Lincoln County Commissioner Elaine Allen last week defended her decision to testify in favor of the SunZia wind power transmission line project during a hearing in front of the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission in June.
She responded to each of the criticisms leveled by Commissioner Tom Stewart last month about her appearance at the hearing and her submission for reimbursement for mileage expenses. Stewart contended because the commission had not taken a stand favoring the project, Allen’s testimony was misleading.
Allen presented a sworn-affidavit from a SunZia officials that she was not paid by the firm to testify in favor of the project.
“I was speaking as commissioner on behalf of residents of Corona, whose children will benefit from the revenues generated by the wind farms that their schools will receive,” she said. “I was speaking on behalf of all residents of the county, who will benefit from an increased county budget from the wind farms.”
Without SunZia there would be no form of wind development in the county now, she said. The company had no letter of support from the commission. She was not asked to testify by SunZia, Allen said, adding that she had volunteered to do anything she could to support the project.
“I traveled to Santa Fe on behalf of Lincoln County, which is a reimbursable expense,” she said.
Allen noted that Stewart had said he hoped she would remember her testimony, if operations at White Sands Missile Range were curtailed or ranchers in Socorro County were affected negatively by approval of the SunZia prposed route.
“I am a Lincoln County commissioner,” she said. “I do not represent White Sands or Socorro County.” While she wishes them well in those areas, her constituents are in Lincoln County, she said.
While she said realized that Stewart did not approve of her actions, that does not make her or the actions unethical, she said. She routinely consults the county attorney on any questions of ethics, she said.
County Attorney Alan Morel confirmed that he has discussed issues raised by Allen on several occasions.
“She always calls if she has a question about whether something is ethical and should be done by a commissioner,” he said. “I advised her that she has the right to speak, even if the commission has taken an alternate action. I think she made it clear she spoke on her own.”
The county doesn’t have an official policy requiring prior authorization to seek reimbursement in such situations, but he can draft one, if commissioners want to pursue it, Morel said. The request for reimbursement was submitted, reviewed and paid.
Stewart said he stands by his comments last month calling on Allen to pay back the travel expense reimbursement. He has received nothing but derogatory comments from people about Allen testifying and noted that Sun Zia “has a long road to go before it can proceed,” because the application was dismissed without prejudice by the PRC. The essential issue that prompted him to bring up the trip was Allen’s submission for travel reimbursement, he said.
Later during the commission meeting under the public forum, Robin Dunn, who said she operates the Gran Quivira Ranch with her husband State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, spoke about her objections to Allen and Commissioner Lynn Willard appearing at the PRC meetings.
The ranch spans three counties, Lincoln, Socorro and Torrance, she said, recalling that she spoke against support for the SunZia project in July 2017, and was heartened when a resolution of support did not pass. The proposed transmission line would run through 10 miles of private property on her ranch.
She said the two commissioners spoke in favor of the project in front of the PRC in a May hearing in Socorro and then again in June in Santa Fe. They commented about the benefits they believed SunZia would bring to the county and their constituents, she said. While she is not aware of any of those constituents spending the time and gas to speak for themselves, she has spent “tens of thousands of sollars” in attorney fees trying to protect her private property from environmental abuse and value degradation she thinks would result from building the transmission line on her ranch, Dunn said.
She asked that Allen and Willard send letters to the PRC clarifying that the commission declined the requested resolution of support and that they were not representing the county.
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