Senators and Secretary of the Interior tour proposed national monument area
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The push to designate about 500,000 acres of land in Dona Ana County as a national monument could be gaining some momentum with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell touring some of the proposed sites Friday morning.
Jewell was invited to the area by Senator Martin Heinrich and Senator Tom Udall who introduced legislation for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in mid-December.
"It's clear that there's a lot that's special about this place," Jewell said after a hiking an area near Valles Canyon.
The group spent the better part of two days flying over sone of the proposed sites around Dona Ana County and exploring parts of the proposed monument.
Senator Heinrich said they hope to get the proposal moving forward out of committee.
"We're asking for a hearing and we hope to get the legislation marked up just like it was in the last congress," Heinrich said.
Jewell explained the last congress didn't designate any lands as national monuments and that's rare in the history of the country.
Both senators have touted the economic benefits a national monument would bring to the area.
A study by the Green Chamber of Commerce found the monument could bring about 90 new jobs and about $7.5 million dollars to the local economy.
Jewell said there would definitely be an impact.
"Monument designation means something," Jewell said. "It means economic activity and it means visibility and it helps put this region on the map."
But there has been some opposition to the proposal by some who argue the monument would restrict access to the lands.
As a part of their visit, the senators and the secretary held a public meeting to gauge how area residents feel about the designation.
The secretary and senators heard from hundreds of area residents both in favor and against the proposal.
"Anybody that wants to go hiking there's no roads there's nowhere to park,"said Benjamin Segovia with the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau.
Segovia also argued the amount of land the monument would take up is too much.
The proposal would make about 20 percent of lands federal under the bill.
"It's s major land grab," Segovia said. "Why are we opposed to it, cause it's excess."
There has also been opposition to the proposals by the Coalition of Border Sheriff's.
Led by Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison, the coalition said the protection of lands along the border would affect patrols by the department.
However, Udall received a letter by the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection saying that the proposal would actually enhance their ability to protect the border.
Now it's up to congress to pass the legislation or up to President Obama to designate the land a national monument under the Antiquities Act.