Trump Admin and Village of Columbus Elected Officials focus on ‘Build The Wall’; Locals focus on CoronaVirus transmission prevention

by | Apr 8, 2020

“Man-Camp” Main Office Building set on Concrete Blocks; one of now eleven portable buildings placed “temporarily for about 2 years” without any permits on display in Columbus’s Central Historic District. There is not even one outside sink with soap and water on the site for these “Daily Strangers to Luna County” to perform handwashing upon arriving and leaving the site. Photo by k-lee 31 Mar. 2020

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 ] 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.