Donna Harris got her day in front of the Socorro County Board of Commissioners, and she wasted little time outlining the problems with the Quebradas Back Country Byway and the Pueblitos roads located east of the Rio Grande River.
Last month, Harris addressed the board during the public comments section. Her goal was to get on the county board’s agenda. Something, she says, was denied to her by the county manager and her county commissioner representative.
However, last week Harris got to speak her peace.
“Do you commissioners even travel the roads? Do get your information from the road supervisor?” Harris questioned. “I have here in my hand a little blurb regarding road maintenance from the manager’s office that says, ‘The commission bases it decisions on maintenance of roads due to high usage, high area population, types of traffic and budgetary constraints.’”
Harries noted the lack of road maintenance is bothersome. “I am the only ranch on the northwest end of the Quebradas that is a permanently occupied home. Jack Chavez, my nearest neighbor, divides his time between his ranch and his farm. He drives the road every day … sometimes twice a day when he is not in resident at the ranch. All the ranches out there are all off grid and there are no services out there.”
For 70 years, Harris was told by neighbors the road was maintained quite well. When she moved in 14 years ago it continued to be maintained quite well. “When there was a washout, all you had to do was call the problem in and it was fixed,” she said.
But four years ago, things changed. “I believe it was five years ago when the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) spent $250,000 to make it an all-weather road with the understanding that the county would maintain it – after all it is a county road,” she said. “But after all that money, the county stopped doing anything that could be called maintenance. They just knocked off the top one inch of the four-inch washboards, once a year, and called it a day.”
She compared the county’s lack of maintenance like washing your car once a year and calling it fully maintained.
“The washouts and the ditches are not taken care of at all – and they get worse every year,” she said. “Now two days after the grader came throughout, you don’t even know it.”
As she described the deplorable road conditions, she noted she and her neighbors were tired of providing free wrecker services for the people with their fancy cars, trucks and trailers who get stuck on the road. “They can’t call for help because there is no cell phone service. I don’t want to help them. Jake doesn’t want to help them. They are rude, ungrateful, and belligerent. Many are foul-mouthed and threatening. Jake and I are not young … we are not insured for that stuff. This is a dangerous and terrible liability.”
As a taxpayer, Harris said they are entitled to road service. “It’s pretty much the only service we get for our taxes … except they are not getting it.”
Harris also called out her commissioner Glen Duggins. “You said you didn’t think I should be fixing the road with my equipment. I agree, because I know Socorro County is going to pay my time, fuel, or repair bill if something happens to my equipment.”
Harris contended the county board’s decision to not take care of the road cost her more than $2,000 last fall just in repairs. “If you think dropping wheels into holes 11 inches deep and hauling loaded trailers across long stretches of deep sand that the axles drag, no matter how carefully and slowly one goes is good for equipment … you are a fool. It feels as though you could vibrate off the road into the ditch or off a cliff at any time. Our feed suppliers just cringe when we call for a load of feed.”
Harris said all she is asking for is for the county to fix the road and keep it fixed. Better yet, she said, put a sign on each end of the road that states: Minimum Maintenance Road, travel at your own risk. No cell service.
“Fed Ex used to deliver to my house, until about three and a half years ago,” she said. “Then they got stuck and had to call a wrecker. Now they refuse to come out. I have to have all my packages delivered to a city address or returned.”
Taxpayers put their trust in the county board, she said questioning whether to board has the intestinal fortitude to fix the roads. “Will you use it (power) to make Socorro County a better place or will you sit back and just watch?”
After Harris’ comments, the commissioners defended the county’s maintenance program saying the BLM is to blame for the road’s poor condition.
“It’s not our road,” said County Manager Michael Hawkes. “We’ve had an agreement with the BLM since 1982 that we will grade it once a year. But the problem is they haven’t paid us for five years.”
Commissioners noted they face an uphill battle with the BLM, most recently with the San Antonio flood control system. “It’s hard to work with BLM. They’re a federal agency,” said Hawkes. “I’m not making excuses. I’m just laying out the facts.”
The county’s maintenance department only has four graders working 1,400 miles of county roads making it difficult to grade the road more than once a year.
Commissioner Glen Duggins admitted he has had several long conversations with Harris about her road. “I’m elected and I’m here to tell you, I’m not a punching bag,” he said. “The manager was out and I was the one that requested your road to be graded last week. I did what I could.”
Harris said she appreciated Duggins’ help, and the road crew did an excellent job. Now a week later, the road is rugged and undrivable.
County Board Chairman Ray Martinez said the county is here to list to residents’ problems. Many times, he noted, he has traveled the roads throughout the county reviewing taxpayers’ complaints.
“I go out there and check the roads myself,” Martinez said. “Then I make my recommendations to the county manager. We can do a lot more, but we’re doing the best we can.”
Martinez said he’s never traveled on the road past Harris’ ranch, but if it’s as bad as she says it is, then the county should take a look at it.