Talon News - Good Local News



October 12, 2018

Federal Official Visits County Commission

by David Edward Albright, TALON

After the 'Health Care Assistance Claims' for the Indigent Fund was quickly approved, Chairman Pro Tem Jack Fortner announced that upon the arrival of the second in command Department of Interior, that the meeting agenda would be interrupted to allow him to address the Commission. Deputy Secretary, David Bernhardtt, briefly addressed and fielded questions from the San Juan County Commissioners at the October 2, 2018 Meeting at 4 pm in Aztec.

The approval of the 'Consent Agenda' and New Business, including: 'New Mexico Cooperative Service Funding' , a 'Kirtland Annexation of .868 Acres', 'Kirtland Schools Path Extension Transportation Alternatives' --- all went smooth and relatively quick.

Bernhardtt said, "First off...I grew up in a little town that looks a lot like this --- Rifle, Colorado --- I was stunned...I'd never been down to this part of New Mexico before, it looks exactly like Western Colorado, so I think I have a sense of some of your issues." "I believe in the mission that President Trump is doing...and I'd be happy to answer any questions you have about the Department of Interior." Commissioner Jim Crowley thanked him for coming and "With regard to the methane rule, I'd appreciate a change in order...you go to Navajo Dam, you're sitting on a boat and it comes up all the time...and I appreciate the fact that we are moving forward with trying to restore some of what we have in our economy here". Bernhardt replied, "I grew up in a town that was part of the biggest oil shale boom and the biggest oil shale bust...and the one thing it taught me is the decisions we made back there --- have a real consequence to the folks that live here --- and we try to be very thoughtful about that." "We're all for developing the energy in a way that gets as much product into the pipeline that is humanly possible and encourage innovation and technology that leads to good, sound practice base. And we're for clean water and air just like everybody else, but we want to make sure there's a common-sense approach."

Commissioner Wallace Charley said, "I'm a member of the Navajo Nation, so BIA is under you...do you have any plans to visit the Navajo Nation...we need to know what is going on, what is being planned for Native Americans across this country." Bernhardtt replied, "I may be wrong, but I think the Secretary (of Interior) has been to the Navajo Nation." He added that he would take the request for a January visit to them --- back to Washington.

State Representative James Strickler said, "If I may, I would like to give you a positive report about our state's budget and it has to do with the Trump Administration...what they have done to stimulate activity in the oil and gas sector." He alluded to improvements in unemployment, over a hundred drilling rigs running now compared to thirty and a "budget surplus never seen in our history --- one and a half billion dollars". "What a difference Donald Trump makes in the last 19 months... Bloomberg just put out an article, September 30...on the amazing recovery in New Mexico...the top performing state economy since Trump took over," he said. Six hundred drilling permits were "kicked out the door and they were able to ramp up their drilling". "If it wasn't for hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling and the technological advances --- we wouldn't be the third largest producer of oil in the nation." He said the pension plans are "underwater", tax reform is needed, but "for the first time in our state's history --- we've hit the lottery".

Local State Senator, Steve Neville, said, "We do have a lot of money and one a half billion might be a conservative number, we might be looking closer to two. We probably are going to have some capital funds and do some things we couldn't do in the past." CEO Kim Carpenter invited Jay Paul McWilliams, with Logos Resources II, to share his perspective. "We're one of the largest operators in San Juan Basin, started in 2012 --- we'll spend approximately 100 million dollars here...this year." But, he said, "We do have a challenge in getting APD's (permits) processed in a timely manner...I guess anytime we see a business challenge --- it's people, process and tools." "We have to be very good stewards of the land that we're given...but there is a lack of experience", he said --- alluding to the BLM. Carpenter said, "We work very closely with the BLM here, we understand the challenges they have...the Outdoor Initiative has been ramped up." But he expressed concern over the length of time to acquire permits here compared to "down south". He said the federal government is the second largest owner of land mass ---after the Navajo Nation --- in San Juan County; and only six percent is privately-owned.

Bernhardt advised, "If these operators want to do anything significant...they need to go through the process of getting an environmental impact statement through the Department of the Interior." When he got to Washington 35-40 people would look at a two page document and develop a plan with the BLM and a BLM contractor an environmental impact statement --- taking at least 120 days, ultimately it took about 270 days to process a permit. "We're now averaging about 22 days for getting these things through," he said. His final comments --- "Number one, we want to be a good neighbor; number two --- we know our decisions are important to you; number three --- don't be afraid to kick us in the shins, sometimes things are going sideways."

Speaking about the economic impact of the coal-fired power plants, Carpenter said, "When it's all said and done, we will lose about 10 percent of our property tax value in this entire county...with the closure of PNM's plant and the coal mine that goes with it. Contrary to some of the radical environmentals opinions of how dirty this plant is, if you look at the data...this is one of the cleanest plants in the country, and is in compliance through 2032." Bernhardtt said, "The President's made it pretty clear --- the war on coal is over --- and we're trying to be creative in a number of ways."

Commissioner Charley said, "It sounds so good, really good --- what the state legislator has brought forth, including yourself...but the question remains --- how about Navajo lands...nothing has been happening...what about us, we're the original Americans?" He said the BIA has too many restrictions on projects and development on the reservations. Bernhardt said, "We're looking very hard at some of the roadblocks that are put in your communities' way...so don't think for a minute that change isn't coming."

Mike Stark, Chief Operations Officer, gave a thorough report on the upcoming 2020 census, asking for approval of a 'Complete Count Committee'. "The primary method of distribution, initially, will be via the internet...using a web-based form," he said. The item was approved. Traci Neff, Juvenile Services Administrator, requested approval for their grant application for fiscal year 2020; the Commission approved it. The 25 year service and retirement of Rusty Smith, Solid Waste Manager, was acknowledged by the Commission.


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