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Eric Mack

The Drama in Colfax County

With the U.S. Postal Service in disarray across New Mexico, I’m having a really hard time getting my Netflix in a timely fashion and have been forced to seek my entertainment from less likely sources. Fortunately, Northeastern New Mexico’s Colfax County (pop, 14,189, according to the 2000 Census) has been providing quite the soap opera over the past six months. The drama may have finally reached its climax last week when county manager Tom Garcia suddenly announced his resignation in the midst of an effort to recall all three of the county’s elected commissioners. Of course that effort is now in jeopardy, ironically due to the alleged incompetence of county employees in failing to properly serve the commissioners with summonses.

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Record Dry Spell Hits NM Mountains

The floor of the Arkansas Valley was bone dry last weekend, so I was a bit skeptical as I rented cross-country skis for the day at a shop in Salida, Colorado. But a mere fifteen minute drive from the center of town west towards Monarch Pass and Gunnison beyond transported me almost instantly to a winter wonderland with four feet of powder to ply through until the daylight waned. And yet, just a few hours to the south, a short drive from Taos and the Rio Grande Valley floor into the similar heights of the Sangre de Cristo range reveals mostly dry mountainsides.

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Colfax County Backs Down on Coal Bed Methane Drilling

A rural New Mexico county in the northeast corner of the state has backed down and agreed to lease the rights to extract coal-bed methane under a state highway to El Paso Corporation. Colfax County had requested a bigger share of royalties from coal bed methane gas that could be extracted from far beneath the state road, which runs over a county-owned right of way. But it soon became clear that the county was in no position to negotiate. That’s because the state Oil Conservation Division has the power to force the county to go ahead with the lease at the request of El Paso if it were to find that the county was being unreasonable in its demands. What exactly would be considered unreasonable is not clear. “It’s essentially imminent domain, is what it boils down to,”? explained Roy Johnson from the OCD. So the Colfax County Commissioners opted to take El Paso’s previous offer and avoid the penalties that OCD also has the authority to assess if the lease were to be blocked. For the past few years El Paso has been running a drilling operation on Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch. Hwy. 555 runs through the drilling area, connecting Raton with the ranch. Colfax County Manager Tom Garcia explained that El Paso could already be taking gas from under the road. “There’s several wells near the highway,”? he said. “Some of the gas (currently being removed) could be coming from a pocket under the right of way.”? In addition to clearing up potential legal issues over compensation for current drilling operations, the lease allows El Paso to target gas in the right of way through directional drilling. El Paso’s Vermejo Park operation is adjacent to the Valle Vidal Unit of the Carson National Forest, a section of federal lands that the company has also targeted for CBM drilling. The proposal has met stiff opposition from conservation and recreational use advocacy groups. Last week, the state of New Mexico designated the Valle Vidal waters an “Outstanding National Resource,”? increasing protections under the Clean Water Act.

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Red or Blue? Mining Law Defeat is Proof the West is Neither

The recent debacle over proposed changes to the archaic 1872 mining law that were tucked into a federal budget bill by Nevada Republican Representative Jim Gibbons has revealed some important truths about the politics of land use in the New West. Opposition to the measure rushed like an avalanche down both sides of the continental divide, bridging a highly polarized national political divide and rendering the solid red block that covered the Rocky Mountain states on electoral maps a year ago completely irrelevant.

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9/11 Conspiracy Documentary Fails To Convince

Taos has a reputation for leaning unabashedly to the left every now and then, so an event titled “Take Back America”? in the midst of a Republican administration at a local gallery is hardly out of the ordinary. But some of the conclusions drawn by a feature film shown were much harder to swallow for anyone who plays even the slightest step to the right of far left field.

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Bacterial Source Investigation the Newest Tool in Fighting Water Pollution

The New Mexico Environment Department and a few conservation groups around the state are using state of the art DNA technology to fight water pollution. The department is funding a grant to the Cimarron Watershed Alliance in Northern New Mexico, which is contracting with New Mexico State University to perform a specialized tracking analysis on water samples gathered in Colfax County.

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Biodiesel Business Experiencing a Mini-Boom In Northern New Mexico

With two busy pumps, several more to come, and a few manufacturers, Northern New Mexico is having a biodiesel mini-boom. I’m not talking about college kids and environmentalists fueling up with used vegetable oil at fast food restaurants and greasy spoons. With two pumps in Santa Fe and more planned in Taos for early 2006, the fuel, which can be used in any diesel engine without modification, is making the transition from novelty uses like the “Veggie Van”? to mainstream retail sales.

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