By Jack King
Residents from the Wheaton Street area argued heatedly Thursday the City Commission should postpone considering an ordinance that would close a portion of street to make way for a Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad expansion.
Charging the expansion will put BNSF’s new tracks near their backyards and Curry County needs more time to negotiate a contract with the railroad, they argued so heatedly that, at one point, four people were at the commission’s public microphone talking at once before Mayor David Lansford called for order.
“Put yourself in our shoes,” Angelina Baca-Rodriguez, an Avery Street resident, asked the commission. “We’re in a lower economic group; we can’t hire lawyers. Many of us didn’t attend the earlier meetings (on the closing). We would ask that you buy us a little more time. Let the railroad come forward; let the county get some more solid assurances.”
“This is a residential area. If any other contractor in Clovis attempted to build something without getting a zoning change, you’d never let it happen,” said Victor Chavez, a Wheaton Street resident.
“It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair. Why should we wait (for an overpass to be built) while they (BNSF) get what they want immediately?” said Teresa Blair, of Homestead Place, stating the city and county should not close Wheaton Street until a proposed overpass over State Road 467 is finished.
Allan Potter, BNSF’s terminal supervisor, said the proposed tracks will not be that close to the resident’s homes. While the lines will be 8,000 feet long, they probably will need only 25-to-50 feet of new property in width, he said.
Potter said the area subdivisions are about a half mile from the railroad’s current right of way. Chavez argued the nearest house is about a block from the right of way.
The commissioners said they must act quickly to support a project that will bring jobs and tax dollars to Clovis.
“If the railroad can’t move forward, they’re going to take this project somewhere else. And make no mistake about it, they can pass this town in a fly-by minute,” said Commissioner Kevin Duncan.
Commissioner Gloria Wicker said she is a retired railroad employee and has seen BNSF shut down facilities in Clovis before.
“There’s a town just 134 railroad miles from here — Vaughn — and they would take this project without a commission meeting. Don’t think someone from the railroad hasn’t already been talking to Vaughn and considering it,” she said.
The commissioners voted 6-2 to consider the ordinance, which would authorize closing Wheaton Street from the railroad crossing north to U.S. 60-84. The vote was a technical step required before a final vote, a way of advertising to the community the city is considering closing the road. The commission will consider final approval at its May 19 meeting.
According to Council documents, BNSF asked the city to close the road in light of the Curry County Commission’s April 15 vote to close the Wheaton Street crossing. The county commission’s approval of the closing was contingent on BNSF and the county signing a contract that would include guarantees about safety measures, jobs and economic development and the railroad’s participation in an effort to build an overpass over State Road 467. Those negotiations are still underway, commissioners said.
Commissioners Isidro Garcia and Robert Sandoval voted against the action, saying Curry County should be given more time to complete its negotiations.
In other business:
–Unanimously approved a joint powers agreement with the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority for the development of a surface water system in Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties. Lansford said the Quay County Commission will vote on the agreement Monday.
–Approved loaning $47,158 in Economic Development Tax Advisory Board funds to Chaparral Golf Inc. for the development of the Colonial Country Club in Clovis.
–Heard a presentation by Expo Inc. spokesman Frank Sherman on a proposed Clovis civic center. Lansford said at its next meeting the Commission will consider an ordinance on using 25 acres of Expo Inc.- owned land on Schepps Boulevard for civic center.