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‘He who lights the fire bears the responsibility’

Colfax County Commission talks fire, methane, and drunk driving

by Carol Bridge
RATON — Colfax County Commissioners met in regular session Tuesday.  The meeting was brought to order by chairman Bill Sauble.
Bio mass might mean methane gas
Mike Berry of Cimarron Energy gave an extensive presentation about the potential of using bio mass for producing methane gas for the region.  His proposal would be to build a facility that would turn unusable material and debris from the surrounding forest areas into a substance that would create methane gas to be used in generators to produce electricity.  Using this small diameter material would not only produce cheap electricity but it would also serve to remove it from forests, thus creating efficient firebreaks.  Berry, along with the research department of Santa Fe Community College and others have studied this for a number of  years and have concluded the idea is economically feasible.  They are now searching for investors both in the public and private spheres.
Colfax County Commission Vice Chair Landon Newton had some background knowledge of this process and expressed interest in learning more about it.  He asked if the material could be used for road remediation, but Berry countered in the negative because it is too absorbent.
The process involves pelleting the forest material and ‘cooking’ it by removing oxygen.  This process removes water that could be reused while producing methane.  Berry has a standing grant from Sandia National Laboratories for $20,000, with other entities also expressing interest.  Tangible advantages of this endeavor would be:
• Reducing the carbon footprint
• Creating cleaner electricity
• Cleaning up the environment
• Creating local jobs.
Berry asked for a letter of support from the commissioners, which was granted, and the commissioners asked to be kept informed.  More information at
DWI gets assistance from the state
Mary Ganz, Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Coordinator, gave an update regarding financial responsibility for the local programs.  She stated that the legislature has taken steps to lessen the burden of counties and increase the state’s contribution to the programs.  Newton had some background information pertaining to funding changes in local drug court expenses.  The annual MOU (memoranda of understanding) was renewed between the county and the state regarding DWI program funding.  Later in the meeting, county attorney Terrence Kamms informed the board that there will be a meeting between local judges, the DA, law enforcement and the county regarding people who are being arrested or in detention who may have mental health problems.  In these cases it is inappropriate to imprison them when mental health treatment may be necessary.
Burn protocol planning
Larry Osborn, Colfax County Fire Marshal, gave information to the board regarding recent fires started for training purposes on privately held land.  He was concerned that without proper protocols being in place and followed, the county was in jeopardy in the event of problems controlling the burn.  Osborn used the term, ‘He who lights the fire bears the responsibility’.  Kamms added if the fires were held on private land as a favor,  and it benefitted the landowner in some way, that it could be seen as a ‘donation’ which would further put the county at risk.  Osborn proposed that a county protocol be created and that area groups be mandated to use it.  The commissioners tasked Osborn and Kern to write up this protocol and the matter was tabled for further action.
Drug, delinquency, and pension laws
Sauble and Newton updated the board on legislation being studied or in process of becoming law from Santa Fe.  Legislative items included changes in drug court and detention that would make rehabilitation and treatment part of the sentence, with funding being made available from the state.  There is also pending action regarding abandoned property and reclassifying it in some way to remove it from county taxation accounts.  The sale of delinquent tax properties may also be changed – the property will be advertised online for a number of months instead of sold at auction in one day.
Commissioner Roy Fernandez gave the board an update on the Miner’s and Widow’s Pension funds that has been a can kicked down the road in Washington for years.  About 800 miner’s and their families in the Raton and Trinidad communities would be affected if the pension runs out.  In case the pension funds (which never recovered from the crash of 2008) do run out, the federal government will become responsible but the individuals pensions will be reduced by 40%.  The only coal field that is still making contributions to the fund is the Powder River Basin in Wyoming so this fund is in real danger.
Angel Fire airport and more
Neil Cawley, Angel Fire airport manager, informed the board that he will reduce his time at the airport to three days a week.  He gave an update on conditions at the airport.  Sales are up $20,000 from last year due to an increase in planes using the facility and more services being offered.  Newton gave some information about recent legislative changes that would allow the airport to charge every plane for landing.  If that becomes reality it will greatly increase revenue from the airport.  The discussion again turned to the possibility of engaging a private company to take over the management of the airport. Fernandez thanked  Cawley for his efforts in managing the facility during contentious and difficult times.
County Manager Mary Lou Kern gave an update on the detention facility construction and filling staff positions at the facility.
The next meeting of the Colfax County Commission will be February 27 at 9 am in the Colfax County Building.
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