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Commission refuses to abandon road

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Board’s vote unanimous

By Martin Salazar

San Miguel County commissioners voted unanimously last week to reject a request to abandon a portion of County Road C-53-D near Maes.

And Commissioner Ron Ortega made it clear that he isn’t happy that the road in question is being blocked by a gate, asking county staff to address that issue.

The vote followed a lengthy public hearing in July in which landowners and attorneys on both side of the issue presented their case to the Commission. The Commission didn’t vote on the issue at that meeting, opting instead to conduct a site visit of the road in question.

Four of five commissioners traveled the roughly 40 miles to view the road, east of Las Vegas. Commission Chairman Nicolas Leger was unable to attend.

That visit was enough to convince the board that the road shouldn’t be abandoned.

“With all the information, my opinion is that this road is indeed a county road, and there is no reason for us as a county commission to abandon this road,” Ortega said. This is a county road and should remain a county road.”

Leger, an attorney who has practiced real estate law for years, agreed, saying that too many times people purchase a piece of property and then try to close off public roads that run through their property.

“We can’t take that lightly,” he said. Besides, Leger added, state law is clear that if road viewers feel a county road is still needed and shouldn’t be closed, the commission is almost bound to go along with that recommendation.

Their vote to reject the petition was met with clapping from dozens of members of the Eugenio Romero family, who have argued that abandoning the county road would effectively cut off their access to land that has been in their family for generations. The Romeros were represented by local attorney Danelle Smith, who thanked commissioners for their decision. Some members of the Romero family shed tears of joy after the vote.

The petition to close the road was made by Robert Shipp and Janet Horton, who purchased a large ranch in the area in 2009. They were represented by Santa Fe attorney Cullen Hallmark.

Hallmark had previously argued that he’s not even sure the road that goes through his clients’ property is a county road, but added that they decided to file the petition just in case.

He also previously argued that if the county is claiming an interest in the road, it has a duty to maintain it. He said the burden of maintaining the road would far outweigh the benefit of keeping it public.

In other business, the commission:
• Approved an agreement with the New Mexico Finance Authority for a $47,356 loan that will be used to buy a sport utility vehicle for the sheriff’s office.

• Approved budget adjustments, including increasing the Pecos Volunteer Fire Department’s budget by $131,740 to reflect a private donation to the department, and by $32,508 to reflect funds from the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department for their work on the Tres Lagunas Fire. The law enforcement fund budget was increased by $6,250 to account for a JAG grant that has been awarded to purchase handguns and ammunition for deputies.

• Accepted a recommendation by the county’s Lodgers Tax Advisory Board to reject all proposals submitted for lodgers tax funds. The county will re-advertise for additional proposals.

• Rescinded a procurement award to Parson Lawn and Landscaping for the courthouse landscaping project. Parson withdrew his proposal after learning that his company wasn’t qualified to submit a proposal. The commission awarded the project to Westwind Landscape Construction, Inc., and authorized staff to negotiate an agreement with the company.

• Approved a renewal agreement for inmate health care services between Health Care Partners Foundation, Inc. and the San Miguel County Detention Center. Compensation for the foundation is fixed at $312,000 per year, and warden Patrick Snedeker told the Commission that he is pleased with the services provided.

• Approved a disaster declaration for flooding that occurred in July, resulting in damage to several county roads.
• Approved resolutions required in order to accept funding from the New Mexico Department of Transportation for road projects. One award is for $54,687, another for $48,125 and the third for $97,835. Those agreements normally require a 25 percent match from the county, but the county is applying for a hardship waiver for part of that match.

• Approved an animal control services agreement with the city of Las Vegas. The county will pay the city $20,000 a year and will be allowed to take up to 22 animals a month to the city shelter.

• Signed off on a memorandum of agreement with Las Vegas City Schools and the state Department of Health. The agreement allows government entities to use City Schools facilities to provide emergency assistance.

• Approved a measure allowing Soleil West to advertise for bids on Rowe Fire Station back filling, leveling and paving. The fire station has a $258,000 grant to pay for the work.

• Approved another measure allowing Soleil West to advertise for bids for Cabo Lucero Fire Department to buy a metal building for the San Geronimo area.

• Approved out-of-state travel for emergency management administrative assistant Connie Abila to attend required training in San Francisco.