Senate declines to put money into a hole - Albuquerque Journal

Senate declines to put money into a hole

SANTA FE — The cavern created by an old brine well in Carlsbad could collapse at any moment — destroying highways, threatening a trailer park and causing $750 million in damage, officials said Thursday.

But a $35 million plan aimed at heading off the disaster ran aground in a Senate committee Thursday — after opposition by an unlikely coalition of environmental groups and officials under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Opponents said they agreed the potential crisis deserves immediate attention, but that the package of bills proposed by Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, would draw from the wrong pots of money.

Leavell and other supporters proposed tapping into a variety of state funds dedicated to environmental cleanup, water projects and roads, among others, over a period of several years. The cavern is expected to collapse by 2022, he said, unless it’s filled in

“This is actually a ticking time bomb,” Leavell told the Senate Conservation Committee.

Empty water tanks sit at the edge of a brine well operation, shown at right of tanks, as a major irrigation canal flows by in Carlsbad in 2009
Empty water tanks sit at the edge of a brine well operation, shown at right of tanks, as a major irrigation canal flows by in Carlsbad in 2009. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press)

But Democratic and Republican senators alike rejected the legislation on a 6-1 vote.

Some opponents said a gasoline tax increase could provide money for the project instead, or perhaps an appropriation out of New Mexico’s basic operating budget, which is expected to have about $292 million in extra spending capacity in the coming year.

Others questioned whether the local governments in Carlsbad are doing enough to address the problem.

Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, wanted to know why residents of a mobile-home park haven’t been evacuated already.

“Are you waiting for someone to die before you rub it in our face?” he asked at one point.

The money sources proposed by Leavell are necessary for environmental cleanup and other projects throughout New Mexico, Martinez said.

“While I feel the state has some responsibility,” he said, “I don’t think that raiding all these other funds is fair to the state of New Mexico.”

The cabinet secretaries for the state departments of Environment and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources urged senators to find other sources of money, not the funds targeted by Leavell.

Supporters, in turn, said the accounts they’ve proposed tapping into have already helped the state. They were among the funds from which money was “swept” into the basic operating budget amid the state’s budget crisis in recent years.

Former state lawmaker John Heaton, chairman of the Carlsbad Brine Well Remediation Advisory Authority, said he and others have searched everywhere for money and “don’t have any other place to go.”

“We’re racing against time, and we’re racing against gravity,” Heaton said.

Two similar wells have already collapsed, he said, in remote areas. Now the land around the Carlsbad brine well is showing fractures, Heaton said.

Monitoring equipment is in place to provide a warning if a collapse appears imminent, he said, but even if people escape in time, there would be tremendous damage to two highways, an irrigation canal that feeds nearby farmland, a church and other structures.

After the meeting, Leavell said he wouldn’t give up and that he remains optimistic about finding another funding source before the legislative session ends Feb. 15.

 

Home » News » Albuquerque News » Senate declines to put money into a hole


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
NM ranks first again for fatal pedestrian crashes
ABQnews Seeker
for the sixth year in a ... for the sixth year in a row. The Governors Highway Safety Association ranked New Mexico as having the highest rate per capita of pedestrian ...
2
Dogs show their stuff on catwalk
ABQnews Seeker
Sunday's Mutt Strutt gives canines chance ... Sunday's Mutt Strutt gives canines chance to win prizes, get vaccines and microchips
3
ABQ'S speed cameras go live Wednesday; here's the 411
ABQnews Seeker
No more warnings, $100 fines No more warnings, $100 fines
4
Scandinavia's leading airline adopts Albuquerque firm's software
ABQnews Seeker
Ultramain will deploy its 'electronic logbook' ... Ultramain will deploy its 'electronic logbook' on all Scandinavian Airlines System ai
5
APD: Day-drinking preceded man firing at police
ABQnews Seeker
Suspect charged with assault on peace ... Suspect charged with assault on peace officer
6
APD aviation officer charged with rape
ABQnews Seeker
Airport security guard accuses him of ... Airport security guard accuses him of assault while on duty and in uniform
7
Eastbound I-40 drivers approaching the Big I will run ...
ABQnews Seeker
Some eastbound Interstate 40 lanes and ... Some eastbound Interstate 40 lanes and ramps will be closed between Sixth and the Big I over the weekend due to roadwork. The state ...
8
Man fatally shot in SE ABQ
ABQnews Seeker
A man was fatally shot Friday ... A man was fatally shot Friday afternoon in Southeast Albuquerque. Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said officers responded around 2 p.m. to a ...
9
Cancer survivor sings the praises of community
ABQnews Seeker
'We should all be taking care ... 'We should all be taking care of each other,' he says