Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation that would provide $100 million in zero-interest short-term loans to communities impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire on Monday. These loans are intended to help with repairs and replacement of damaged infrastructure, which she said will empower the communities as they continue to heal from the largest blaze in New Mexico’s history. The bill passed with the emergency clause, which allows it to become effective immediately upon signing. While the federal government has taken responsibility for the fire, the money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been slow to come and spring runoff is fast approaching. Those getting these loans must have previous FEMA approval.
A bill that would provide $100 million in assistance to communities impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire to repair and replace damaged infrastructure passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday and now makes its way to the governor’s desk. SB 6 received unanimous support from the House. The $100 million of assistance will come in the form of zero-interest loans. The legislation passed the Senate last week also with unanimous support. The governor backed the bill throughout the session and praised the passage of the bill.
The Senate unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday that would provide short-term, no-interest loans to help rebuild or replace infrastructure that was damaged or destroyed during the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire or by the flooding and debris flows resulting from last year’s burn. SB 6 is sponsored by senators Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, and Liz Stefanics, D-Cerillos, as well as representatives Ambrose Castellano, D-Las Vegas, and Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde. It now heads to the House. The bill appropriates $100 million to provide these loans and, if passed, would become effective 60 days after receiving the governor’s signature. “We definitely have urgent need within the area that was adversely affected by the fires,” Campos said.
A bill that would prohibit prescribed burning during high wind, or red flag conditions, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. The committee chairman, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, was the sole opposition.
The legislation now heads to the Senate Floor. Prior to passage, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, suggested an amendment that would allow the state forester or a county or municipality to issue a notice stopping prescribed burns based on wind conditions. This was ultimately adopted. He then recommended that the sponsor, Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, bring a floor substitute to the Senate that would change the bill to eliminate section C. Section C is the portion of the bill that would ban prescribed burns on red flag days.
With questions remaining surrounding allocation of federal assistance, the communities impacted by the largest wildfire in state history are asking the legislature for $100 million to replace and repair infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the blaze. This funding would come in the form of zero-interest reimbursable loans. Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, and Reps. Ambrose Castellano, D-Las Vegas, and Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, are sponsoring SB 6 to provide that funding to the impacted communities. The bill received unanimous support from the Senate Conservation Committee and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.
By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican
A bill that would provide no-interest loans to counties, cities and municipalities struggling to pay for damage incurred during the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire is scheduled to receive its first hearing Tuesday. Senate Bill 6 would provide $100 million in loans — money one of its sponsors says is desperately needed while expected federal funds makes their way to the fire zone. Funneling state money to counties and small towns is particularly pressing amid the prospect of renewed flooding when winter snowfall melts this spring, said bill co-sponsor Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas. “We are going to have a spring runoff — that has to be addressed,” Campos said in an interview. “We will do our best to get resources to these entities as soon as possible.”
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier this week requesting assistance for New Mexico families affected by the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fires who are seeking financial relief from the federal government. “I write to you regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s current rulemaking under the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act,” the letter dated Dec. 6 states. “I am also very concerned with the lack of progress we have made recovering our environment and cultural heritage for our communities.”
The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire burned 341,735 acres. The wildfire began as a prescribed fire in April near Las Vegas.
App-based businesses such as food delivery and ride-share companies use GPS to find their customers. But the New Mexico 911 Program does not have that technology to do that yet. The Next Generation 911 is expected to bring the current analog 911 system into the 21st century. “The New Mexico 911 Program works to provide a best-in-class 911 system that facilitates efficient and reliable public safety response to best serve the communities of New Mexico,” Stephen A. Weinkauf, bureau chief of the E-911 Bureau’s Local Government Division, Department of Finance and Administration, said at a Rural Economic Opportunities Task Force meeting Nov. 21.
Enacted in March 2022, the New Mexico 911 Program was established by the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004, or the Ensuring Needed Help Arrives Near Callers Employing 911 Act of 2004, which sought to upgrade the nation’s 911 system in the post-9/11 years.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking public comment on the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act interim final rule. The public comment period runs until January 13, 2023. The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act provides compensation for victims of the fire that the U.S. Forest Service began as a prescribed burn in the Sante Fe National Forest in San Miguel County. This compensation may cover eligible losses, including personal injury, property loss, business loss or financial loss. “FEMA’s Interim Final Rule guides the claims process and describes necessary documentation, evaluation criteria and compensation available for those impacted by the fire and subsequent flooding,” A FEMA news release states.
As the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire smoldered and monsoon season rolled in, response turned from fighting the flames to trying to protect lives and property from flooding and runoff around the burn scar. Because of the size of the fire and the risks to people—post-burn flooding killed four people—methods like walking or driving the landscape to evaluate the damage weren’t feasible. “There was a big push on doing this faster than traditional methods and with more effectiveness,” Katherine Kraft, director of product strategy for Teren, said. Teren is a climate resilience analytics company that has been doing work to gather data about the burn scar. Its methods involve flights over the burn scar to gather LIDAR data that could then be used to prioritize areas for stabilization activities.