By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Renewable energy, economic development, water issues and veterans’ needs are a few of the discussions state and local officials held Thursday with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich during his visit to Tucumcari.
Heinrich started Thursday’s visit by climbing to the top of the North American Wind Research and Training Center’s 1.5-megawatt turbine at Mesalands Community College.
Heinrich, who serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he could not pass up an opportunity to climb the turbine, which is more than 200 feet high. Heinrich made the climb along with Mesalands wind energy personnel, as well as members of his staff.
Heinrich said climbing a working turbine gave some certainty to his efforts at extending the production tax credit.
Heinrich expressed amazement at seeing the individuals who are training to do the work and to tour an actual, functioning wind turbine.
“To stand on top of a turbine like that and be able to see the entire basin around Tucumcari, that was pretty special,” Heinrich said.
“It was really exciting to give Sen. Heinrich the opportunity to climb our wind turbine,” said Thomas Newsom, president of Mesalands. Newsom described Heinrich as a “champion and advocate for renewable energy in our country as well as a champion and advocate for rural New Mexico.”
He said for Heinrich to come out and get an inside view of a wind turbine, given the work he does with wind energy and renewable energy resources, was very important.
“We are really proud of the work that he does in Washington D.C., on behalf of all of rural New Mexico,” Newsom said.
Heinrich, a Democrat who was elected in 2012, also spent time with local and state officials talking about issues with current or potential impact on the area.
District 7 State Sen. Pat Woods said water is one of the main issues where residents of Quay County and District 7 share much concern, explaining that water is vital for the region’s economic development.
Woods informed Heinrich about one major issue facing the Arch Hurley Conservancy District: the loss of 60 percent of the water traveling in irrigation ditches to its members.
“Sen. Heinrich, I would ask that you look into possible funding availability to cover the cost of lining those irrigation ditches to prevent such a high percentage of loss,” Woods said.
Woods said being able to meet with Heinrich, even for a short time, was productive. Woods said about 50 percent of the state budget comes directly and indirectly from the federal government.
State Rep. Dennis Roch said federal funding has a great impact on the area; he cited military, behavioral health, and Medicare and Medicaid matching funds — all of which he said are critical.
Roch said one of the issues facing District 67, the state and the southwest region of the country is the lack of transmission lines for exporting renewable energy to markets that need it.
Tucumcari City Manager Jared Langenegger said he spoke with Heinrich about water issues and the city’s efforts to attract business to the area. He said it is always good to be able to speak with legislators about the issues and needs of the area.
Heinrich met with veterans during a luncheon held at the VFW Post 2528, where Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield thanked Heinrich for meeting with local and state officials and for taking time to meet with our local veterans “who the community owes so much for their bravery and service.”
Heinrich’s visit boosted local veterans’ morale, said post commander Richard Martinez, who explained that it helps when officials meet with veterans in person. The visits, he said, make veterans feel as though they have a voice and are not being overlooked.
Heinrich said he and his staff are seeking to improve health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs in an area where medical facilities are one to two hours away.
Heinrich said, “We’ve got to find better ways to meet veterans where they are and New Mexico is certainly a case study for that, in finding ways to connect veterans to service without them always having to travel such a great distance.”
He added, “There are still a lot of challenges on that front so we are going to be working on that until the system works better for these incredible people who have done so much for our country.”