Gila Hiccup

Former Interstate Stream Commission director says group violated the state Open Meetings Act

A former director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Norman Gaume, announced Monday that he's planning to sue that agency for alleged violations of the state's Open Meetings Act, and the action might be enough to create a hiccup for a proposal to divert water from the Gila River.

In his letter to the commission that gives notice of the pending court action, Gaume says its Subcommittee on the Gila River Diversion Project has been meeting without giving public notice, without publishing its agendas, and without publishing its minutes.

The Interstate Stream Commission has had nearly ten years to decide whether or not to build a diversion on the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico.

With just a few months remaining, the commission must let the federal government know by the end of the year what New Mexico plans to do on the Gila. That is, if New Mexico will meet future water demands in four counties—Grant, Luna, Hidalgo, and Catron—through efficiency and conservation or divert the Gila's waters, build a "New Mexico Unit" of the Central Arizona Project and trade water with the Gila River Indian Community.

It's all part of a complicated water deal that dates back to the mid-20th century.

An outspoken opponent of plans to build a diversion project on the Gila, Gaume has filed Inspection of Public Records Act requests, criticized the agency's record of transparency on the Gila, called the engineering plans for diversion "flawed" and refuted the state's claims over how much water might actually be available from diversions of the river.

Now, Gaume has retained the lawfirm, Egolf + Ferlic + Day to represent him against the commission. Egolf, who is also a Democratic state congressman representing Santa Fe, says the pending lawsuit isn't related to his work as a legislator.

Egolf says he's "flabbergasted" that the subcommittee was meeting and making decisions—including issuing contracts—without ensuring its process was transparent and its meetings open to the public. "It's an amazing violation of the Open Meetings Act of monumental proportion."

He says now that the commission has been put on notice, it has 15 days to remedy the situation or respond before the complaint hits District Court.

First passed by the state Legislature in 1978, the Open Meetings Act sets the rules for how meetings involving public policies are to be conducted. It states, in part:

"This is the nuclear bomb option here," says Egolf of Gaume's notice of intent to sue. "The law is very clear."

SFR was unable to immediately reach the ISC spokesperson for comment about the allegations.

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