By Todd Wildermuth
A 13-member committee that was appointed this week is expected to hold its first meeting early next month to begin the work of updating the Colfax County Comprehensive Plan, with a key goal being to ensure the plan lines up with regulations and standards contained in a proposed county ordinance that would govern oil and natural gas drilling.
A separate committee in April made its recommendations regarding the types of issues an oil-and-gas ordinance should address, but before the county commission can adopt an ordinance that would turn those recommendations into regulations within the county, a Comprehensive Plan update will be done to make sure anything in a new oil-and-gas ordinance falls in line with the goals outlined in the Comprehensive Plan. State law requires, the county’s current Comprehensive Plan notes, that any land-use regulations the county institutes — such as ones related to oil and gas drilling — must be “in accordance with” the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
The county’s Comprehensive Plan — its first ever — was adopted in June 2004. A steering committee held several community meetings throughout the county and interviewed a number of community leaders in the county in developing its recommendations for the plan. The plan sets goals, objectives and implementation strategies in categories such as land use, water and natural resources, economic development, public services, housing and transportation. Although the plan adopted in 2004 is meant to guide development for a 20-year period, it adds that it is intended to be “updated and amended” as needed.
The county advertised during the first half of this month for anyone wishing to serve on the committee that will work on the Comprehensive Plan update. Thirteen people expressed interest and all were appointed Tuesday by the county commission to make up the committee.
Among those who will serve are Raton’s David and Julia Stafford, Paul Jenkins, Kathy Harris and Kathy Trujillo, who is the Colfax County treasurer. Joining them are Cimarron’s Tracy Boyce, Springer’s Boe Lopez, Miami’s Kristi Davis, and Maxwell’s Troy Sauble and Mary Lou Kern. Meanwhile, the Moreno Valley will be represented by three of Eagle Nest’s government officials: Mayor Richard Cordova, Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Carr and Village Administrator/Clerk Lynda Perry.
Kern and Julia Stafford were also members of the previous Comprehensive Plan committee. More recently, Trujillo served on the oil-and-gas ordinance committee.
The newly appointed committee is being asked to hold an initial meeting either Nov. 6 or 7 at the county building in Raton. The committee members will select the date and a time.
Commissioners noted one of the main reasons for forming the Comprehensive Plan update committee is to “lay the groundwork” for adoption of an oil-and-gas ordinance. The county developed a draft ordinance in 2006 that contained language that was objected to by a firm that has been operating natural gas wells on Vermejo Park Ranch for a number of years. The proposed ordinance, which also prompted some legal concerns among county officials, was never considered for adoption.
In a renewed effort, a committee met for close to a year to consider potential issues that could be addressed by regulations to govern oil and gas drilling in the county. Its recommendations presented in April included putting some controls in place regarding roads, setbacks, water, noise and aesthetics.
The recommendations include development of a county-wide road standard for all development, from oil and gas drilling operations to things such as housing and commercial developments. In addition, setbacks should be defined to keep oil and gas drilling operations an adequate distance from things such as habitable structures, surface water and wetlands, the committee found.
The recommendations also call for oil and gas operations to be required to test water samples from potable and stock wells within two miles of proposed drilling to obtain a “baseline” against which water quality can be maintained after drilling begins.
Also, noise that could disturb wildlife, livestock and private property owners and other neighbors to drilling operations should be controlled and noise levels reduced, according to the committee, which recommended the county adopt a “quantitative standard” regarding noise levels.
Addressing the visual effect that drilling operations can have on their surrounding areas, the committee cited a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) standard that all long-term facilities connected with drilling sites “should be painted a color that enables the facilities to blend with the natural background color of the landscape as seen from a viewing distance and location typically used by the public.”
As to the Comprehensive Plan, the one developed almost 10 years ago features this vision statement:
“Colfax County has grand vistas of natural landscapes of mountains, mesas, open spaces and valleys. We seek to sustain our natural resources of land, water, air and wildlife to keep a unique sense of place, while balancing the diversity of the community needs for social, economic and physical well-being. We treasure our rural and ranching lifestyles rich with diverse and multi-cultural heritages. We will preserve these cultures and traditions as we improve our quality of life in the future.”
The entire plan can be viewed at www.co.colfax.nm.us/forms/Comprensive_Plan.pdf. (The misspelling of the word “comprehensive” is how it appears in the web address.)
In other action Tuesday, the county commission learned plans are in the works — awaiting the purchase of necessary equipment — to make video recordings of county commission meetings and make the videos accessible on the county’s website (www.co.colfax.nm.us). A live video feed of meetings could potentially be set up in the future, as well. In addition, the county clerk’s office is in the process of posting the county’s resolutions and ordinances to the website.
Also Tuesday, the commission was informed the county made about $18,000 by selling 16 county vehicles that were no longer being used. The vehicles were sold in an online auction Oct. 9.