“Smart meter’ opposition continues in New Mexico

“Smart meter’ opposition continues

Written by on December 9, 2015

Public criticism over the Silver City Town Council’s dealings with new water meters swept the beginning of the regular meeting Tuesday night, before the council moved on to planning several infrastructure projects for the town’s streets and sidewalks.

About a dozen protesters wielding picket signs with “Keep Silver City smart meter free!” and “Smart meters mean higher utility bills” filled the audience. The town has, for months, been the target of criticism over its decision to install “smart water meters,” which use quick bursts of radio signal to keep town utility employees up-to-date on leaks and water usage. The town approved financing for the meters two months ago, and has been planning for the system for several years, but a growing group of opponents claim the meters cause terrible symptoms by tricking the immune system into thinking the body is ill.

Resident Rick Fox, who has been outspoken about the issue for months, said it isn’t enough for the town to trust in certain sources when others claim evidence of potential harm; they must know for a fact that there is none.

“The burden of proof that it is not harmful falls to the one taking the action,” Fox said. “This principle allows policy makers to make discretionary decisions when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking.”

Quoting a website at smartmeterblog.com, he claimed the technology in question can cause depression, chronic fatigue, and even miscarriages and cancer. Fox also said the town has a responsibility to protect its residents.

Alicia Drew has also previously spoken before the council against the meters, saying that she is a victim of the symptoms tied to the technology. She said that it isn’t that the town is ignorant of the possible negative effects — they know, but continue on regardless. She quoted Councilor Jose Ray’s past public mention of shields from the meters’ signals, and other councilors’ comments about future radio-frequency gas and electric meters potentially being “worse” as signs thereof.

“These statements prove that this municipal government is well aware of the health hazard that this particular application of man-made wireless technology creates,” Drew said.

Drew quoted from what she said were double-blind studies and physician statements that said the smart meters can cause a whole list of symptoms, many of which she suffers from today. “I tend to get a low-grade fever for 24 hours after spending just an hour in a building like this one where there is an AMR meter already installed,” she said.

Drew has spent hours informing Silver City residents of the research she has gathered which supports her claims, and said she has collected 300 signatures of residents who share her concerns.

Town officials, however, expressed confidence in their own research before making their decision more than two months ago — research that included sources they hold in higher esteem than those cited by the opponents Tuesday night.

“We have done a ton of research with actually legitimate sources,” Town Manager Alex Brown told the Daily Press during a recess at the meeting. He said some of the sources brought forth by others were less reliable.

As for the council, Mayor Mike Morones said that Brown and Assistant Town Manager James Marshall had read through “volumes of data” in their research into the safety of the meters. Councilor Lynda Aiman-Smith said that she had read “many peer-reviewed” articles on the subject herself. Both said they were absolutely confident that town staff had done their due diligence in the matter.

Despite the opposition, Brown said that the town will install 7,000 meters in all, with 1,000 of those arriving in the next two weeks. When they do arrive, Brown said staff will begin scheduling installation by neighborhood. Residents will receive a letter two weeks before their neighborhood’s installation for their information.

Opponents to PNM’s power replacement plan, which would continue operations at the San Juan coal-fired power plant, came next, criticizing the council’s decision to not approve a resolution in opposition to the plan to the Public Regulation Commission. The town would have joined Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, along with several counties, in passing such resolutions.

The town has heard opposition to PNM’s plan at meeting after meeting without acting, either via ordinance or resolution. At the Nov. 10 council meeting, Morones said that if the town were to become an intervener in the PRC case, they would have to back that up with litigation costs and further action in meetings. He felt this was too big a risk for a case that took place across the state from Silver City.

“This part of the state is served by PNM,” countered resident Ben Keeler. “We’re going to have to live with their decisions for a long time.”

He continued, saying the town didn’t have to become a legal intervener in the case to make a difference.

“I think the real hope the community I am familiar with had was that the community would be represented by the Town Council in an expression of intent, that we actually look at the power replacement plan in a real way,” he said. “I think the simplicity of our request makes it a lot more perplexing, to me.”

Andy Pain also returned to voice his displeasure at the council’s inaction. He said not wanting to become involved showed the council was fine with letting other government bodies take the lead.

“PNM uses many of its vast resources to influence the PRC, and so should we, the public,” he said. “It seems you are too trusting that the PRC will do the right thing without sending them a strong message of what you want them to do.”

He said that passing the proposed resolution at the November meeting would have simply been more public input for the PRC to consider, and would not have made the town a legal intervener.

Morones apologized that not everyone who wished to speak had time to do so, and encouraged them to submit their input in writing.

The council then got to business on several upcoming infrastructure projects for Silver City and the surrounding area. These have found funding through various state programs.

First, and closest to completion, was the recent curb and gutter installations on Camino de Suenos and Kelly Street in the Vistas de Plata subdivision, funded through a $96,000 Colonias Infrastructure grant/loan. No ordinary subdivision, Vistas de Plata is the site of an affordable-housing project undertaken by the town. Six homes already line the now stabilized streets of the neighborhood, with building lots available.

The goal of the subdivision is to both create jobs and provide housing for future employment opportunities in town.

“There will be job growth,” Morones said, “but, in the long haul, this will provide affordable housing for the labor pool that some people say is lacking here.”

Under a legislative allocation, the town also approved a project to replace sidewalks along Yankie Street and some other key streets downtown. The sidewalks will stay their signature height due to persistent, and possibly increasing, high water during summer monsoons.

“The only way we’ll adjust the height is if it is dangerous because of that height,” Brown said.

He also said town staff has plans to upgrade drainage on the streets due to their tendency to flood over the curbs during heavy rains.

The council also approved the construction of a new grit removal system to improve the wastewater treatment plant for the benefit of the town and Rosedale and Tyrone communities.

Plans to resurface Little Walnut Road; a section of College Avenue, from Cooper to E streets; and part of N.M. 15/Pinos Altos Road also moved ahead.

Owners Teresa Dahl-Bredine and Dave Crosley of Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery came away happy, with the next step completed toward their $100,000 state Local Economic Development Act grant. According to Brown, the economic development impact statement has just been finished, which anticipates the grant bringing $900,000 back into the Silver City economy over the next 10 years. The Toad is now approved as the qualifying entity for the grant, and all that’s left is for Brown to complete the project participation agreement with the parties involved. The council was full of praise.

“We always said if one entity started doing something downtown, 100 people would follow,” Ray said. “I think that is what’s happening.”

Aiman-Smith acknowledged the Toad as a good role model for other businesses.

“The opportunity for people in Silver City to expand, like Little Toad has, through the LEDA are pretty immense, given how much money is available,” Councilor Cynthia Bettison said. She encouraged other businesses to take their cue and apply.

Morones called the news the kind of motion he hoped to make when he ran for council, to help small businesses thrive here in a difficult business environment.

The council also reacted to an editorial in another newspaper that criticized the town’s absence from the 2015 Silver City Grant County Chamber of Commerce Community Awards ceremony in late November, including a photograph of the town’s empty table. On the date of the event, Bettison and Councilor Guadalupe Cano said they were at a New Mexico Municipal League training event in Santa Fe. Ray said that he was occupied at a color guard event with the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“These are planned more than a year in advance,” Cano said. The town had also already paid for the councilors’ attendance at the training.

Both Bettison and Cano apologized for their necessary absence, and praised Priscilla Lucero of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, who was named Citizen of the Year at the event.

Ray went as far as to say the newspaper owed the council an apology.

Brown announced that Town Attorney Robert Scavron had been elected president of the New Mexico Municipal Attorneys’ Association. Scavron joins Silver City Town Clerk Ann Mackie, who is president of the clerks association, and Bettison, who serves as a director for the Municipal League.

“For a town our size, in southwest New Mexico, to have that big a presence on the state level is huge,” Morones said.

Aiman-Smith encouraged residents to shop at local businesses rather than big ones this holiday season. “If we buy local during the holiday season, we get a lot more out of our money,” she said. She said in a big store, even one located in Silver City, only 12 to 15 cents of every dollar stays in the community’s economy. At a local establishment, she said, 40 to 45 cents per dollar stays here.

Benjamin Fisher may be reached at ben@scdailypress.com.

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