$1.6 million federal grant adds to revitalization effort for San Juan County Industrial Park

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The county’s hopes for getting the San Juan County Industrial Park open for business got another boost April 28 with a $1.6 million infrastructure grant from the American Rescue Plan’s Coal Communities Commitment.

County Manager Mike Stark said this grant, 30% in matching funds from the county and an earlier state grant to link the park up to a local natural gas line adds up to more than $4.1 million in investments to improve the facility for prospective tenants.

The planned infrastructure improvements are aimed at spurring future growth at the industrial park. 

Once the work is done, Stark predicted that the facility would be “potentially the premier industrial space here in the Four Corners.”

State and federal cash received

The $1.6 million in federal cash for infrastructure will be matched by $699,760 in local money. 

The $4.1 million investment plan is rounded out by a $1.82 million state rural infrastructure grant the county received in March for construction of a natural gas pipeline extension aimed at luring new business to the county-owned industrial park in La Plata.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department announced March 29 that San Juan County received the state grant to extend a natural gas pipeline 11 miles along N.M. Highway 170 to the industrial park, a project that will also open natural gas access to residents along that highway.

The San Juan County Industrial Park in La Plata includes this 42,000-square-foot building on a 190-acre property.

From mine headquarters to industrial park

The 190-acre parcel was acquired by San Juan County as a future industrial park from the Bureau of Land Management and international mining company BHP Billiton in 2007. 

The area was used for 10 years by local company PESCO, an oil and gas equipment manufacturer, until 2019. 

Another tenant was ready to occupy the park early in 2020, “and then COVID hit, and they rightfully backed down,” Stark said.

After lease negotiations ended, the facility stood unoccupied, and the county decided to examine deficiencies noted by former site users and look for cash to improve the park.

Located 18 miles north of Farmington on Highway 170, the former BHP’s La Plata mine headquarters is just a bit off the beaten path. The 1985-vintage facility features a 42,000-square-foot building, plus smaller buildings. There is a 19,200-square-foot shop, and it has two overhead bridge cranes 50 feet above the work area, according to a white paper for the county’s grant application.

Stark said those cranes are a big benefit to attract certain kinds of manufacturing.

Mike Stark

There is also warehouse space, lower-level locker rooms and support areas, and 8,200 square feet of attached office space, the white paper said.

Stark said that office space needs renovation, and that’s part of the plans for the grant money. Other upgrades include broadband access and structural  improvements. Those include water and fire suppression system upgrades, lighting and security upgrades, mechanical upgrades, HVAC system upgrades and roof system improvements.

The improvements in part represent the county acting on the concerns, or complaints, of those who have used the facility despite ikey flaws, Stark said. Lack of access to natural gas meant high propane heating bills, and lack of broadband made the site less attractive, as well.

The San Juan Industrial Park is the beneficiary of a $4.1 million plan to renovate its facilities and provide future tenants access to natural gas and broadband service.

Grant part of federal effort for coal communities

The grant is part of the American Rescue Plan and the Economic Development Administration’s $300 million Coal Communities Commitment.

“President Biden’s American Rescue Plan offers direct relief to American communities as they work to build a better America following the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo said in a news release April 28.

“This EDA investment will support San Juan County as they work to diversify their economy and create new, good paying jobs for the community.”

The EDA news release noted that the project was facilitated by regional planning efforts “led by the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments. EDA funds Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs.”

The release said the project is one part of the federal government’s multiagency efforts to help communities hit hard by reductions of coal industry jobs.

“The Economic Development Administration is committed to helping communities across the nation implement strategies to mitigate the economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo. “This project is part of EDA’s Coal Communities Commitment and will provide support as the local economy transitions from the coal industry to new fields, attracting additional businesses to San Juan County and supporting a stronger, more resilient regional economy.”

Contact John R. Moses at 505-564-4624, or via email at jmoses@daily-times.com.

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