A civil complaint and application for a preliminary injunction was filed this week, asking for a stop to the village’s plans to condemn more than 17 acres of farmland for an expansion of the wastewater treatment plant.
The complaint and application were filed this week in district court by six different groups and four private citizens. The village, which filed a petition of condemnation earlier this year, contends that it needs to expand the facility to comply with federal standards governing the toxicity of treated wastewater.
The 17 acres that are the subject of the condemnation are owned by Raymond and Fenella Jarratt. The couple has owned and operated a dairy farm on South Los Lentes Road, just outside the Los Lunas village limits, for the past 42 years. The Jarratts were notified by mail in late January about the village’s intentions to expand its existing wastewater plant.
The petitioners listed on the lawsuit are the Valencia County Farm Bureau, New Mexico Farm Bureau, Valencia County Citizens for Responsible Growth, Assessment Payers Association of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Tomé-Adelino Historic Neighborhood Association and Rio Grande Restoration. The private citizens include Los Lunas resident Victor Williams, Burt and Pam McKenzie and Fabian Padilla, a Tomé land grant heir.
Other defendants listed on the lawsuit include Mayor Louis Huning, Village Administrator Philip Jaramillo and Councilors Charles Griego, Robert Vial-pando, Cecilia Castillo and Gerard Saiz.
According to the complaint and request for an injunction, the petitioners charge that the village’s attempts to condemn the land violate two state laws.
“The expansion of the wastewater treatment site is an anticipatory public nuisance at law,” the lawsuit states. The plaintiffs allege that the expansion “unreasonably imposes on the rights of the plaintiffs to enjoy the quality of life on the Rio Grande and to enjoy the presence of the silvery minnow, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, the whooping crane and other endangered wildlife in the area …”
The lawsuit also charges that there is an immediate danger that threatens the plaintiff’s rights to have their tax dollars spent in an “unlawful manner.”
The second is that the village failed to comply with state law by not holding a public election prior to filing the condemnation petition.
“The village failed to hold any election prior to initiating the condemnation of land for the wastewater treatment site expansion and plant construction,” the lawsuit said. “The failure is in direct violation of New Mexico law and is grounds for issuance of an injunction until a proper election is held in the manner prescribed by law.”
The village has not yet filed an answer in the case.
Several months after the village filed its condemnation petition, the case is still to be heard. Four district court judges in the 13th Judicial District and one judge from the Seventh Judicial District have recused themselves from the case. The State Supreme Court will assign the case to yet another judge.
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.