Wild and Scenic vote was an informed one

Photo Credit: James Hemphill

District 39 N.M. House of Representatives candidate Luis Terrazas has been pretty outspoken in his criticism of the Grant County Commission for not seeking input from those directly affected before approving a resolution in support of the proposal to include portions of the Gila River in the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers inventory. But in so doing, he actually brought out the fact that those folks had at least two opportunities to make their thoughts known.

First, after taking the commissioners to task for ignoring the passionate public input from opponents of the proposal, Mr. Terrazas then says there was no effort made to hear from those directly affected. Then, he criticized the commissioners for not hearing from them while speaking during the public input portion of the commission meeting where the resolution was approved.

So, the public had two opportunities at commission meetings to give their opinions. The county website also lists the contact information for all of the commissioners, both phone and email, and people were also free to use individual contact to express their opinions.

I expect Mr. Terrazas is thinking that the commissioners should have gone to their constituents by holding public forums in the community, rather than expecting them to take the initiative to make their voices heard. As I’ve pointed out before, in our system of government, we elect people to represent us, to make decisions in our stead, and we can’t expect them to always come to us and inquire about our personal opinion.

We have to stay on top of what’s happening, and put out the effort to make our opinions known. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Terrazas, should he be elected, will make the trip back home to hold public forums whenever he has to cast a vote that might affect us.

My guess is his attitude on this subject will change.

I think, in the specific case of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act resolution, the commissioners probably had a pretty good handle on how their constituents would feel on that subject, and may have felt that public forums around their districts weren’t necessary. The final vote on the resolution, with only one commissioner opposed, probably reflected public opinion reasonably accurately.

If that’s not true, the commissioners will doubtless hear from the voters after the fact — and/or not be re-elected.

On the subject of the proposal to include some parts of our rivers in the Wild and Scenic River inventory, I don’t think that property owners on the rivers should worry too much about losing their property or water rights, since as it now stands, all of the included waterways are in the national forest, and no private property is involved.

The history of the act, which dates from 1968, also shows no pattern of taking of private property. All told, the government has purchased private property on four of the 209 river segments that are in the national inventory. The act is exceedingly restrictive on this subject.

Those who say the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act doesn’t afford any more protections than currently exist aren’t quite right. For one thing, current law allows the president to authorize dam construction in wilderness areas. That power disappears under this act for all waterways designated as “wild.”

It’s quite possible, I think, that the opponents of this action will benefit from the proposed action in the long term.

For those who want to know more about the provisions of this act, I’d recommend Googling “wild and scenic rivers act q& a.” Several useful websites will be returned.

Tim Matthes has been a reporter for the Silver City Enterprise and Grant County Beat and the author of two columns. He’s a self-confessed unrepentant liberal and welcomes your comments at tim1937@gmail.com

This column appeared in the Silver City Daily Press