AZTEC — A coalition of neighbors who live near a proposed RV park northeast of Aztec will host two meetings to raise awareness over the park's sewage lagoon.
The group of eight active members, who call themselves the Animas River Water Quality Coalition, have meetings scheduled on Saturday and Tuesday at the Aztec Public Library. They plan to show a 45-minute informational video that documents residents' testimony of flooding in the area and includes footage from a public hearing over the lagoon's permit application last summer.
The state's Environment Department has scheduled a second public hearing on the permit for the park's proposed sewage lagoon at 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 23, at San Juan County Council Chambers in Aztec.
Tom Payne, who owns land at 16747 U.S. Highway 550, wants to open an RV park there. He applied in May for a discharge permit for a sewage lagoon at the park.
Payne declined to comment on Thursday.
Jake Hottell shot and edited the coalition's film, which he titled "Flash Flood 2013." In it, he documents flooding that sent torrents of muddy water across Highway 550 and onto the proposed site of the Payne RV Park and sewage lagoon.
"What we want is for (Tom Payne) to do it right — put in a contained system," Hottell said. "This plastic-lined lagoon on a shallow, 3 to 5 feet, water table is crazy. It's not acceptable."
Hottell said he hopes his film raises awareness of the dangers the lagoon poses.
"I hope people will see it and learn about the area and what a danger the lagoon would be," Hottell said. "The Animas River is already one of the most endangered rivers in America from sewage and oil and gas run-off. Let's do it right, that's all I know to say."
James Dahlberg, a founding member of the coalition, filed a request to postpone the upcoming public meeting by 90 days, but the state's Environment Department's Office of General Counsel denied the request on Thursday.
The denial letter cited the 30-day public notice period as sufficient time for the coalition to obtain counsel and any witnesses.
"(A) postponement will allow time for interested parties to obtain counsel and also allow an expected out-of-state witness to prepare hydro-geology-related testimony," Dahlberg wrote in the coalition's March 31 request.
Dahlberg and fellow coalition member Mary Girardi began meeting informally last fall with Hottell and others who oppose the proposed lagoon. They say the lagoon would seriously threaten the safety of nearby irrigation ditches and the Animas River. They also believe the lagoon system is not a reasonable wastewater treatment system because it's located in a flood zone and was inundated after two storms in September.
The coalition has distributed "Stop the Lagoon" petitions throughout Cedar Hill and Aztec. So far, they have garnered more than 400 signatures, a show of support Dahlberg believes demonstrates public resistance to the lagoon.
"I can't help but think back to hearing how Mr. Payne says he wants to be a good neighbor. Really? Doesn't he understand that 400 of his neighbors are saying they don't want the lagoon?" Dahlberg wrote in an email Thursday. "I guess it comes down to what Upton Sinclair said in his book 'The Jungle:" 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!'"
Girardi said she would like the Payne RV Park to use an above-ground storage tank for wastewater, instead of an evaporative lagoon.
"Using a tank I would suspect, over the years, would be just so much less trouble, less work, less money and more neighborly friendly," Girardi said. "To me, a lagoon is going to be day-to-day care. I'd like to believe that Payne will be a good steward, but there is all the risk and no reassurance. The lagoon is such a crazy idea."
IF YOU GO
What: Animas River Water Quality Coalition informational meeting and film screening on the proposed Payne RV Park lagoon
When: 2 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Aztec Public Library, 319 Ash St.
More info: For more information on the coalition, call Mary Girardi at 505-334-3120 or email Jim Dahlberg at JimDahlberg2002@yahoo.com.
The proposed sewage lagoon permit can be viewed online at bit.ly/PayneRVParkpermit.
For more information on the state’s permitting process and regulatory guidelines, go to www.nmenv.state.nm.us/gwb . To be included as an interested party, offer comments or find out about the April 23 public hearing on the permit application for the Payne RV Park, contact Gerald Jake Knutson at the Environment Department. Call 505-827-2996 or email Gerald.Knutson@state.nm.us.