In the words of Taras: I was sort of wondering if I’d make it there in time, but it turned out that there’s a time change somewhere in between, so I ended up being there an hour early. Which was fine. Sat with an older Black man by the transit center and had an amazing conversation about how wonderful it is being human.
Later, sipping a beer right next to the movie theater, and I look, and there’s Cathy Lee Crane, the maker of the movie. Man! Pure happiness. Wasn’t expecting to see her there. The movie itself was AMAZING! I mean, you know, it’s an event we see every year, so you might think what is the big deal? A good time to see friends, eat food, listen to music. See kids perform… But there was something very special about seeing all this on a BIG Screen. Everybody and everything is just so HUGE. Phillip Skinner. Adriana Zizumbo, July McLure. Sheila Bjeletich. Esquiel D’Salas… I mean, HUGE! Roberto Gutierrez. Richard Dean. And the countless riders on horses. A swarm of hoofs. A realization that this is bigger than life.
The different viewpoints in conversations about the good and the bad of having this celebration. It somehow becomes more important, more right now. This is what we’re living now; the WALL, all the senseless deaths still happening on the Border. The visuals with the music, of driving along miles of the wall, eerie without being corny, made goose bumps, seeing this big evil thing. This is my personal reaction, of course. Seeing the sculptural mariachis laying on the ground, here and there, at the Sculpture Oasis, reminding me of the Dead on Hells Highway in Arizona, crossing the border, walking for days in the desert heat with no water. A very powerful statement about how slow the changes of History.
Days later, I thought, man, it would’ve been so good to have organized a van for people from Columbus to go see this movie. Already talk of maybe being able to bring the movie to the Deming Cinema. An amazing experience! It somehow energized me so much, that I just drove home without getting a motel room. A four hour drive, and I was in bed at 3AM.
This ongoing investigation regarding this subject reveals many not known before facets and facts. It appears that the Mayor and Trustees of the Village of Columbus, NM, 88029, have taken, and continue to hold, a stance of “pooh-poohing” the Village’s and area residents’ concerns regarding the Village’s hosting a Labor Camp housing project which is ignoring the most basic of the current State of NM “Stay-in-Place” advisory to try contain the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Council Members, the Mayor, and a few residents have expressed that what they most highly value is “this is good for our local economy”. While those that are not in support of this housing project rebut with: “Dead People Don’t Spend Money; do they?”
[FYI: Gravesites in Columbus Cemetery are only $100.00. The purchase of one goes into the Villages Revenues]
The Village Council granted multiple Code Waivers: building type, lot density of the number of inhabitants limits and appearance to the new owners of these lots and portable buildings [Owners are reportedly: SLS Company, based in Galveston,Texas].
The Waivers allow these structures to be placed on lots in the center of the [previously protected] Historic District of the Village of Columbus. [Lots that historically, have helped accommodate our many visitors and horses during the annual March “Cabalgata Festival”, a Bi-National Friendship event which includes a historic re-enactment of Pancho Villa’s 1916 Raid into the US, honoring the dead from both nations memorial, and celebration of our nation’s First Aero Squadron, sponsored by our one-woman super-star show, Norma Gomez, who dedicates herself to operating our little Columbus Chamber of Commerce, an NFP organization.]
Evidently, this housing development contract with the Waivers agreements was granted during a Village Council “Special Meeting” held on Thurs. Feb. 27, 2020; that essentially nobody but the Mayor, Clerk and Council knew about, as the TOPIC of Special Meetings are almost NEVER included in these announcements.
Thus the Council’s intention to consider allowing a 40+ Unit Housing Project of really ugly, dilapidated multiple units Bunkhouses in central Columbus was NOT Posted on any of the 6 paper flyers that were posted around the Village. Nor was a notification of a Special Meeting provided to this newspaper for publication under Columbus Events [which is a free service provided by cnm-news.com ] prior to the meeting.
The border wall construction workers are NOT yet living in these BunkHouses; that is currently “on hold” until Mid-April. Yet multiple contractors and suppliers continue traveling to this site daily to erect and prepare the housing for their imminent arrival.
All without ANY Permits posted. No Electrical, Water, Construction PERMITS.
Residents don’t believe that the Council is allowed to Waive those also.
Over the past 10-12 days residents have witnessed daily travel of dozens of trucks and “BunkHouse Erection Workers” from ‘who knows where’ into central Columbus. These activities guarantee that it will now become sooner, rather than later, that the COVID-19 will be introduced into Luna County NM.
Defiant health and safety behaviors have been observed by residents over the past 10-12 days during the current State of NM “Stay-in-Place” advisory to try to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19 by these suppliers and workers who are erecting these BunkHouse buildings [now numbering 11]. There are no outdoor sinks with soap and water for hand or face washing, workers are not staying at least six feet apart, none of them are wearing any type of nose and mouth coverings or masks. They spit on the ground at will.
The BunkHouses Erection Team’s priority appears to have been to move rapidly this past week to first affix skirting around the bottom of these buildings to literally “cover-up” the fact that these units are all sitting on only stacks of intermittent concrete blocks; not on permanent foundations as is required for any non-temporary structures over 120 SQ. feet by the State of NM Building Codes. Secure additional structural anchoring of each of these buildings has not been seen to have been installed either.
The word around the Village is that “the wall’s” local federal contractor, Texas-based SLS, expects these workers to be housed here for TWO YEARS. That doesn’t sound very “temporary”; does it?
[ASIDE: Just wait until Columbus gets our infamous, high-winds gusting days of over 50/mph and one or more of these atrocities falls over. Future “Perfect Storm” conditions for multiple personal property and bodily injuries lawsuits by BunkHouse residents against the buildings’ owner.]
By this date; Feb. 27, 2020, when the Mayor and Trustees granted these Waivers; across the USA, people were becoming increasingly aware that cases of COVID-19 were rising daily via person to person contact and was now crossing state lines. The majority of the adult, literate general US populace had been following this news closely for at least the past 4 weeks since the WHO Director General declared a Public Health Emergency on January 31st.
We local “High Risk Category” of elderly folks were well aware of this topic and had been discussing on a daily basis that “CoronaVirus was probably going to spread across the US like a second flu-season, only worse”. Our health well-being anxieties were already rising about the virus. But NOT the Village of Columbus elected officials.
On Thursday eve, Feb. 27, 2020. Apparently, all they considered and valued was an “economic opportunity” for Columbus.
This COVID-19 global health scare is a temporary situation; we HOPE. But we don’t know at all “how temporary” it will be; the end is not yet in sight. WE locals are practicing the State of NM Advisory issued by Gov. Lujan Grisham in Mid-March to “Stay at Home” currently in effect March 24 through April 30th.
As of this morning of Weds. April 8th, 2020; Luna and Hidalgo Counties in NM remain with ZERO known cases of COVID-19.
Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX [our nearest “big city neighbors”] already have too many cases of COVID-19 cases. So WHY are these workers being allowed to go back and forth to these places; potentially bringing Corona Virus contaminated supplies or on themselves into our municipality and county? WHAT, if any, transmission prevention strategies are they practicing? WE can’t travel out-of-area; Why should these workers and suppliers of construction for this housing project and “The Wall” be allowed to do so at this time?
We have a very limited rural health care infrastructure. Our Columbus Volunteer Fire Dept. and EMS Ambulance services people are already using Trash Bags and are assigned and re-using ONE Mask issued to each attendant, repeatedly for over a week now when responding to calls or transporting patients intermittently to Deming; because of the Council’s prior annual budget approval of only keeping a minimal stock of PPE on hand.
The nearest small rural hospital is 35 miles away; the higher level of care hospitals in Las Cruces and El Paso are over 100 miles away.The ONLY place to get tested in Luna County is at the County Public Health Dept; which is running on shortened M-F hours; and you need to make an APPOINTMENT first if you think you have been exposed or have the beginning of the Symptoms.
Thus, we here in Columbus, Deming, and Luna County NM are ALL now being put at a much higher level of risk in being exposed to and contracting and possibly dying from COVID-19 because of the unrestricted activities of these Housing/Border Wall Construction workers being brought into Columbus at this time.
We The People have been given NO control or “say” or monitoring capacity over the activities of these new people coming back and forth into Luna County. Because “construction projects” are exempt from the “Stay-in-Place” advisory in New Mexico, and “The Wall” is considered a top priority project by the federal government.
This is OUR HOME, These workers are Uninvited Guests who are not welcome AT THIS TIME.
Some of us wonder now: Will we at LEAST get our Names with Birth and Death Dates inscribed on this now infamous, steel bollards southern border “Trump Wall” when we DIE? Will those of us who live along the southern border be honored by our government if we contract COVID-19 and subsequently Die from our lack of health care infrastructure? Will we be given posthumous medals of honor recognizing our sacrifice to our country during a nationally declared public health crisis emergency in the USA?
We are NOT asking nor “using” our health concerns about preventing the transmission of COVID-19 to STOP BUILDING “The Wall”; that is a totally SEPARATE issue.
We ARE asking to STOP/Limit the FREEDOMS of TRAVEL that these Wall associated workers have been practicing; coming and going as they please in and out of Luna County.
Or move them into a restricted housing and job site setting on the many Federal/BLM lands that are west of Columbus, where they will be working on the wall; and where they can be confined to”Stay-in-Place” there.
Here is a perfect solution: It has been related that our local “Johnson Ranch & Farmers”, a multi-generational family business who live west on Highway-9, EXACTLY where the continuation of “The Wall” construction is heading; have expressed delight with “The Wall” project and that the wall construction workers are coming to/here in Columbus.
The Johnson Family Ranch settlement leases thousands of acres, actually square miles (>200 SQ. mi.?) of US Taxpayer supported BLM lands from the federal government in both Luna and Hidalgo Counties in NM. There is access to electricity, water, cell towers, etc. on their homestead. Perhaps they would “be delighted” to host these workers on their [OUR?] federally leased lands. Then everybody would be much happier. And healthier.
We retirees and the general populace of Columbus, Deming and Luna County, NM; the majority who are living at or below the federal poverty level; We who already “get by” with so few available local services and amenities; just want to keep our chances from being devastated by COVID-19 as low as possible. We find this to be a reasonable request of our elected and appointed Local, County, State and Federal government officials to help protect us from imminent health harm.
We want and NEED to keep COVID-19 cases in Luna County, NM at Zero. With this, we are BEGGING you to either place travel and contact health prevention restrictions upon or move this “Man-Camp”.
MANY Thanks to U.S. Senator Tom Udall’s office via his special assistant, Mr. Rene’ Romo for their helping us start the ball rolling with this issue and bringing it to the foreground of national attention. Below you may find a link to our letter to them and many others from one week ago. The entire Village of Columbus Council received this letter also, and has not responded as of April 08, 2020. We find this to not only be discourteous, but negligent, in their duties of responding to public concerns. Thus, we are taking a much more aggressive stance in fighting this battle. “Friendships” be damned; Do your Jobs Trustees and Mayor of Columbus. Man Up and Respond to your Village People’s concerns.
Wednesday, April 01, 2020: COVID-19 Social Transmission Precautions in Columbus, NM vs “The Border Wall” Out-of-Area-CONSTRUCTION Workers w/photos.
“We are with you, New Mexico! We have the coronavirus here in the UK, and in Europe generally. Its spread here over the past two weeks has been exponential. It’s been a veritable explosion of infection. As your President, Mr Trump, said the other night, and European death tolls over the past few weeks confirm, “this virus is incredibly infectious”.
You must stop bringing in people from other states and countries in order to flatten the curve and prevent your health resources from being overwhelmed. Do what is right, and do what is best for the health and safety of your people. We have dear friends in your state.
The US is leading in outbreaks of the virus worldwide and on the current trajectory will soon lead in deaths as well. Now is the time for everyone to act to minimize those deaths. Shutting down all non-essential work for a few weeks, minimizing interstate mobility and taking every opportunity to maximize social distancing are essential.
In the long run, this is by far the lesser evil. The more the virus is starved of opportunities to propagate, the quicker the battle is won.”
Founding Member of Wikipedia
Freelance Journalist for The Washington Post,
Newsweek, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph (UK)
Letter sent To: Rene Romo, Special Assistant to Senator Tom Udall, State of New Mexico on Wednesday April 01, 2020 @ 15:26 MDT
Shortly after speaking with you yesterday [via your phone call with Deborah “Dev” Olliver] I took photos of these [dilapidated] ten bunkhouses set upon temporary concrete blocks foundations placed IN THE MIDDLE of the Village of Columbus on either March 27 or 28, 2020.
I went through the whole site and there are NO Permits Posted [which are required and need to be obtained in Luna and Dona Ana County Offices] for the placement of these buildings, foundations, utilities hook ups, etc. NONE.
The bunkhouses themselves are in such horrible condition that I question the ability of the owner of these portable housing units to be able to obtain local Village of Columbus Fire Dept. Inspection Safety clearance; let alone a Certificate of Occupancy [COO] from the state of NM for each of them [which IS also required by the state] as are many other permits that have not been “Grandfathered in” for prior buildings throughout NM. Construction permits required by the State of NM:http://www.rld.state.nm.us/construction/forms-applications.aspx
*We also wonder if our Mayor, Esequiel “Bruce” Salas, has sent the Village’s newly hired Code Enforcement officer to address this with the contractor. A “Stop Work” halt order should be issued IMMEDIATELY.
*We would like to know what he and our Village Council of four Trustees are aware of and what they have done to either allow or try to stop this construction project to date.
At this time in our earth’s history, with the national and global crisis of protecting ourselves from contracting and spreading COVID-19; in accordance with the current Federal Guidelines issued for everybody in the USA to continue practicing
“Social Isolation” through AT LEAST April 30, 2020: There is NO WAY our usually open and friendly populace will be welcoming to 40+ “Strangers traveling in from who knows where” to our little, rural, impoverished Village of Columbus. The nearest [lower level of care] hospital is about 35 miles away. Hospitals with higher levels of care are 85 to 100 miles away.
So far *We have ZERO cases of the Novel Corona Virus [COVID-19] in Luna County, New Mexico and; *We want to keep it that way.
*We do not think that the Federal Homeland Security project for the construction of the southern border wall, continuing from Columbus westwards toward Hachita along NM State Hwy-9; is an acute, emergent need where construction workers from out of the Luna County area need to be brought into Columbus at this time.
*We believe that “COVID-19” Health and Safety precautions takes priority over Federal Projects Construction timelines at this perilous time in protecting our citizens from this communicable diseases, that is proving to be deadly for many; especially for our high percentage of elderly residents in this area.
If in the eyes of Homeland Security, this construction timeline can not be delayed; then we suggest that they move this housing project westwards, onto Federal Lands, [of which there is plenty along Hwy-9]; in an isolated area. “The Feds” or the Contractor can bring in Generators and Water to provide the workers the utilities that they need.
But most of all, *We ask that they be RESTRICTED to their “Work Site Compound” for the entire length of time that they are contracted to work on this project while COVID-19 precautions are in effect.
This means: Put fencing around their compound. Take away their vehicle keys. Do not allow them carte blanche freedoms to go off-site while these FEDERAL COVID-19 Social Isolation protocols are in place. They can send in one or two designated persons daily to replenish their daily needs. The same one or two people, all the time. Which would limit our community’s risk to potential viral exposure by multiple out-of-area workers.
Yes, unlimited access to the Village would help boost our local economy for a few businesses in these economic challenging times; but remember: There is NO “Economic stimulus” if the populace is sick, dying or dead.
*We simply do NOT WANT people who travel back and forth to “who knows where” visiting their out-of-area friends and family during their down-time, stopping in Columbus intermittently, increasing the risks of bringing the virus here; and exposing it to one of our little Gas Station, Grocery Store or Restaurant staff.
They are PRECIOUS to us. And NOT replaceable.
Mr. Romo, Thank You and Senator Udall’s Office for ANYTHING you can do to help Stop this unnecessary “invasion” of non-local people from outside of Columbus being brought into the center of our precious Village.
[*We or *we in this email means: Many concerned citizens of Columbus.]
Very Truly Yours,
Karen Lee, [aka: k-lee] a Concerned Citizen of Columbus, NM, 88029
Sent 3.31.20 to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich
All in NM are being asked to stay at home and practice social distancing. Yet about 40 workers are being brought into Columbus (from who knows where) to work on the border wall. 10 trailers with 4 “apartments” each have been crammed into the vacant lot behind the library (so much for social distancing). These trailers will use our already stretched water and sewer systems. And the workers will crowd our stores.
These 40 workers could be bringing COVID-19 with them. The Pancho Villa State Park is closed; out-of-staters don’t come and potentially bring COVID-19 with them. Good. What about these workers? If they are from out-of-state, will they be put in quarantine as people from other states are? How can they, given their living conditions, practice social distancing? Their jobs require them to defy the stay-at-home order. Surely, these are not “essential” jobs that must be performed to sustain life. And the timing surely need not be immediate; the border with Mexico is closed.
It seems to me bringing in these workers counters everything you and the people of NM have been trying to do to slow the spread of COVID-19. I felt safe here. I no longer do.