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Decision on Sunland Park Landfill Imminent

By Tracy Dingmann

What’s going on these days in Sunland Park, N.M., home to the controversial Camino Real landfill/environmental park?

Last time we wrote, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry was scheduled to decide by Nov. 10 whether to grant the sprawling landfill a 10-year extension.

But earlier this month Curry announced that he would give himself up through Dec. 1 to issue a decision (that’s tomorrow.)

The Camino Real landfill (its owners call it an “environmental park”) sits near one of the largest aquifers in the Southwest and takes in 90 percent of its trash from Mexican maquiladoras and the nearby city of El Paso.

Many of the 13,000 people who live in Sunland Park have said they don’t want the landfill there because of concerns about health and quality of life issues for residents.

The delay in the decision has people there climbing the walls, said Sierra Club Regional Director Michael Casaus, who has spent time in the community working on the issue.

“The community is just anxiously awaiting the decision, while still living with the largest landfill in New Mexico in their backyard,” Casaus said last week.

It’s worth noting that Sunland Park fits the profile of the kind of places that historically get dumped on – 96.4 percent of residents are Hispanic and about 40 percent of residents live under the poverty line.

City Manager Drama

Meanwhile, turmoil over the landfill spread into Sunland Park’s city management.

First, city manager Jaime Aguilar, a strong supporter of the landfill, told city workers that a recent city council vote against the landfill meant the city would have close city offices on Fridays, lay off a number of city workers and reduce the remaining city workers’ salaries by 20 percent.

He also fired the city’s librarian, Luz Vargas, an outspoken landfill opponent.

Aguilar blamed the city’s alleged financial crisis on the fact that the city had breached an agreement with the landfill, meaning the landfill would no longer make royalty payments to the city.

But the city council disagreed, saying the landfill made no such payments to the city and there was no basis for Aguilar’s claims. In late September, they accepted Aguilar’s resignation and restated Vargas as librarian.

On Oct. 20, the city of Sunland Park hired former New Mexico Border Authority director Andrew Moralez to serve as new city manager.

Keep checking this spot for an update on the landfill decision – it should be happening soon.

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