Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

10-10 A Fort Stanton Earfull

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- For now, it appears that building 600 residential units surrounding Fort Stanton is about as likely as building them on the moon.
Fort Stanton is New Mexico's only preserved fort from the days of the Indian wars. Built in 1855, the fort has witnessed much history in its 150-years of existence.
It is a history that is worth preserving. The only problem is how to accomplish that without it continuing to be a black hole that swallows taxpayer money in big chunks.
In the 109 years since Fort Stanton was decommissioned as a military post, it has served many uses. The federal government kept it for years, using it as a tuberculosis hospital and an internment camp. Then it transferred the old fort to the state to let New Mexico try to find uses for the isolated post.
The state also used Fort Stanton for health and detention purposes. But it wasn't any better a fit than for the federal government.
Various state agencies would love to have the fort for more appropriate purposes. Among those agencies are the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Cultural Affairs Department and the state Parks Division, but they would all need a huge budget to run them.
So the state Legislature created the Fort Stanton Development Commission to investigate how to create the revenue necessary to renovate and maintain the old fort. Last week, meetings were held throughout the county to hear the commission's idea of surrounding the fort with 600 residential units.
The proposal had some supporters, but the panel also heard from community members who contended that the commission's proposal amounted to destroying the fort in order to save it.
Commission Chairman Mike Runnels, a former state lieutenant governor, now living in Ruidoso, explained that the housing proposal was only a suggestion of a method in which a public-private partnership could create a revenue stream sufficient to rebuild and maintain the fort. By the end of the week, Runnels declared the proposal dead.
So now, the commission goes back to work with the message that the $100,000 consultant it hired had better come up with more than one idea for how to create the necessary revenue.
The Governor's Office also got involved in listening to public comment during last week's hearings. Bill Hume, the governor's senior policy adviser, sat in on the hearings. You may remember Hume from the columns he wrote as the longtime editorial page editor for the Albuquerque Journal.
Hume also is well grounded in the Lincoln County War. He grew up in nearby Socorro. He visited the sites over the years and has accumulated a library of some 30-40 books on the war.
It is reassuring to see someone of Hume's caliber advising the governor on this delicate matter. Nearly any controversy in Lincoln County has the possibility of growing into something big, so it often takes some finesse to keep the lid on.
During the hearings, Runnels addressed rumors that he is an employee of Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino owner R.D. Hubbard, who already has developed two subdivisions in the area.
Stories have circulated that Hubbard wants Fort Stanton for its water rights, which he would use to build a golf course for those developments.
This isn't the first time Hubbard has been the heavy in the Lincoln County rumor mill. Last year, during the effort to dig up Billy's bones, he was quietly accused of wanting them for his Billy the Kid museum, for a Billy the Kid theme park at Fort Stanton and no telling what else.
I investigated those allegations as fully as I could and found no good evidence. Runnels, an attorney, says he is not a Hubbard employee. He says he serves on the commission because he cares about Fort Stanton.
But that won't be the end of speculation in one of our state's most interesting counties.
MON, 10-10-05

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



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