County moves toward oil and gas moratorium

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By David Giuliani

The San Miguel County Commission has taken its first step toward setting a year-long moratorium on oil and gas drilling permits while it enacts new regulations.

On Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to publish the proposed moratorium and seek public comment.

As it stands, the county has about a half page of regulations for oil and gas regulations. That’s from a land-use ordinance in 1986 that’s about an inch thick.

County officials say they want a more detailed ordinance specific to oil and gas drilling. This is after oil and gas companies have taken steps toward drilling in Santa Fe and Mora counties.

No requests for permits for oil and gas drilling are pending before San Miguel County.

County Attorney Jesus Lopez said the current ordinance “very summarily and very scantily” addresses the issue of oil and gas permits, including the effects on water availability, the terrain and the environment.

“You don’t have an ordinance that adequately protects the health and safety of the people,” he said. “This is an issue of great concern, as it should be.”

Lopez said the county manager will have a year to get input and expert opinions and compile studies as he works to draft an ordinance. But he said it may well take longer than that.

Commission Chairman David Salazar said he understood that State Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons has already leased out lands around the county for oil and gas drilling. He wondered if state lands fall under the county government’s jurisdiction.

Lopez said the moratorium would apply.

“Any authority given to the State Land Office is still subject to local regulatory authority,” the attorney said.

The commission is slated to vote on the moratorium Jan. 12.


In other county business

The County Commission and the sheriff recognized Undersheriff Joe Robert Urban, who is retiring after 24 years with the Sheriff’s Department.

“I’ve worked with him for 24 years. He is a good friend and a hard worker,” Sheriff Benjie Vigil said.

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Country Treasurer Alfonso Ortiz said property tax collections are slightly less than last year, but he said he didn’t think it would be much of a problem. If it became one, he said he would notify county officials.

“Everything looks in order,” he said.

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The San Miguel County Commission voted for an agreement with the city in which county employees can get discounts for their use of the city’s recreation center. Under the program, the county would  take the fees from participating employees’ paychecks.

Commission Chairman David Salazar wondered whether the county would be liable if its employees got hurt at the rec center.

County Attorney Jesus Lopez responded that the county is liable for all of its actions. But he said courts would look to see who is most liable.

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The county has hired Kenneth Medina Jr. as the wildland fire coordinator. He will make $25,000 a year.

Medina will be responsible for carrying out the county’s fire management activities. The position was created through a grant from the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

— David Giuliani, Las Vegas Optic