Cibola Beacon: Heinrich Visit 'Incredibly Productive'

By:  Donald Jaramillo

CIBOLA COUNTY – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich arrived in Grants midday Monday, March 17, and was on his way out of Grants on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

“Being back in Grants and the surrounding area during the last several days was incredibly productive,” said Heinrich on Wednesday on his way out of Milan at Mount Taylor Manufacturing. “From addressing the needs of our Native communities, to public lands conservation, to keeping our promise to our veterans, to growing our area economy, I remain deeply committed to finding pragmatic solutions that benefit the people of New Mexico.”

Heinrich participated in briefings, events, and discussions from Monday to Wednesday.

On Monday, Heinrich visited with area elected officials discussing topics that were brought up during the recent election. State Rep. Ken Martinez met with Heinrich for the meeting at El Cafecito restaurant in Grants. Joining them were state Rep. Eliseo Alcon, state Sen. Clemente Sanchez, County Commission Chairman Eddie Michael, and new Mayors George Knotts and Martin “Modey” Hicks.

The leaders discussed topics such as uranium, gross receipts tax, collaboration efforts, and economic development.

Heinrich was pleased with the announcement from Michael on the new Cebolleta Fire Station, a joint effort between the County and the Pueblo of Laguna.

“That is a great,” said Heinrich. “That is a good example of communities working together.”

The group also discussed diversifying the industry in the area because the hope of uranium production in Cibola County appears to be dwindling. The current price of uranium is at about $37 per pound and in order for it to be profitable; the range discussed was from $75 to $120 per pound. “Let’s put it this way,” said Michael. “I’m convinced, we won’t see it in our lifetime.”

Heinrich brought up clean energy development. He is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and recently delivered remarks on the Senate floor as part of an all-night effort to urge action on climate change and discussed ways clean energy development can help create jobs in New Mexico.

Michael was proud to inform him of the wind farm in the northeastern part of the County and the PNM solar farm, which construction is expected to start soon.

Heinrich, an avid outdoorsman and familiar with the area’s wildlife, also casually talked hunting with all the men at the restaurant.

On Tuesday, Heinrich visited the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center and met with new El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments Superintendent Mitzi Frank and other representatives from the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.

Frank took Heinrich on a tour of Junction Cave, just off State Highway 53 in the El Malpais National Monument.

Following the visit with Frank, Heinrich visited Zuni Pueblo and Ramah Navajo Chapter.

On Wednesday, the Senator toured the Allen family’s longtime business Mount Taylor Manufacturing (MTM). The once molding manufacturing plant and wood mill now turned manufacturing plant for a variety of items including wood pellets and chips, mulch, kitty litter, and compost. The plant at one point employed 96 people. Today, it employs nearly 40.

MTM is part of a federal “stewardship” program created to restore the National Forests. Everything MTM produces is created from “low quality” trees from the Zuni Mountains. According to Matt Allen, the plant manager, approximately 3,500 acres have been harvested thus far. However, Allen said there is enough lumber in the Zuni Mountain area to keep him busy until 2021.

“Reality is,” said Allan, “if we don’t do this now, it is not if the Zuni Mountains burn, it is a matter of when and how.”

Heinrich agreed. “I am sure there are some happy elk out there now,” said the U.S. Senator. “The Allen family is utilizing the wood product from a restoration program. This is very much in line with what I support.

“This is a perfect example of how to do this right,” added Heinrich.

When asked if the United States does enough forest restoration, Heinrich answered, “No. There is not enough focus on stewardship programs.”

Allen said his company could double, or even triple, the capacity they are producing now, if he had the support.

“We know these are low-quality trees,” said Allen. “The trick is it is what we do with them.”

Heinrich said the restoration program benefits go way past the products. “It creates a healthy watershed and it is great for wildlife,” the Senator emphasized.

Anthony Pacheco, a representative from the Forest Service, said despite the fact there is no data yet for the effort in the Zuni Mountains, the restoration initiative should reduce the possibility of wildfire.

Heinrich said he was in total support of the stewardship program and MTM’s efforts.

"Traveling to all corners of the state to hear from New Mexicans about the issues they face everyday is one of the most important responsibilities I have,” Heinrich said on Wednesday as he was preparing to leave Cibola County. “My door is always open, so I encourage the community to contact my office any time if I can be of assistance."