FARMINGTON — New Mexico lawmakers approved a state budget bill in the recently concluded session that includes $300,000 intended to fund studies of a freight railroad to Farmington and rail ports in the Gallup area, officials said.
Ray Hagerman, CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, an organization dedicated to stimulating the region's economy, said half the grant would fund a feasibility study of a proposed freight railroad from Thoreau to Farmington. He said the other half would fund a similar study of proposed inland rail ports in the Navajo Nation chapters of Rock Springs, Manuelito and Tsayatoh.
Gov. Susana Martinez has until March 12 to use a line-item veto, if she chooses, said Tim Korte, New Mexico Department of Finance spokesperson. As of Monday afternoon she had not taken any action on the item.
Officials have been discussing a freight rail from Thoreau to Farmington for about a year, Hagerman said. He said such a rail would boost the region's economy. It could export coal, natural gas and oil, and it could import machinery to begin a manufacturing industry in Farmington, he said. It would have many other benefits, too, he said.
The freight rail is estimated to cost $300 million.
Funding of the project is not yet certain. The Navajo Nation and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway company are two potential investors, Hagerman has said.
In late January, a Navajo Nation official told The Daily Times the government was seeking $150,000 to study the projected cost of the rail and determine its contribution to the project, but Hagerman said it never collected that funding.
"For whatever reasons, this was not moving forward, and so this (grant) got inserted (in the budget), and I don't know how," he said.
He said he asked state officials recently to let his organization manage the freight rail portion of the grant, with the aim of expediting the study. But he said he has not yet received a response.
If built in the three chapters near Gallup, the rail ports might draw the freight railroad's development to Gallup, he said. But Hagerman and a Gallup economist say that is unlikely.
"I think we're looking at different books of business," said Patty Lundstrom, executive director of Greater Gallup Economic Development Corp.
The Navajo Nation is pursuing a railhead in Thoreau that Lundstrom said would likely export crude oil and Navajo Agricultural Products Industry goods. But the existing industrial site west of Gallup and the three proposed rail ports could specialize in storage and coal exportation, she said.
Building the freight rail in either city would benefit Farmington, Hagerman said.
"Which ever happens faster," he said, "that's which one I'm for."