The state Senate unanimously passed two bills to assist communities with recovery efforts following last year’s devastating wildfires.
SB 334 would help communities impacted by the Black Fire and SB 430 would help those impacted by the McBride Fire. Both bills now head to the House of Representatives.
Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, described SB 334 as a bipartisan effort to assist the communities impacted by the fire. Hemphill and Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, sponsored the bill.
Diamond said that the U.S. Forest Service did not take responsibility for the Black Fire, but she said land management decisions were a factor in the fire becoming the second largest in state history—second to the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that was burning at the same time in northern New Mexico.
Because the Forest Service did not take responsibility for the fire, the communities in Grant, Catron and Sierra counties weren’t able to receive the level of federal support for recovery efforts that the northern New Mexico communities that were impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire are eligible to receive.
“Equally devastating were the floods that came as a consequence of the wildfires,” Diamond said.
Diamond said the communities need assistance rebuilding dams and bridges and repair damaged acequias and ditches. SB 334 would provide $3 million in state funds for those efforts. Diamond said the projects have been thoroughly vetted.
“All of these projects are shovel ready and much needed in our communities that have been impacted,” she said.
Lincoln County, Ruidoso Downs and the Village of Ruidoso would receive $18.67 million in assistance through SB 430 to help with recovery efforts.
SB 430 is sponsored by Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo, and Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerillos.
Burt said the McBride Fire was devastating. He said 200 structures burned, including homes, and two people died. Water and sewer systems were damaged and four bridges now need to be replaced.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency does help communities respond to wildfires, the money can be slow to arrive and Burt said FEMA still has not “completed its commitment” to Lincoln County following the Little Bear Fire, which occurred in 2012.
“We had fires throughout the entire state this last year and it was devastating to every community that had fires,” Stefanics said.
She said the people of Lincoln County have “gone through fires over and over again.”