Kirtland allocates $20k for legal counsel in power plant closure
Councilors say move needed to watch town's interests
KIRTLAND — The Kirtland Town Council approved an allocation of $20,000 to pay for legal representation in relation to the planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station during its Tuesday meeting.
“It has nothing to do with suing or anything like that,” Mayor Pro-Tem Jason Heslop said. “That’s not what this is about. This is about trying to ... watch our interests in the town of Kirtland.”
Heslop ran the meeting because Mayor Mark Duncan was in a separate meeting about economic development.
The power plant's majority owner, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, has plans to close the coal-fired power plant in 2022.
Heslop said the legal counsel is needed to help keep the town informed about decisions made at the state legislative level. He said if legislators meet with attorneys to discuss the San Juan Generating Station closure, the lawyers will inform clients about those discussions.
Heslop said other local municipalities and San Juan County officials already have procured legal counsel.
“To me, it’s something that we have to do,” Heslop said. “It’s something that we have to step up to the plate.”
Kirtland is the closest incorporated area to the power plant, and the Town Council is concerned about the economic impact of the closure. That includes the potential loss of jobs, increased property tax rates and a decrease in gross receipts tax revenue.
Councilor Thomas Wethington said the closure of the station will impact Kirtland significantly.
“Not to be included in legal discussions is not an option,” Wethington said.
While the Town Council approved spending $20,000, that amount could change at a later time.
“Right now, it’s just an amount so that they know we’re there,” Heslop said, referring to the efforts of several local entities that have hired legal counsel. Kirtland has the option of partnering with San Juan County and other local municipalities for the legal counsel. The town could also choose to hire its own attorney.
Heslop said the allocation means the town may have to put off some plans the council had for future work, such as plans to develop a new town park.
“To not do something is not an option,” he said. “We have to do something.”
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.