A substantially pared-down version of an ordinance designed to regulate the development of wind farms in Lincoln County was approved last week.
Steve Elliott, president of the Corona Landowners Association, told county commissioners the group, whose members own the land targeted for installation of wind turbines to generate power, are pleased with the modified ordinance version, compared to the much longer initial draft.
He suggested there be no changes and thanked county officials for working with the land group.
“I think the ordinance is fair and balanced,” he said. “It allows development of wind farms in the county.”
County Attorney Alan Morel pointed out that he added to the ordinance a $1,000 permit fee and $250 charge for each turbine up to $10,000, and he received no complaints about the addition from any of the parties reviewing the draft.
County Planner Curt Temple in helping select the fee amount, said he looked at several different ordinances on line across the United States, “And I took the average with a cap.”
Commissioner Kathryn Minter said officials in Colorado said one of the major issues is to ensure sufficient property taxes are collected on the land.
“They said to make sure you get the tax value right,” she said.
County Manager Tom Stewart said when the companies came into Torrance County and began putting up renewable energy equipment on property there, officials found they were responsible to direct a portion of the tax generated to school districts, although the county’s name goes on any revenue bonds issued, he said.
“Some counties low-balled on the amount of revenue firms wanted in lieu of taxes and will receive very little,” he said.
“The caution is the schools deserve a portion of the revenue bonds. They have a right at the table and when the strategy is discussed at the Association of Counties. When a firm asks for revenue bond to put something up, the first step in the process should be to make sure the county is getting a fair deal and they need to negotiate with the schools first.
“Some counties agreed to an amount, only to find out the schools wanted half, yet the county’s name is on the revenue bonds.”
To avoid that error, if the county receives a request for revenue bonds to be issued, a consultant is available to ensure the county receives a fair deal and negotiates upfront with the school, he said.
To date, no one has asked for revenue bonds, Stewart said, adding that the county assessor is working on the valuation issue. The inclusion may expand to secondary schools, “And we must make sure we consider all of that when we’re looking at a deal.”
Commissioner Mark Doth brought up a couple of other subjects that deserve commission attention, he said.
“Someone wants to lay claim that (the Inn of the Mountain Gods) is the major employer in Lincoln County (although it is located just inside the Otero County line),” he said. “We have the race track, the hospital and the school system.” The reference came from an article on tourism initiatives, he said.
The River Walk project along the Rio Ruidoso also is a grant project funded by the Billy the Kid Scenic Byways program and not under the Ruidoso Village Council, he pointed out.
“The next issue is one of grave concern for the county,” he told the board referring to the U.S. Interior Department Secretarial Order 3310.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an executive order in December dealing with Bureau of Land Management property, in abundance in the county. The rule defines wilderness characteristics and directed the agency to do “everything in its power to protect (wilderness areas),” Doth said.
“What they are doing in reality is circumventing the whole process,” he contended. “Several states are up in arms over what they are trying to do.
“The rule, referred to as Salazar’s Christmas surprise, overturns a Bush Administration policy that prohibited unilateral protection of land with wilderness qualities by the BLM . Bush’s policy was based on a 2003 settlement that barred the BLM from designating wilderness areas based on expired 1991 policies, he explained.
The order could affect oil and natural gas exploration and production, as well as recreation trails, he said.
“It’s a big land grab and I’d like to see a resolution from this commission in the future not to support this secretarial order,” Doth said.
The resolution listing potential negative impacts would go to the House subcommittee conducting a hearing on the policy and would become part of the official record.
Stewart said he will draft a resolution for commission consideration at its March meeting.
Commissioner Don Williams suggested Stew-art also check with U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican from the 2nd Congressional District that includes Lincoln County, who may have introduced legislation “to eliminate the land grab by the BLM.”
Doth said he’ll check the state of Utah, because he heard several senators filed legislation to overturn the policy and that “Wyoming is in hot pursuit. But New Mexico needs to follow their lead. We need to press from this level up. We have BM land all over the place.”
The BLM supervises about 520,000 acres in Lincoln County.
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