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New Year: Our staff looks at what's coming in 2017

The Daily Times staff
Farmington Chick-fil-A franchise co-owner Gary Smouse is pictured on July 20. Smouse opened Farmington's first Chick-fil-A location in August. Chain restaurants are expected to continue to thrive in 2017 despite a depressed economy.
  • Donald Trump's election has given locals hope that new policies will favor the oil and gas industry
  • Chain-style restaurants have done well in Farmington and are expected to thrive in 2017
  • Local governments, schools and businesses will continue to face budget cuts in the near term

After years of shrinking budgets, for local government and businesses alike, the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States has provided some hope for local residents. With the promise of less regulation and policies that favor the extractive industries many in the Four Corners are hopeful the local economy will rebound.

That could mean an increase in the number of active drilling rigs in the area which went from zero to one in the last few weeks.

Greg Merrion, president of Merrion Oil and Gas, spoke earlier this year about a probable increase in drilling.

“I promise that natural gas in the deep parts of the Mancos Shale will be developed,” Merrion said. “Natural gas prices have more than doubled from $1.50 to $3.15 (as of Dec. 8), and as long as they stay up, we will see drilling rigs increase.”

Energy expert Daniel Fine agreed that production is certain to increase, and also predicts that the U.S. will move away from global energy policies and toward an economically nationalistic view that focuses on what benefits the U.S.

A WPX Energy drilling rig near Lybrook.

Although Fine predicts these changes, which include the removal of many of the regulations that have stymied oil and gas production for years, will occur in early 2017, he warned about the consequences of over-production.

“(This) could possibly lead to an over-supply, driving the cost of oil further downward,” he said. “That could lead to a second downturn in 2018. I’ve cautioned that this could be a problem for the Trump administration.”

The outlook for non-oil and gas-related businesses, especially chain-style businesses, likely will remain positive for the foreseeable future.

Carl's Jr., as seen in Farmington.

Farmington Chamber of Commerce president Audra Winters said that especially when it comes to fast-food or fast-casual restaurants, the climate has been very good.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in these, and it seems like the ones who have local owners are doing particularly well,” she said.

Like many of the newer area entrepreneurs, Winters has expressed optimism that business will do well in the upcoming year.

“We’re all hoping it will pick up a little bit,” she said.

Here's a look at what to expect in some of our other coverage areas:

Local government

Water quality has been one of the big issues facing San Juan County.

If budgets allow, the county will continue to focus on projects aimed at getting more people off septic systems and connected to municipal wastewater infrastructure. The efforts were spurred by the detection of human waste in the Animas and San Juan rivers. Leaky and improperly installed septic systems are likely contributors.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission will continue to monitor the operations of AV Water Co., which owns two water systems in the county that were issued boil water advisories in June. The PRC will likely approve transferring the Harvest Gold water system to Blanco Mutual Domestic Water Users Association. It is also looking for an entity to take over AV Water’s other water system that serves Crouch Mesa.

The city of Farmington will continue to look at options to replace the Brookside Pool, which shut down in 2016 due to health concerns caused by failing infrastructure. While it looks for options to replace the pool, Farmington Lake will reopen for swimming during the summer.

Bloomfield has been hard hit by a decline in tax revenue from the oil and gas industry. The city faced layoffs this year and had to cut some services. The city’s finances will continue to be at the center of council decisions in 2017, with the hope that a change in federal policy will boost local production.

An oil and gas production site is pictured Nov. 3, 2014, in Lybrook.

The city also needs to repair and replace infrastructure and will continue to search for a second source of water. Bloomfield currently gets its drinking water from the Bloomfield Irrigation District. When the century-old ditch broke, the city had to pump in water from Aztec to supply its customers. The irrigation district has warned officials that the ditch is at risk of breaking again and needs money for repairs.

Aztec needs to have its plans for phase two of the arterial route completed and approved by New Mexico Department of Transportation by June or the project could lose funding. It is also in the process of reviewing utility rates. City officials say new utility rates should go into effect at the beginning of next fiscal year.

Kirtland is expected to continue to expand its boundaries and is working to annex land including the area surrounding the west campus of San Juan College.

Navajo Nation

The 110 chapter governments on the Navajo Nation will welcome new and returning chapter officials this month.

Those elected in November to serve as chapter president, vice president, secretary-treasurer and other offices will take the oath of office in ceremonies organized by the Navajo Election Administration.

The inauguration ceremony for chapters in the Northern Agency will be on Jan. 13 at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center in Shiprock.

Also in 2017, the tribe is expected to continue implementation of an Amber Alert system.

The call for establishing an alert system on the Navajo Nation peaked after 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike was killed last year in San Juan Chapter.

In response, the Navajo Nation Alert System Task Force was established in May.

Since then the task force has been working with tribal departments and non-tribal entities to develop and implement the alert system.

Schools

Work will continue on the new $73 million, 214,400-square-foot Farmington High School.

The project, which involves demolishing and rebuilding most of the campus' buildings, is still on track for completion in the summer of 2018.

Demolition at Farmington High School proceeds on June 16.

A number of building on campus were demolished this summer including the administration building and the library.

Students have been taking classes in the first phase of the project — the three-story, 51,317 square-foot Building A.

San Juan County public school districts and community colleges will be watching to see if there will be more state funding cuts approved in the upcoming legislative session.

From left, Farmington Municipal Schools Board Vice President Mike Isaacson, Jaynes Corporation project supervisor Don Halsted, Farmington High School students Mishael Isaacson, Meeya Yazzie, Farmington Municipal Schools Administrative Assistant for Operation Development Lisa Eaker and Farmington High School Principal Tim Kienitz on March 15 tour Building A, the first phase of the new Farmington High School construction project.

Officials at San Juan College are predicting a reduction in funding of about $1.15 million from a proposed change in the New Mexico Higher Education Departmen's funding formula from a possible 2.5 percent reduction in state funding.

The college is not the only local educational institution anticipating a loss of funding.

Senate Bill 9 which cut higher educating funding by 5 percent also included a $37.8 million, or 1.5 percent, cut to State Equalization Guarantee, or SEG, funding for public schools.

Officials at the Farmington Municipal and Central Consolidated school districts predict a loss of about $1.1 million in SEG funding.

The districts also saw a loss of state funding after SB 9 was signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez

Farmington schools saw its funding for transportation cut by $392,000 or about 13 percent and a loss of $164,000 or 24 percent in funding for instructional materials.

Arts and Entertainment

Local music fans will have a new venue for live bands in 2017, as Anthony Lee, who has operated the music promotion company War Party Productions for the past several years, is opening a new multi-purpose venue called Asterix at 101 Ayani’Neez Blvd. in Shiprock. Lee already has two shows featuring nationally touring acts booked at the venue, while another promoter is planning on staging an indie rock/punk show the last Thursday of every month there.

Navajo filmmaker and Shiprock native Kody Dayish plans on screening his first feature-length film, “The Red Hogan,” at film festivals throughout the country in the coming year. The horror film was shot entirely on the Navajo Nation and features a predominately Navajo cast and crew.

Filmmaker Kody Dayish talks about his work and his experiences on Dec. 14 at the Farmington Daily Times.

Another film with local ties, director Terrence Malick’s “Voyage of Time,” is due to open its feature-length version in wide circulation in 2017 after its IMAX version opened in limited release in October.

The film features scenes that were shot at Majestic Enchantment, Fly Fishing on The San Juan River, a Blanco-based business owned by Jacob Chavez. The feature-length version is narrated by Cate Blanchett and could feature scenes of the Shiprock pinnacle and the Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness, which Malick and his crew also visited when they were in San Juan County to shoot footage at Chavez’s property.

The IMAX version of the film, which was narrated by Brad Pitt, has drawn glowing reviews from critics.

Business editor Leigh Black Irvin, arts and entertainment editor Michael Easterling, reporter Hannah Grover, reporter Joshua Kellogg and reporter Noel Lyn Smith all contributed to this story. The Daily Times newsroom wishes the Four Corners a happy and prosperous New Year.