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AZTEC — The Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs have announced five upcoming virtual meetings regarding the Farmington Field Office Resource Management Plan amendment and environmental impact statement.

These documents, released in February, look at the future of oil and gas development as well as other land use particularly near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The controversial plan would allow drilling within the buffer zone where leases are currently being deferred. This buffer zone was created due to concerns that oil and gas development would negatively impact sacred sites near Chaco Canyon. 

The five virtual meetings will allow the public to learn about the documents, discuss them with specialists, ask questions and submit comments.

The public comment deadline is May 28. Advocacy groups as well as elected leaders like U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM, have asked to have that deadline postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. These groups highlight that people who do not have internet access have limited abilities to comment or view the documents due to restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

In a press release, Haaland said many of the people who live in the Chaco area do not have access to the internet. 

"Everyone whose air will be polluted, water put at risk, and health impacted by leasing should have their input considered when these decisions are made, but the BLM’s announcement to have virtual public meetings on their plan to allow leases near Chaco Canyon is unworkable for families who will be impacted," Haaland said in a press release. 

When reached April 30, BLM Farmington Field Office spokeswoman Jillian Aragon referred inquiries to the national BLM press office. 

The press office did not respond by deadline April 30 to questions about outreach to community members without internet access.  

BIA Deputy Director for Field Operations Jim James encouraged tribal members as well as the general public to participate in the virtual meetings.

“During this time, it is imperative that we continue work to find alternative strategies to support the commitment to engage all stakeholders on the Draft Resource Management Plan, which will help optimize the conservation and stewardship of trust resources on Indian trust lands,” James said in a press release.

Meanwhile, BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley praised the virtual meetings as a way to reduce carbon footprint, decrease travel-related costs and increase the number of people able to participate.

“We are excited to be able to use technology to meet the requirements of federal law that we engage and involve the American public in our decision-making process, especially as to such an important Resource Management Plan,” Pendley said in a press release.

The virtual meetings will take place using Zoom video conferencing technology. The PowerPoint presentation will be available on the project website, go.usa.gov/xvy3r, prior to the meeting. The amendment documents can also be found on that website.

The public meetings will be: 

  • 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, May 14
  • 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday, May 15
  • 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, May 15
  • 9 to 11 a.m., Saturday, May 16
  • 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., Monday, May 18

People wishing to participate must register in advance by going to www.blm.gov/programs/planning-and-nepa/plans-in-development/new-mexico/farmington-rmp-mancos-gallup-amendment.

Once registered, participants will receive an email with instructions on how to join the meeting. Those instructions will also include an option to call into the meeting on a traditional phone line.

In addition, the meetings will be streamed live on Facebook.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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