Officials say owning the land, which includes a former landfill, would significantly speed up the arterial route project

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AZTEC — Aztec City Commissioners have approved applying for ownership of about 10 acres of land that are currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Officials say owning the land, which is in the eastern portion of the city, would help the city complete the planned arterial route, which will divert traffic around the downtown area.

The 10 acres of land include a former landfill the city would be required to clean up before building the route. If the BLM approves the land application, the city would only have to meet state regulations — not the more stringent federal ones — for cleaning up the landfill.

During the commission meeting Tuesday evening, City Engineer William Watson said Aztec would still be required to clean up the landfill, but acquiring the land would speed up the process.

"If we have to follow the federal guidelines to clean up the landfill, it's estimated to be four or five years," he said, adding that if the city successfully acquires the land, that process would likely be shortened to one year.

City Manager Joshua Ray said construction of the route is continuing. Crews are working on phase 1B of the route, and the landfill is located in the phase 2 portion of the project.

"It will stop if we're not able to complete whatever the BLM tells us we need to complete with this property," Ray said.

It could take the BLM up to one year to act on the city's application, Ray told the commission.

"In terms of our grand scheme of things for our arterial, this could delay the project significantly," he said.

There will be a cost associated with acquiring the land, said Kathy Lamb, the city's finance director. But, she said, she will not know that figure until after the application is submitted.

Because the city is applying for the land for a public purpose, development along the arterial route on that section of land would be limited to public purposes, Lamb said.

"We won't be able to deed this over for private development," she said.

Ray said the city initially received approval from various agencies to construct the entire arterial route but has since run into complications, due in part to breaking up the project into phases.

"There's a ton of hoops and hurdles that we're jumping through now — from the approval that we had before to where we are now — because we had to phase this project," Ray said.

Ray said he is "kind of confident" the city will not run into any more "hiccups" in developing the route.

"If we only had the money to build it all at once, then we'd be driving on it instead of talking about it," Ray said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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