Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

9-30 Fort Stanton

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Another Lincoln County War is brewing. This time, instead of battling over Billy the Kid's bones, the fight is about building 600 residential units on historic land surrounding Fort Stanton.
Fort Stanton was established in 1855 to protect Anglo and Hispanic settlers from marauding outlaws and Apaches. It recently cerebrated its 150th anniversary.
In 1896, the fort was decommissioned as a military post, but unlike many of New Mexico's other forts, it didn't fall into decay. Other uses were found.
In 1899, it became the first Merchant Marine hospital devoted to treating tuberculosis. In 1939, it became our nation's first World War II internment camp, taking the crew of a German cruise ship, captured by the British in Havana Harbor.
In 1950, it was converted to care for the developmentally disabled. But as community care and at-home care became the accepted form of treatment, that function faded.
When Gov. Gary Johnson took office, Fort Stanton was swiftly caught up in his first round of budget cutting. Lincoln County residents were quick to remind the governor that destroying an important economic component of that part of the county was no way to treat some of the most loyal Republicans in the state.
And Gov. Johnson was quick to grasp their point. He instructed his Economic Development Department secretary, Gary Bratcher, to search for a solution in the private sector. Bratcher used the many contacts from private industry to help determine an attractive use in that sector.
He wooed Hollywood executives to buy it for a movie set but got no takers. So it was back to the public sector. A successful camp for troubled youth was established, but it didn't use much of the facility and still was a financial drain.
When Gov. Bill Richardson took office, he identified the same problems as Gary Johnson, his predecessor. So a commission was appointed to study the situation and recommend possible revenue streams to ensure the fort's restoration and future. The commission paid a consulting firm $100,000 for that study and recommendations.
The only recommendation to come from the study was development of a 600-unit residential complex that surrounds the core of the historic area. While it is true the housing and related development does not encroach on quadrangle of main buildings, it wipes out everything else nearby.
Maybe it is the only way to pay for the estimated $30 million to restore the fort and pay the annual cost of maintenance and operations. But this site is not crumbling nor has it disappeared like most other New Mexico forts.
And it has many memories. It was taken over briefly by Confederate troops during the Civil War. Col. Kit Carson took it back. Some 25 years later, it figured prominently in the Lincoln County War. By the late 1880s, Lt. "Black Jack" Pershing served two tours of duty there. And the internment of the German cruise ship crew carries many wonderful stories.
That did not all take place within the "quadrangle." It is similar to the current effort to build a casino at Gettysburg. That's right, Gettysburg. It won't encroach on the actual battlefield, but every farmhouse within miles was involved in the battle in some way.
Maybe 600 housing units and related development is the only answer, but let's investigate some others. Maybe the movie set idea can be investigated again in light of the state's new interest in the film industry.
Some are pushing for a national monument designation. Others say there is interest across the nation among groups willing to spend money on restoration and preservation.
Other alternatives must be proposed. There is too much distrust hanging over from the Billy the Kid controversy last year. At the time there were rumors that someone wanted to get rich from Billy's bones. Now, we're hearing there is a hidden agenda behind this proposal.
Hearings in the county are being conducted this week. Make sure your feeling is heard.
FRI, 9-30-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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