Economic leader seeks public help to halt plant closure
4CED has set up a website that contains information on negative impacts of closures and ways to comment and get involved
FARMINGTON – Saving the more than 645 jobs that would be lost if the San Juan Mine and Generating Station close down in five years was a major theme at Thursday's Four Corners Economic Development membership meeting at San Juan College.
The 4CED group, which focuses on supporting San Juan County business and job growth, turned its focus toward possible ramifications of a power plant closure following a March Public Service Company of New Mexicoannouncement that a preliminary analysis indicates shutting down the remaining two units at the San Juan Generating Station in 2022 may provide long-term benefits to customers. A decision about whether to shut down the units has not been made.
4CED CEO Warren Unsicker told those gathered Thursday that in addition to job losses, more than $146 million in annual wages and more than $68 million in state tax revenue would be lost each year.
"PNM is only taking into account the lowest cost option for the rate-payer, but isn't looking at jobs lost and the impacts that could occur if the plant is shut down," said Unsicker. "Now the state is facing a $180 million deficit. The loss of the mine and plant would add to that deficit and would be devastating for the state. We have to make sure that the PRC knows how this decision will impact this community and its businesses."
Unsicker added that beginning April 13, the San Juan Mine will begin public scoping meetings in connection with the formulation of a new environmental impact statement that will re-evaluate the mine's environmental impacts. The impact statement conclusions could result in the mine and the plant closing as soon as 2019, he said.
"There was a lawsuit and that's why they're having to do a second environmental impact statement," he said. "There will be 13 scoping sessions, the first one being Thursday, April 13 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Farmington Civic Center."
Unsicker urged local citizens to take a stand by speaking out about the negative aspects of shutting down the mine and plant.
"That decision will have a huge impact on our community, so we need to make sure our voices are at the table," he said.
4CED, said Unsicker, has set up a website that contains information on negative impacts for the community should the closures take place, and he said the site also provides information on ways to comment and/or get involved to help slow or halt the process.
"We'll be updating the website regularly," said Unsicker. "People have until May 8 to submit comments."
During the meeting, Unsicker also briefed 4CED members on positive possibilities that his organization will foster, including expanding tourism and manufacturing to create economic diversity, helping the the community weather oil and gas industry downturns.
"We're blessed with a lot of quality of life here," he said. "And although we don't have rail, we do have many other transportation options," he said.
Unsicker said discussions are ongoing about how to eventually bring a railroad into the area.
"There have been some changes, such as we now have a new administration (in Washington, D.C.) that is keen on infrastructure," he said. "The Navajo Nation is actually pushing for (a rail system), and we want to work with them to make that a priority."
Another possibility, Unsicker said, is developing land at the Farmington Regional Airport for commercial use.
"We've got 120 acres at our airport lying fallow," he said. "This could be a great spot for a FedEx distribution center, among other possibilities."
Other 4CED priorities include identifying which agencies are responsible for specific roads throughout the county, as well as ensuring that the Bureau of Land Management doesn't take land that could be developed off the table.
"There is land in the Chaco area that overlaps with the Mancos Shale. We want to make sure oil and gas development is not interfered with in those areas," he said.
Toward the meeting's end, 4CED board chairman Clifton Horace said that despite recent negative reports concerning Farmington's shrinking population and a pervasive sense of being "on the defense," there are good things happening within the local economy.
"Gross receipts are up a bit, and there are some more (drilling) rigs," he said. "But we could use all the help we can get from citizens (to help stall a potential power plant shut-down). If you happen to be going to Santa Fe, we can give you a kit and you can go in and visit with the PRC. We're not here arguing for coal. We're arguing for time. Five years is just not enough time to diversify, and it will be very difficult to reproduce those jobs that will be lost."
For information on impacts of a possible San Juan Generating Station closure or to submit a comment, visit www.RealPeopleRealJobsNM.com.
Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.