Tom Payne’s property located on U.S. 550 north of Aztec is the proposed site of an RV park and sewage lagoon. A meeting on Wednesday at San Juan
Tom Payne's property located on U.S. 550 north of Aztec is the proposed site of an RV park and sewage lagoon. A meeting on Wednesday at San Juan County Council Chambers will be held to discuss and take question regarding the proposed permit. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

AZTEC — The state's Environment Department will hold a public hearing on the permit application for a proposed recreational vehicle park's sewage lagoon that has raised concerns over the lagoon's proximity to two ditches and the Animas River.

A meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 23, at San Juan County Council Chambers in Aztec, will allow the public to offer technical input and public comment on the permit.

However, a local group that opposes the lagoon has scheduled a meeting to inform residents about what they say are potential dangers posed by the proposal.

The Animas River Water Quality Coalition plans to hold a pre-hearing meeting at the Aztec Public Library tonight at 5 p.m.

Tom Payne, who owns land at 16747 U.S. Highway 550, wants to open an RV park. He applied in May for a discharge permit for a sewage lagoon at the park that could receive up to 2,240 gallons of domestic wastewater a day from as many as 60 recreational vehicles. The lagoon, a synthetically lined pool, has residents concerned over the smell an open-air sewage impoundment can produce. Also residents are worried about the lagoon's risks of polluting nearby irrigation ditches and the Animas River in the event of flooding.

Payne declined to comment on Monday, referring all questions over the permit to the park's engineer, Robert Echols, a project engineer with Cheney-Walters-Echols. Efforts to reach Echols by phone on Monday were unsuccessful.

Jim Winchester, New Mexico Environment Department communications director, said he doesn't know offhand how many lagoons permitted by the state's Ground Water Quality Bureau are in close proximity to water sources or exist in flood plains.

"The Ground Water Quality Bureau has approximately 35-50 permits for RV parks in the state, and 'many' of these include lagoons," wrote Winchester, in an email on Monday.

Members of the coalition opposing the proposal say a lagoon system to handle waste in this location is the wrong way to go.

Mary Girardi, a cofounder of Animas River Water Quality Coalition, would like to see Payne opt for an above-ground storage tank system instead of a lagoon, which would alleviate a majority of the coalition's concerns.

"Our concern is somewhat selfish in that we want to protect water quality, if such a thing's selfish," Girardi said. "NMED seems to think it's OK for the lagoon gas to blow right (onto) his neighbors, but I don't — at all."

Girardi and group member James Dahlberg say their trust in the state's Environment Department has been weakened over what they see as a permit application process that favors the permit applicant over the health and safety of the community.

"I'm going to speak my mind (at the public hearing)," Girardi said. "So far, we've kind of gotten poor reception for our group by the NMED. The very agency that is supposed to protect the public is more invested in protecting the person wanting the permit."

IF YOU GO:
What: Animas River Water Quality Coalition meeting
When: 5 to 6:30 p.m., April 22
Where: Aztec Public Library, 319 S. Ash St., in Aztec
More info: Call call Mary Girardi at 505-334-3120 or email Jim Dahlberg at JimDahlberg2002@yahoo.com.
 
What: Payne RV Park Discharge Permit Public Hearing
When: 9 a.m., April 23
Where: San Juan County Council Chambers, 100 S. Oliver Drive, in Aztec
More info: The proposed sewage lagoon permit can be viewed online

A copy of the administrative record for the Payne discharge permit is available, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the New Mexico Environment Department District II Farmington Field Office, 3400 Messina Dr., Suite 5000, in Farmington, 505-566-9741 and online at https://cloud.env.state.nm.us/oit/?c=220&k=b2f2857704.

To learn about the state's permitting process and regulatory guidelines, go to www.nmenv.state.nm.us/gwb

For information on the discharge application, contact Gerald “Jake” Knutson at the Environment Department. Call 505-827-2996 or email Gerald.Knutson@state.nm.us.


James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.