December 16, 2010
New Mexico

Neighbors come to near blows over wind turbines near Las Vegas

Author: Tim Paynter, 14 December 2010

One might think alternative forms of energy to help break the US addiction to Middle East Oil would be a popular topic. Perhaps in some circles, but not in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The The Board of County Commissioners charged with deciding if windmills may be placed in the county held the final meeting for public comment in Las Vegas, New Mexico, today, December 14th, 2010. The council chambers was so full of people the meeting had to be recessed and reconvened in the auditorium of a nearby college.

At issue is whether land owners may place windmills in San Miguel County, New Mexico including near the town of Cerritos, New Mexico. The Board of County Commissioners heard final testimony December 14th, 2010, about where in the county, if anywhere, windmills may be placed. Angry neighbors and even students showed up to protest the windmill project. On the other side of the argument were land owners who stand to make hefty fees by allowing the huge turbines to be placed upon their land. Representatives from the wind industry appeared as well.

The first session of the meeting became so heated before it even started, San Miguel Sheriff, Benjie D. Vigil, had to step in to keep the peace. He even gave the same admonition to the Board of County Commissioners, advising them to remain cool. Vigil has a way of putting people at ease. While some officers would escalate the situation and then rescue the day, Vigil knew how to calm the people whom he helps.

“One of you is illegally parked behind the county judge, He can’t get out of his parking spot.” That broke the ice and things went more smoothly afterwards.

Andres Valdez, the New Mexico State Director of Vecinos United, Neighbors United, which works on many social causes, said they were concerned about the invasion of Northern New Mexico by out of state companies, mostly “Northern interests.”

“It is nothing more than a pretext to bring in windmills,” he said in an exclusive interview with Immigrants2bfree. “We have heard the local people will not benefit from the windmills. The power will be sold to Arizona,” he continued. Valdez indicated most of the jobs would be low paying, in the $7.50 per hour range.

“They say it will have an economic impact. Economic impact is 60 jobs with a wage rate of $7.50 per hour.” The crowded council chambers erupted in applause. “And for that the county is going to issue industrial revenue bonds?” he asked.

Steven Salinas, a local high school student, encouraged the Board to adopt regulations allowing windmills because we all know the importance of wind energy.

icole, a 7th grade student at Rio Grand Charter School said the students had studied wind energy during the year and they were dangerous. She thinks a 3 mile setback should be imposed between the turbines and cities and towns, which would put turbines out of reach in most locations. Brandon, also a 7th grader, said the noise of the turbines affects human and animal life because the vibration affects their stability causing them to feel nauseous. That includes farm animals. Brandon asked the windmills not be placed in the vicinity of living beings.

“Wind energy is great idea if it is done property. My question is considering the fact that all of this energy is going to other states, and there are places in Mexico with miles and miles of cactus 2 inches tall, why do they want to put the windmills here?” Art Sherwood of Vecinos United said. Gilbert Ortiz is one of the landowners who has contracted to host wind farms. He said the basic engineering design requires concrete 7.5 feet deep.

“The jobs we badly need here are 200 job during the construction phase and 10 permanent techs at between $45,000 and $50,000 a year to maintain the windmills,” said Mr. Ortiz, a landowner who wants to lease his land to the windmill industry. “If you put the farms further down then they will affect other cities. I don’t agree with the set backs.”

When asked how much Mr.Ortiz was going to make from putting the windmills on his property, he was at first evasive. Then he refused to answer our questions altogether and walked away.

Art Baca, another landowner who will benefit from leasing land for windmills said he didn’t like the set backs, either. He said the people need to compromise. He also thinks the windmill companies should pitch in for local scholarships and to help out students and the community.

County Commissioner David Salazar was genuinely interested in hearing from the people on both sides of the issue. He urged everyone to listen and then take their chance to have their say.

Wind energy is not as easy a solution as it looks. It may cause harm to humans who live in the vicinity. While nearly everyone agreed wind energy was a good idea, many felt it was a good idea to put the windmills somewhere else besides near Las Vegas, New Mexico.

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