Finding Balance

Recently, two quite different groups have asked me to write articles regarding local events. One project is a report on a fun activity of the local amateur “ham” radio (ARES) community in which, on Sunday, June 23rd similar groups all around the country compete to see which one can make the highest number of successful radio contacts, from a field location and “off the grid” of power supply to the radios. San Miguel ARES will be up in the Rockies, above the village of Pecos, running radios off solar panels. ARES functions as a network of radio operators who provide backup communications in emergencies. The San Miguel group coordinates with the county’s Office of Emergency Management, to assure communications in case of wild fires or other catastrophes, more of which seem all but certain to affect us in the near future. The group provided invaluable communication service already, for the Pecos/Tres Lagunas fire. Its members are part of the county emergency planning effort, addressing in particular the concern that a wildfire in the Gallinas watershed could contaminate the water supply to the City of Las Vegas (NM, not NV!) for years to come. The Pecos wildfire (now close to complete containment) came near enough to cause a separate fire-fighting crew to be assigned to protect the watershed.

My second writing project is an essay about the impact on local farmers of the drought, and the seeming failure by the Las Vegas City Council to respond to the threat of severe water shortage. “We won’t run out of water, we never have,” as one councilman put it. Well, we’ve never been in such a severely depleted water situation at this time of year, either. Less than one inch of moisture (including the rain in early June) since the start of 2013.

The group asking for the water story began as an anti-fracking coalition in San Miguel County. I live a short mile from the border between San Miguel and Mora counties. Mora, one of the poorest counties in the state of New Mexico – one of the poorest, probably, in the nation – has recently made a name for itself by passing an outright ban on all fracking activity within its borders, despite a state law that grants oil and gas exploration extraordinary freedoms.

The San Miguel group has begun to morph into a broader coalition intent on protecting water, air and earth. It includes some of the area’s historic ‘rabble-rousers’ intent on overcoming apathy and implementing needed environmental and social protections. They have a challenging task, given the historical perspective reflected not only by the city councilman, but by the populace of the region as a whole. When you live in an area so poor that economic recession in the larger scope of the nation goes relatively unnoticed (not even the Great Depression had much impact on daily life in this area), a survivor mentality takes hold. Little is perceived as likely to alter ‘how things are’ unless or until the threat becomes so immediate (as with the effects fracking would have on Mora County) that it becomes tangible in enough lives for there to be a protest.

When groups face seeming unconcern, they tend to take a confrontational approach. Understandable, though not necessarily the route with the best chance of success. I spent the better part of a day going line by line through a twenty-plus page document, the proposed Oil and Gas Regulation for San Miguel County, finding every place where the wording was inadequate and needed to be changed in order to prevent fracking from destroying my home environment. I provided appropriate alternate wording in my edit. I handed out written copies of my work, and it took me every second of my allotted fifteen minutes of testimony to the County Commission, to specify all the changes the proposed law needs. It did not feel good to be told, by an anti-fracking group member as I stepped away from the podium, that “all I was doing was rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”

That person’s insistence that only an outright ban like the one in Mora County, was an acceptable decision, probably represents her belief that nothing short of blunt confrontation will “work” to bring about change. I, on the other hand, tend to look for a middle ground, a compromise, which achieves protections and feels like a ‘win’ for both sides. I’ve been trained that way, and perhaps – as a Libra – already oriented that way from birth. It remains to be seen, in what is shaping up to be a serious legal battle, whether Mora’s outright ban will be more or less successful than San Miguel’s pending new proposal, similar to Santa Fe County’s enacted ordinance, which tightly regulates fracking. It remains to be seen just how effective confrontational activism can be at overcoming generations – nay centuries – of a “duck your head, go quietly about your life and survive” mentality. And it remains to be seen how quickly the small San Miguel ARES group can again organize itself to be of service in an upcoming crisis.

What is certain is that both groups are addressing a serious threat to the safety and well-being of all of us in this area. I saved my home from wildfire in 2001, when we had our own conflagration, without resources to help us fight it because those resources were all focused on the larger fire around Los Alamos, burning at the same time. With power turned off, so wells were unavailable, all of us neighbors used what we had -two backhoes and a grader, rakes, shovels and huge amounts of energy – to prevent the fire from reaching a 5000 gallon propane tank. Four homes and a barn were lost, but a wider community of twenty or more families was saved.

What is equally certain is that finding a balance between wants and needs, between gaining income and saving a rural lifestyle, between “the big guys and the little guys”, between confrontation and concession, between use of or destruction of the water, air and earth upon which we all depend – finding balance is essential.

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2 Responses to “Finding Balance”

  1. Ron Maltais Says:

    I agree that finding a middle ground is probably better in the long run in matters such as oil and gas development which can be highly charged. Compromises are not usually easy, but they are often necessary. In my heart I believe people have a perfect right to be emotional, confrontational and even frightened, given that actions taken in the near future could drastically change our landscape and way of southwest living as we’ve known it. .As a relative newcomer to the southwest (12 years ago) I have seen a community and state that is largely poor and powerless in terms of its resources, but on the other hand there is a tenacity in many individuals which I must admire. Personally speaking, experience has taught me much after some early adult years of trying to forge my way through life exhibiting somewhat impulsive and emotional reactions. I eventually learned from (observed) diplomatic individuals/ mentors who occasionally showed me alternate paths. Being a good listener is another life skill (usually acquired) which can lead to greater respect for individuals who have vastly different views.

    In closing it must be mentioned here that we unfortunately have a governor who is pro business and she is wielding her power for potential financial gains at the expense of the common people and the land..That is perhaps the most frightening and uncontrollable element which should be an urgent concern to us all. Add to this large worldwide corporations (such as Shell Oil) which are seemingly more powerful than ever. But we can at least hope that our governor will move on before long given her political aspirations. Small periodic successes amid occasional setbacks will hopefully replenish our strength.

    Ron Maltais

    • chelawriter Says:

      It’s always a challenge to decide when to confront and when to compromise. I find, however, that the way one confronts has a great deal to do with successful outcomes. In a Verbal Judo training program I learned many years ago, a key tool for achieving a non-violent outcome was to assure that both sides come away with something that matters to them – for example that the complainant knows he/she has been fully heard, even if an adverse decision cannot be altered. My first response to stridency is to turn it off, and I suspect the same is true of many others, especially elected officials who are bombarded with demands. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak up – just consider what will successfully get someone’s attention and cooperation.

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