Joint land use study

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A public meeting for the military’s joint land use study was held at San Antonio Elementary School on June 11, where all questions were at least written down for consideration.

Socorro County manager Delilah Walsh said the purpose of the JLUS is to look at military needs at White Sands Missile Range, Fort Bliss and Holloman Air Force Base and the needs of surrounding communities for healthy growth and a good quality of life, with the end result of balancing all of those needs in future land use planning. The public meeting was to gather public input for the study. AECOM is the private contractor commissioned by the JLUS partners to conduct this study.

According to AECOM’s website, the company’s purpose is “to create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.” Headquartered in Los Angeles, AECOM is one of the largest providers of professional technical and management support services in the world.

Liz Drake, urban planner with AECOM, noted the group convened at San Antonio Elementary that evening was a significantly larger turnout than at any previous public meetings held for this JLUS.

The JLUS website, www.snmepjointlanduse.com, reports meetings were held June 3 in Lincoln County, June 5 in El Paso County and June 6 in Doña Ana County. After Socorro County’s JLUS meeting, two more were conducted — in Otero County on June 12 and Sierra County on June 13 — which concluded the first round of JLUS public meetings. The second round of public meetings will be held next year.

Drake said the JLUS will reveal ways to promote coordination and compatible growth among the bases of southern New Mexico and their surrounding communities. The study is funded by a Department of Defense grant, plus matching funds from each of the study partners. She noted it is still early in the JLUS process.

“Most of the heavy lifting is yet to come,” Drake said. “That’s why we’re eager to get your feedback — we’re using it to set priorities … and develop recommendations as well.”

Drake said the DOD has had many dozens of JLUS completed across the country, and AECOM has completed about a dozen of them. This JLUS for southern New Mexico is the biggest and most visible, she said.

She observed there is nothing like this in the whole country, speaking of the military assets in southern New Mexico. In terms of size alone, WSMR has no equal. She said along with the land area of the bases, the terrain and weather here combine to create the nation’s premier military testing and training environment.

Drake noted in addition to the value of the bases, the study area is very diverse in terms of renewable energy, as well as natural and cultural assets.

“And we will be looking at all of those issues,” she said.

Displays set up around the school gym included various maps of the study area, as well as the initial list of compatibility factors being examined in the JLUS. The list included aviation noise, road closures, GPS jamming, water, mining, wildfires and more.

Drake said two key questions she had for the crowd were:
• Was anything missing from the list of compatibility factors?
• Which factors are the biggest concerns for local residents?

Drake invited everyone at the meeting to take the blue dot stickers offered and place dots by what they feel are the most significant compatibility concerns. Water proved out the most popular choice by the time the dots hit the stands.

Drake encouraged the public to visit www.snmepjointlanduse.com and share input for the JLUS electronically. She also said input did not have to be submitted in written form, and encouraged meeting attendees to voice their concerns.

Drake said next year, AECOM will conduct a second round of public meetings. She encouraged everyone to give input at this meeting, however, as the sooner the input is received, the more effect it will have on the JLUS process.
Socorro County Commissioner Dan Monette was the first to voice a concern at the meeting when Drake’s brief presentation concluded. He marked that WSMR plans to open Trinity Site to the public just once per year rather than twice due to government sequestration, and that will have “one heck of an economic impact” on the surrounding communities, including Socorro.

Monette said he understands each Trinity Site open house costs the government about $20,000, but the economic benefit to surrounding communities is considerably more than that.

“I’d like to have that studied if possible,” Monette said.

Monette’s second concern was PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, which keeps decreasing every year. He noted the government’s PILT payments to counties for federal land within their borders, even at its highest rate, was a lot lower than the rate landowners have to pay in property taxes.

Richard “Arf” Epstein asked why a private company conducts public meetings regarding the JLUS. Drake explained private firms typically perform the studies, and as a private contractor AECOM doesn’t represent any of the interested parties in the JLUS area and can provide a degree of neutrality, which is beneficial for the study.