Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Sierran: "Proposed Land Use Plan Would Allow Drilling in Mora County, but

" Proposed Land Use Plan Would Allow Drilling in Mora County, but
Farmers and Ranchers Unite to Protect Agricultural Way of Life"--The Sierran

Life in Mora County is rural and agricultural. It has remained quiet and unassuming because no one for the past 150 years has found much of value in this county. But change is coming that will alter not only the landscape, but the peaceful quality of sound, water, air, and land if industry has its way.

Shell representatives told the Mora County Commission during a public meeting July 6 thatthey plan to begin drilling within a year. Bob Gallagher, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association president, and Karine Foster, attorney and president of Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, spoke of the benefits and the safety of this development
for Mora County, but were a small voice in the crowd of people opposing gas development that evening.

Attacked on numerous fronts this past year, Mora County is being challenged by the New Mexico State Taxation and Revenue Department whose attempts to remove the agricultural exemption from many farmers and ranchers will destroy the integrity of the county of 5,100 people and constitute a land grab. At the same time the State Engineer is threatening to install a “water master” who would oversee the county’s mayordomos and 200-year-old acequia system
and would ultimately adjudicate the individuals’ water. Adding KHL’s request to bid on 13,000 acres of pristine state trust lands in September of 2008, State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons auctioned these lands between Ocate and Wagon Mound for mere pennies on the dollar. Mora County is in a position of drastic change – a dispossession in the making. This will bring back memories for those who recall the land grab of the mid-1800s and once again emphasize
the power of money and politics.

For nearly two years now, a concerned citizen group, Drilling Mora County (DMC), has been getting the word out through educational forums on the impact gas drilling will have in this agricultural county. Supported by other organizations within the state and across the country, DMC is gaining a foothold in the county as the local families are rallying to support their county laws that value agriculture and clean water, over “dirty” industrial growth. From the look of the numbers at the regular DMC meetings, it is quite possible that the citizens could have a powerful impact on what is going to happen to their county if the numbers continue to grow as they have been growing.

Petitions to enact a protective ordinance, to request hydrologic studies of the county, and to say “No” to drilling gain signatures quickly. The signers are passionate. Bumper stickers “Don’t pass gas in Mora County,” “Drill, Spill, Kill,” “Another Rancher Against Drilling in Mora County” can be seen on cars about town. When a subject becomes the local focal point at the Cowboy Kitchen in Mora, you know the word is out. There is a buzz in the air.

At the most recent commission meeting on August 11, the final draft of the revised Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) was presented. A comment period of 15 days was set forth, and written comment will be accepted by the county manager. The document provides for oil and gas development as well as huge changes throughout the county on issues such as roads, abandoned buildings,solar, wind, cell towers, and what color your barn is painted (just kidding). The changes are thorough and dramatic and with all on the plates of those working on oil and gas issues, it is quite certain issues of importance will not be addressed and further change will wiggle its way into Mora County unbeknownst to the citizens and land owners. There is change coming. The people are exercising their democratic rights and are speaking out. It is a time of possibility. And a time of hope.
—Kathleen Dudley