Same stink, new day

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The Socorro City Council already had manure on its mind for its regular meeting Monday, but moved the item up to the top of its agenda when residents complained about a terrible smell during public forum.

Concerns about the same farmer were raised during a council meeting in February, when a neighbor speculated the farmer’s manure pile may harbor dead animal carcasses.

Monday night, the council ultimately decided to move forward with crafting an ordinance to regulate manure storage, although the ordinance likely won’t help matters until next year.

Jerome Lattery, who has lived in Socorro 14 years, was first to the podium Monday regarding the smell. Lattery, who lives on Duggins Lane, said the “fumes” seem to be water activated since the stench becomes worse during rain, and it seems to stink up the house as it filters through the swamp cooler.

Lattery said the smell was so bad one night last weekend that he considered checking into a hotel room.

“How long are we going to have to put up with it?” Lattery asked the council. “And what is it? And what could be done to make it less (offensive)?”

Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the city had manure storage regulations on its agenda for that evening’s meeting, but the item will be moved up to immediately follow the public forum. The mayor agreed the stench was not acceptable.

Patrick Vallejos, who lives on Marshall Lane, was next at the podium. He voiced his concerns about the stench, adding he had a second complaint about the heavy traffic tearing up Marshall Lane. He said the road was not designed to accommodate the constant stream of semi trailers, tractors and other heavy equipment now rumbling through the neighborhood.

Vallejos asked if the city could put a weight limit on the road to keep the heavy equipment off Marshall Lane. He noted the previous owner of the now smelly farmland took a different route with his heavy equipment.

Bhasker said over a month and a half ago he talked to Steve Romero, the current owner of the smelly farmland, who said he would spread the huge pile of manure in May. Bhasker indicated communications were cordial at that time, and the city gave Romero some leeway.

“Come June, he hasn’t done anything,” Bhasker said. Bhasker said he, Councilor Peter Romero and city clerk Pat Salome went to the malodorous property about two weeks ago and talked to two individuals there, one the owner of Jones Dairy, a dairy farm up north, and another who was doing some work for Steve Romero. He said the two made light of the manure issue, and Bhasker asked them to have the landowner give him a call.

But Bhasker said he never heard from Steve Romero after that.

Monday morning when the city had division meetings, Bhasker asked city staff to put up some posts to block heavy equipment on the road. He said Salome called the Ground Water Quality Bureau about nitrogen that could be leaching into the groundwater from the manure, but the bureau did not seem interested.

Bhasker said in crafting an ordinance, the city doesn’t want to inhibit other farmers who are not stockpiling manure.

Bhasker noted Romero lives in Belen, and his business dealings are with Belen dairies.

“He is not being a good neighbor,” Bhasker said.

Bhasker said the city needs an ordinance stating manure can’t be stockpiled for longer than a certain period of time.

“We tried to work with him,” Bhasker said of Steve Romero. “We tried to give him as much leeway as we possibly could, but at this point he’s certainly worn his welcome out as far as what he’s doing.”

Bhasker said Romero has also blocked his own road, coming from the ditch, with manure.

Bhasker said dairies have to remove their manure at a certain rate so they don’t stockpile it. He said Romero seemed to be stockpiling a noxious agent from dairies up north to his property in Socorro. Bhasker said he isn’t certain that’s what is happening, but it’s what he suspects is happening.

Vallejos said he tried to speak with Romero about the stench and the heavy equipment traffic.

“The attitude he took with me is that, he says, ‘My property is worth more than all your homes here on Marshall Lane,’” Vallejos said. “And that was the attitude he took with me.”

“Oh, that’s great,” Bhasker said. “Then he ought to be a better caretaker if it’s so expensive over there.”

Bhasker said the city doesn’t want its ordinance to cause hardships to all the other local farmers who don’t create an insufferable stench. He noted Steve Romero owns several farm properties in the area. He said money may be one thing, but people are living in the area also, which is important.

Bhasker noted Romero sells his hay to dairies in Belen, so he’s not even paying local gross receipts taxes.

“That really has irked me that he hasn’t responded or anything,” Bhasker said. “We tried to work with him. Our first inclination was to work with him.”

Bhasker said even if Romero discs the manure into the ground, the city doesn’t want him to stockpile it for two months.

Councilor Gordon Hicks agreed the city can’t put up with manure stockpiling. He said the city needs something in writing to protect its residents from the olfactory assault.

Councilor Donald Monette motioned to have the city move forward with research to craft an ordinance against manure stockpiling, which was unanimously approved after more discussion.

Councilor Michael Olguin suggested the city consult with area farmers on the matter. Monette said the research could be extensive. Bhasker suggested city staff talk to the extension office to get a better understanding of the fertilizing process.

Lloyd Martinez, water superintendent and director of the city parks department, said Romero dumped fertilizer just 200 feet from his house one day. He said when the wind came from the south that day, there was a dust cloud from the manure stretching all the way to Paisano.

“When they’re so near a property line they should use chemical fertilizer … I mean, they were putting it right next to people’s houses,” Martinez said.

Martinez also said Romero’s heavy equipment traffic tore “a big old chunk” out of Chaparral Drive last year, and he hasn’t fixed it yet.

Bhasker noted Romero has bought a lot of farmland in Socorro.

“And he’s being a very, very, very bad neighbor,” Bhasker said. “It’s not in his best interest to do that. And I thought we had gotten that through to him, but I guess not.”

Bhasker said he wished the city could do more. He said it was unfortunate that the city probably couldn’t do anything about the stinking problem this season.

The council approved Monette’s motion unanimously. The mayor added it may take three or four months to craft an ordinance that will combat the stench while not causing hardships to the other farmers.

El Defensor Chieftain was unable to contact Steve Romero by press time.

 

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