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Lawmakers consider options for cavern that could collapse

SANTA FE, N.M. — Measures are moving forward in the Legislature to deal with a cavern that could collapse under Carlsbad.

One bill allocates $25 million toward remediation while the other establishes government oversight for the project, the Current-Argus reported (http://bit.ly/2l4OB58).

Estimates say up to 200 people in Carlsbad would be hurt if the cavern collapses.

“We’ve talked about the capital cost, but there is going to be a human cost” in the event of a collapse, said Jack Volpato, intergovernmental chairman of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce. “That is the most important cost: to save lives.”

The cavern formed as the result of an operation to extract salt in liquid form by injecting fresh water into the ground. The I&W salt company had to close the brine well because of the cavern and went bankrupt.

“What frustrates me about this is the profits from the company were privatized, they went into Carlsbad and now the problem is being socialized,” said Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces. “It’s frustrating when people come to the state and say, ‘Please help us,’ after a company has gone bankrupt and walked away with profits.”

Legislation that failed last year would have allowed the state to start looking for solutions related to the cavern.

“We need to be proactive and not reactive,” said Stella Davis, chairwoman of the Eddy County Board of Commissioners. “If it collapses, it’s going to be a lot more money than we are asking for today. And there is also the potential for a loss of life.”

The new bills are heading to committees for consideration.

Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, proposed similar legislation in the House and a committee recently moved it forward as well.

“We can assign blame here or there, but we are past that point,” Brown said. “The legislature meets only once a year, and if we leave this session without being productive on this, we’re going to end up in a lot more trouble than we are right now.”

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Information from: Carlsbad Current-Argus, http://www.currentargus.com/

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