Every two weeks, Taos County commissioners meet to discuss and vote on county business, policies and projects. Citizens are invited to speak at the beginning of meetings, which take place at 105 Albright St. Video of the meetings are streamed live and posted on the University of New Mexico-Taos YouTube channel. Here's a rundown of some of the items discussed at the Tuesday (Feb. 6) meeting. All commissioners were present with Mark Gallegos attending by phone. For news on Holy Cross Hospital and the use of mill levy funds for payroll, see the story on page A1.
El Prado distiller's licenses OKed
All five Taos County commissioners approved a pair of liquor license applications for a craft distillery and tasting room two investors are hoping to build in El Prado off of State Road 150.
Taos residents Kristie Wang and Oliver Knight incorporated Taos High Desert Spirits in 2015 although the company will operate under the name Taos Highborn Spirits.
Wang said the distillery would annually produce 36,000 cases of whiskey and bourbon, mostly for export out of New Mexico, and would require about 2 acre-feet of water a year. An acre-foot of water equals about 325,851 gallons.
The distillery would sit on a 3.2-acre property located at 7 Gavilan Drive, El Prado. The project received a special use permit from the Taos County Planning commission in December 2016 and has the approval of the Upper Las Colonias Neighborhood Association, according to documents at the county's planning department. The liquor licenses have administrative approval from the state's Alcohol and Gaming Division. After Tuesday's approval, the application will go back to the state for final approval.
Casandra Romero, a substance abuse preventionist with Rocky Mountain Youth Corp, told the commission the distillery would be located within 1.2 miles of four other liquor outlets and that Taos County is already oversaturated with establishments that serve and sell alcohol.
Wang responded to the concerns by saying she and Knight are committed to both conducting their business responsibly and ensuring drinking is done responsibly. She said the tap room is "more of a marketing tool" and not "a late-night venue."
The Taos County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt an updated plan for natural disasters and other emergencies, called the Taos County All-Hazards Emergency Operations Plan. "This is basically our playbook during an emergency," said Mark Ortega with the county's emergency management department. The plan "sets up the chain of command." The plan is required to get many state and federal grants.
Taos County commissioners could consider implementing a burn ban at its next meeting. Personnel with the emergency management department are analyzing fire danger over the next couple of weeks to make a recommendation. It wouldn't affect tribal or federally held lands. As of Jan. 30, 94 percent of the state is experiencing drought conditions and snowpack in the mountains is at a record low.
Water rights protest
County Manager Leandro Cordova said commissioners will finally hear an update on the county's protest of a controversial water rights transfer at the Feb. 20 meeting.
In July, the state engineer, the top water rights administrator in New Mexico, approved a transfer of 1,752 acre-feet of groundwater rights from Top of the World Farm in Costilla to a domestic water project in Santa Fe. Those water rights account for nearly half of the water rights needed to satisfy the Aamodt Settlement, a comprehensive and complex settlement in a water rights dispute involving four pueblos, the state and non-Native American water rights holders in the Pojoaque Valley, which is south of Taos.
The commission voted in August to appeal the transfer in a district court. It has taken longer than anticipated for a contracted legal firm to coalesce and review all the Top of the World protest documents.
March meeting dates
The commission voted to change its meeting dates next month, which will now be March 13 and March 27.
-- Compiled by Cody Hooks