In an effort to stop the condemnation of land belonging to a local dairy farmer, the state’s largest agricultural organization and five other groups have sent notice they’ll sue the Village of Los Lunas.
The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the other five groups sent the notice to the Environmental Protection Agency, Peter Maggiore, the state’s environmental secretary, and Phillip Jaramillo, Los Lunas village administrator. The lawsuit will reportedly argue that the village is in violation of the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts.
The impending lawsuit against Los Lunas comes after the village filed a motion in district court to condemn land on the family dairy owned by Raymond and Fenella Jarratt. The village is seeking to condemn 17 acres of the Jarratt’s land in order to expand its wastewater treatment plant.
The village has said the expansion is needed in order to comply with stricter regulations set in a recently renewed permit that allows the plant to put treated wastewater into the river.
“We have joined in a legal action to stop the village from the sinister effort to take the Jarratt property and livelihood for a very-questionable sewer project,” said Norm Plank, executive vice president of the New Mexico Farm Bureau. “There have been no public hearings, and the village’s permit applications are seriously flawed and in violation of a number of laws.”
According to the notice, the groups are asking the EPA to rescind the village’s permit because it didn’t accurately provide information about its plans to expand the plant. The notice also requests that the EPA require the village to implement plans to develop a constructed wetlands wastewater treatment plant for the village.
Jaramillo, who said he had only briefly looked over the notice, said “It seems what they are proposing is that we need to meet the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act – and that’s what we’re doing.
“We’re not proposing an increase of effluent to the plant,” Jaramillo said. “We’re following the process of expanding the plant.”
Jaramillo said, in order to comply with the stricter regulations, the village had to expand the wastewater plant. “If a court was to rule that the permit was invalid, we would have to meet the current regulations or try and meet stringent regulations.”
The notice, which was drafted by Albuquerque Attorney John McCall, charges that the permit was granted by way of a flawed application. McCall wrote that the processes didn’t provide citizen groups an opportunity to comment on operations intended at the wastewater treatment plant.
The notice also claims the village violated the Clean Water Act by failing to provide an accurate application for the permit that shows the total outfall of effluent into the river. It charges that the proposed expansion will “greatly increase the discharge of effluent.”
The third charge is that the EPA and the village are in violation of the Endangered Species Act by failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the expansion.
“In this instance, the Rio Grande silvery minnow and its designated critical habitat (along with the Southwestern willow flycatcher, the whooping crane and the bald eagle) may be adversely affected by the increased effluent discharge from the Los Lunas wastewater treatment site expansion,” the notice says.
“We have to wonder what is so important about the Jarratts’ property that the village would pull out all stops to take it from this family,” Plank said. “We intend to work with the media to investigate this effort and shine the bright light of truth on this case.”
Jaramillo said he’s not sure if the impending lawsuit will have an effect on the condemnation process but said the village attorney is currently studying the notice.
The other organizations participating in the effort to save the dairy include the Valencia County Farm Bureau, Assess-ment Payers Association of the Middle Rio Grande Conser-vancy District, the Historic Tomé-Adelino Neighborhood Association, the Valencia County Citizens for Responsible Growth and Rio Grande Re-storation.
The condemnation hearing regarding the Jarratt property scheduled for Tuesday, June 11, has been canceled because District Court Judge John Pope recused himself from the case. District Court Judge William Sanchez had also recused himself from hearing the case.
The court clerk’s office has 10 days to reassign the case to another judge in the district.
“In this instance, the Rio Grande silvery minnow and its designated critical habitat … may be adversely affected by the increased effluent discharge from the Los Lunas wastewater treatment site expansion.”
Farm Bureau executive vice president
“It seems what they are proposing is that we need to meet the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act – and that’s what we’re doing.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.