Municipal candidates talk roads, Carlsbad Brine Well at election forum

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus
Denton McCullough, candidate for Ward 3 city councilor speaks during a candidate forum, Feb. 3 at the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

Infrastructure was on the minds of all of Carlsbad’s municipal candidates who expressed a consensus on the two most important problems facing their community: roads and the Carlsbad Brine Well.

The issues were frequent topics of discussion during a Saturday night candidate forum featuring 15 of the 18 candidates running for mayor, City Council and municipal judge.

All of the candidates agreed that the industrial traffic resulting from nearby oil and gas operations needs to be quelled, and the brine well needs to be fixed before it collapses beneath the city’s busiest roadway, the junction of U.S. Highways 285 and 62/180.

Almost every candidate mentioned the topics in their opening statements.

Mayor Pro Tempore Richard Doss, who is running for mayor against incumbent Dale Janway, said he’s got the time and experience to solve both problems.

He chided Janway for being a “part-time” mayor, as Doss has filled in for the mayor at various meetings during Janway's tenure.

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“I’ve seen a lot of things that have gone on,” Doss said. “I’ve seen a lot more things that we can do. I have the experience and have the time to put into it. 

Mayoral candidate and Mayor Pro tempore Richard Doss speaks during a candidate forum Feb. 3 at the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

"I think you need to ask more from your mayor. I think he needs to be full time. I think he needs to be able to go places at the drop of the hat. I can do that."

Janway missed the forum because of illness, but he sent a statement, said Dan Johnson, president of the Carlsbad National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which hosted the event at the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

 Council Ward 2 incumbent J.R. Doporto and challenger Maurice Pruitt also missed the forum.  

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“Over the years I have worked closely with members of the city council through (an) unprecedented period of growth in our city,” Janway wrote. “We work to support housing and development, retail and industry. We have placed a strong emphasis on quality of life. As Carlsbad continues to grow, we are handling the infrastructure needs.”

Throughout the forum, candidates fielded questions from the audience. 

Chad Ingam, running for a four-year council term in Ward 1, said voters deserve better from their elected officials at almost every level of government.

He said past members have failed to act on several critical issues in the city, especially the brine well and string of fatalities on U.S. Highway 285.

Residents and local leaders listen to Carlsbad's municipal election candidates during a candidate forum Feb. 3 at the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

“We need to expect more from our council, our city and darn well our state,” he said. “On the brine well, the state is playing Russian roulette with the people of Carlsbad. I’d like to be the one to see that through. We need someone on the council who is not afraid. I’ve been accused of not being subtle, we need that now.”

Bill Niemeier, running for Ward 3, said the well is the biggest threat to the safety of the people of Carlsbad.

He said if elected, he would work aggressively to represent Carlsbad to New Mexico lawmakers and work on a solution ahead of the well’s collapse, predicted in the next few years.

“The brine well is our biggest concern right now,” he said. “It’s a threat to Carlsbad. It’s very dangerous for us to have that here.”

Aside from infrastructural concerns for public safety, Niemeier also pointed to ongoing growth in Carlsbad as the local oil and gas industry flickers back to life after the bust of 2014.

He said housing will be the primary way to manage the growth, and incoming residents should be encouraged to stay.

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“This town’s growing by leaps and bounds with this influx,” Niemeier said. “I’ve seen a lot of temporary housing coming up, but we don’t need temporary housing, we need permanent housing, and affordable housing. It’s a necessity. I look forward to the growth, and I’m excited about it.”

But to encourage people to visit and stay, Mark Walterscheid, a Ward 4 candidate for a two-year term, said people have to like what they see.

Mark Walterscheid, candidate for Ward 4 city councilor addresses the crowd during a forum,  Feb. 3 at the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

“I’m a landscaper,” he said. “You say you want to beautify Carlsbad, and I drive through here every day and have to not look at things. If you want to change the way Carlsbad looks, you’ll vote for me.”

Another issue raised by attendees was recycling, after the city failed to implement curb-side recycling last year following the closure of a local recycling plant and non-profit.

Ward 3 candidate Denton McCullough said recycling should be no-brainer. He said many other cities in New Mexico have recycling, and Carlsbad should be next.

McCullough proposed limiting trash pickups to once a week, to encourage residents to sort out recyclables.

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“You have to encourage people to recycle,” he said. We’d need a campaign to inform people it’s there. We need to stop the plastic from getting into our environment. We need to teach the children to respect their environment. It’s where they live.”

Wes Carter, who is running unopposed for a four-year term as Ward 4 city councilor urges locals to vote during a candidate forum Feb. 3 at the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

Ingram argued that recycling is almost never profitable for a municipality. Such a project, he contended, would require a collaboration with other nearby communities.

“Recycling works at a loss,” Ingram said. “For a city it is very very expensive. However, I think there are ways we can partner with other cities like Artesia, Otis or Malaga. Money drives everything, but that doesn’t mean we can’t think outside the box.”

At the outset of the event, Wes Carter, former Ward 3 council member who is now running unopposed for Ward 4, challenged Carlsbad voters to increase turnout in the upcoming election.

"We have so many great things in the pipeline and things we need to keep doing,” He said. “Voter turnout has been less than pathetic in the last few elections. Get your friends out there and get them to vote."

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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