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Official says focus has been on keeping power plant open

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FARMINGTON — A plan by city officials to create a so-called "iconic" park next to the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park was put on the back burner over the summer while officials turned their attention to keeping the San Juan Generating Station open.

Shana Reeves, the director of the city's Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs department, said the city's effort to work out a deal to continue operations at the power plant has been the focus of Farmington officials for the past several months.

The Public Service Company of New Mexico, the primary investor in the plant, has announced plans to abandon the facility in 2022, and Farmington officials are partnering with a company called Enchant Energy to employ carbon sequestration technology at the plant in an effort to keep it open and protect its hundreds of jobs.

That has delayed any action on the park, Reeves said.

A shift in focus

In May, Cory Styron — who then served as the director of the city's Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative — said he expected a proposed budget for the project to be completed soon. A conceptual plan for the park was completed in the spring and presented to members of the City Council. Styron said once he had gotten the councilors' feedback, his staff could begin to piece together a budget and set about identifying a funding source for the project.

More: Budget for new Farmington park expected soon

But Styron resigned in June, and the ORII was eliminated, leaving the project under the purview of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs. Reeves said the project's status has not changed since spring, though some action on its future could be taken soon.

City officials have said the project likely would be funded by money from the community transformation fund, by the sale of bonds or both. Reeves said city councilors had been scheduled to meet in late September to set priorities for how community transformation funds would be allocated, but that meeting was cancelled. She expects it to be rescheduled for later this month.

Project timeline gets longer

How quickly the project proceeds once that has happened will depend on how the park is prioritized, she said.

"It could be one to two years, it could be two to five years," she said.

The park is envisioned as a 5-acre project along the Animas River. City officials have used the term "iconic" to describe their vision for the park, which they would like to see become a showplace and a community gathering spot.

The conceptual plan for the park includes such features as an amphitheater, a boardwalk, a plaza for the Farmington Growers Market, shade structures, specialty gardens, terraced berms and sculptures. City officials want to see it become a regional draw.

More: Public feedback sought for new design of 'iconic' park near Farmington Museum

The undeveloped plot where the park would be located is covered in dirt, rocks and brush, and it fronts the city's busiest thoroughfare, East Main Street. The conceptual plan calls for the construction of a berm to serve as a buffer between the park and the street, contributing to its planned status as a refuge.

City officials also have said the park eventually could be expanded to include 88 acres of property the city owns across the river, greatly increasing its size.

Initially, three concepts for the park's design were presented to citizens for their input online and through a series of public meetings. After those responses were considered, a single concept was completed and forwarded to councilors for their consideration.

Styron said in March it likely would be 2021 before construction of the park got started. But with no budget completed or funding source having been identified, Reeves said that anticipated start date likely is no longer feasible.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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