Water Plan to be part of regional water planning, presented its draft as well. The statement lays out the criteria for determining whether proposed water appropriations or transfers from the Taos Region to other regions and within the Taos Region from one sub-watershed to another are consistent with the public welfare. The individual criteria include: cultural protection; agrarian character; ecological health; long-term economic development potential; recreation/tourism; public information; water budgets; conservation/restoration; and conjunctive (ground and surface water) management.
The PWS includes the formation of a local review board that it suggests "will be better qualified than the State Engineer to evaluate the Public Welfare criteria of the Taos Region." The board will evaluate the potential impacts of proposed water appropriations and transfers and advise the OSE as to whether these appropriations or transfers are consistent with public welfare. The draft PWS suggests that the board be comprised of members who represent the various water interests within the Taos Region.
The PWS was also enthusiastically received at the public meetings and much of the discussion centered on the review board. One participant in Questa pointed out that it would help protect communities by creating greater accountability at the OSE. There was also discussion that it was important to have a repository of information regarding the plan and its implementation, and a board could play that role. The Taos County Commission has already expressed its support of a review board, and as the lead government agency in the region will be instrumental in working with the PWS subcommittee to develop an ordinance that authorizes a board to best represent its constituents.
As we discussed in the October issue of La Jicarita News, the parties to the Abeyta settlement have raised objections to the proposed PWS, claiming it would prevent the implementation of the settlement and that it was contrary to state law. In response to these concerns, the PWS subcommittee recently met with most of the Abeyta party representatives and their attorneys.
The fundamental disagreement between the PWS subcommittee (the steering committee as a whole has endorsed the draft PWS) and the Abeyta representatives seems to be whether the PWS will add a layer of needed protection or unwanted bureaucracy to the process of water transfers. Judging from the reaction of those who attended the public meetings, it would appear that many Taos area residents agree with the PWS subcommittee that a local review board would provide additional oversight to the transfer process that all too often occurs under the radar screen, without public input, and to the benefit of water users outside the Taos region. The Abeyta representatives see the board as a possible obstacle to future transfers that are incorporated into the settlement. Taos Pueblo members of the Abeyta settlement negotiation team, while they said they were not officially speaking for the Pueblo, made it clear that they believe the PWS will make it more difficult for the Pueblo to market its water rights.
The subcommittee to the PWS had already tried to address this concern by adding language to the statement: "Provided that the Abeyta Settlement is finalized and receives all required court approvals, this Regional Water Plan proposes that appropriations or transfers of water within the area of the Taos Valley Stream System, as defined in the draft Abeyta Settlement Agreement . . . are presumed to be consistent with the Public Welfare and Conservation of Water." The statement goes on to say, however, that "To the extent that implementation of the Abeyta Settlement requires appropriation or transfer of water from other subwatersheds in the Taos Region, this Regional Water Plan proposes that such appropriations or transfers to be subject to Public Welfare review."
PWS subcommittee members Rudy Pacheco and Steve Harris made it clear that the ultimate goal of the PWS is to make sure that the Taos region is in the best possible position to protect its water from being moved out of the region, which is in the best interest of the Abeyta parties as well. "Public Welfare has not gotten adequate attention in the transfer hearings I've been involved in before the Office of the State Engineer," Harris said. "Water marketing should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other movement of water."
Taos Valley Acequia Association (TVAA) attorney Fred Waltz made the specific recommendation that language be included in the PWS acknowledging that acequias have the statutory authority to approve or deny proposed transfers and Palemon Martinez, president of the TVAA board, suggested that local acequias and mutual domestics be the ones to determine the Public Welfare. But as subcommittee members pointed out, not all acequias have incorporated these new amendments into their bylaws, and the PWS provides more comprehensive protection for acequias.
The PWS subcommittee and parties to the Abeyta will continue to meet, although few ideas were offered by the Abeyta folks as to how they would specifically like the draft changed. Hopefully they have moved beyond the initial position some of them took that the statement should be scrapped completely and leave the transfer process in the hands of the OSE. The regional water planning process is only a framework for water management, but once the Taos plan is approved by the Interstate Stream Commission (targeted by March of 2007) many of the concepts laid out in the plan can be implemented through ordinance and with funding from the New Mexico Water Trust Board. More public meetings will be scheduled to review a finalized plan.
Rio Arriba Planning and Zoning Committee Dismisses Concerns of Chimayó Council on Wireless Technology
By Kay Matthews
The saga of the unwanted&emdash;and apparently illegal&emdash;T-Mobile cell phone tower in Chimayó continues, and Rio Arriba County's unwillingness to address the issue becomes more and more flagrant.
As we reported in the June issue of La Jicarita News, Rio Arriba Planning director Patricio Garcia based his approval of the tower on an outdated 1996 ordinance instead of the 2000-1 ordinance that requires towers not more than 70 feet in height go through a review process by the Planning and Zoning Committee and County Commission (towers above 70 feet are prohibited). Not only did Garcia approve the tower, which sits near SH 76 behind the Senior Citizens Center, without taking it before the Planning and Zoning Commission or notifying the public, T-Mobile apparently never actually filed an application or paid an application fee.
All of these mistakes have been tracked by the Chimayó Council on Wireless Technology, a diverse group of local citizens concerned about the impact of the tower on the cultural integrity of the community, particularly the nationally registered Historic Property Plaza del Cerro, and the potential health risks of microwave radiation. The Council was initially successful in bringing its concerns before the Rio Arriba County Commission, which last March (before the Commissioners were aware of the 2000-1 ordinance) imposed a nine month moratorium on the construction of communication towers in the county until a new ordinance is in place (due by December).
Since then, however, the Council has found itself up against a brick wall with the County's unwillingness to address its illegal approval of the existing tower. After the Council realized that the tower had been approved under an outdated ordinance, it filed a complaint on May 30th, asking for a hearing with the County. On June 26th representatives of the Council met with county manager Lorenzo Valdez, Planning and Zoning Committee chair A.B. Valdez, planning director Garcia, and commissioner Elias Coriz. After Garcia informed the Council that he had based his decision on the 1996 ordinance, they pointed out that language in the 2000-1 ordinance explicitly (Article III, Section III, p. 57) states that provisions in the 1996 ordinance are repealed with the release of the newer ordinance. The County then informed the Council that it needed to consult with its attorney.
After months of no official response from the County regarding its complaint, the Council filed an August 15 appeal of Garcia's decision to approve the tower. Again, there was no response until the Council threatened legal action if the County didn't respond within five days. The County then scheduled a hearing before the Planning and Zoning Committee for October 18.
At that meeting, Lucy Collier of the Wireless Council made a thorough and detailed presentation on what the 2000-1 ordinance requires and the failure of the County to abide by these requirements. She made these important points:
The intent and purpose of the ordinance is to establish a comprehensive plan of land use development regulation throughout Rio Arriba County that provides for a system of use permits in approving or denying requests for a change of use, including tower permits.
It provides the opportunity for affected property owners to help decide whether the proposed development is compatible with the other uses of the area.
The 2000-1 ordinance repeals other existing ordinances that impose less strict standards than this ordinance.
An application for a use permit must be submitted to the Planning Director, along with a fee. The Planning and Zoning Committee must hold a public hearing on all requests for use permits and make its recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners for final action.
Neither T-Mobile nor the owners of the property where the tower was erected have ever filed an application for a permit to erect the tower. Because the required permitting process has not been followed, the County Commissioners should require that T-Mobile submit the required application for a mixed use permit and the county should follow all guidelines and requirements of the 2000-1 ordinance.
The Council was prepared to ask the county to enjoin the use of the tower until the permitting process was completed. At the hearing, however, the Council's August 15 appeal appeared on the agenda and it seemed that the Committee was prepared to vote on it. But after a brief closed door session, the Committee sidestepped this issue by voting that the Council hadn't filed an appeal in a timely fashion (within 15 days of Garcia's decision) and adjourned the hearing. The Council has now requested a hearing before the County Commission, which is scheduled for November 30 at 1:30 p.m. The council chamber is located at 1122 Industrial Park Rd. in Española.
The Council is caught in a Catch-22 situation: the County is denying the validity of its appeal on a technicality, when in reality the Council is having to appeal an illegal decision, not just a decision with which it disagrees. Rio Arriba County is obviously afraid of litigation by T-Mobile if it rescinds approval of the tower, but the Council claims it is prepared to take this issue to District Court if the County does not enforce the 2000-1 ordinance and require that T-Mobile submit an application for the tower to the Planning and Zoning Committee.
La Jicarita News will report on the November 30 meeting in its December issue.
Copyright 1996-2002 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.