It's not that simple

  Dear HCN,

As one of the designated bad guys in Greg Hanscom's reprise of Milagro Beanfield War (HCN, 12/4/00: Road block), I guess I should be thankful that the Valley Improvement Association came out looking no worse than it did ... and stay quietly holed up in my "airy offices" (in a 30-year-old converted shopping center). Or, I could climb into my two-tone Chevy king cab pickup (seven years old, with way more than 100,000 miles and bought used), and go look at the "cookie-cutter" homes (that have won awards for design and construction). But before I do any of that, I've got to comment on your using a subjective, minimalist reporting style to oversimplify a big, complicated and often messy issue.

One of the cluttering details you ignored is that the Valencia County conceptual land-use plan discourages further development of valley agricultural land, and encourages development of more densely populated communities on the east and west mesas, along with the necessary infrastructure. Our community is on the east mesa, on what was marginally productive grazing land. It's home to more than 7,000 people, close to five times your estimate of the population of Tome. And, our own water and sewer company serves it.

Another detail is the issue of deteriorating water quality. More than two-thirds of this county's population lives in unincorporated areas. And there's only one unincorporated community with a central water and sewer system. Ours. We serve 7,000 people, a university branch campus, five schools and an industrial park with more than 1,000 people working in it. And more than half the county's population lives on individual wells and septic tanks, many in the valley where the water table is just a few feet below surface.

You only allude to the fact that our infrastructure is paid for by the people who own land and live in our community ... and you overlook the partnership our association has crafted with local government. We've deeded over more than 300 acres of land valued at between $2 million and $3 million to the University of New Mexico and the Belen and Los Lunas School Districts; spent hundreds of thousands of dollars helping them with access, utilities and amenities; and established a voluntary impact fee for the school district that serves the Las Maravillas and Pasitos communities.

We built, and now maintain, more than 60 acres of parks and open them to the entire county for use. We've collaborated on the construction of roads outside our areas, built and paved our own streets, helped provide fire and police protection, and even helped organize and finance an economic development program that has brought more than 1,000 jobs right here to Valencia County.

In the past, our membership of 25,000 property tax-paying families were portrayed as victims of a land sales scheme. Now, you're condemning them because they've succeeded in developing the hope of someday using their property.

All through the '90s, this county was ranked among the fastest-growing in New Mexico, which is among the fastest-growing states in the nation. The growth in our community probably accounted for only 15 percent of the county's total growth. Where was everyone else going? Most went either to other mesa communities or the valley.

More importantly, where are people going in the future? I know ... I can hear the mantra, "Infill ... infill." But we don't have much "in" to fill. And a lot of what we do have is ... agricultural.

I don't like some of the changes I've seen in the last 25 years. (Heck, I don't like some of the changes I've contributed to in the past 25 years.) But if you can't stop growth, how do you attack and negate some of its consequent problems? Do we work on a planned community built on non-productive land, with amenities and infrastructure in the ground, and build a record of successful collaboration with local governments? Or, do we all move to the valley, take up the anti-development banner, and wait for the consequent water pollution, traffic and smog to cull out the weak and careless and solve our county overpopulation problems?

I know what I'm going to do. And from the thrust of your article, I know you won't like it.

Robert J. Davey
Belen, New Mexico

The writer is president of the Valley Improvement Association.