By Rick Nathanson, Via ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It took the intervention of a U.S. congressman from New Mexico to get the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to clean out a long-neglected South Valley drainage ditch – even though the MRGCD claims it has been providing regular maintenance on the ditch twice a year.
At a Monday news conference in the South Valley, adjacent to the Isleta Drain, Theresa Baca, president of the Atrisco Viejo Neighborhood Association, and Patricio Dominguez, association vice president, thanked Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., for getting the project done, even though the area is not in Pearce’s district.
“I heard a very simple request from people who live in the South Valley and wanted the ditch cleaned up,” Pearce said. “I asked if they tried to meet with the conservancy district and they said they’d been trying.”
Pearce said he contacted the conservancy district and was told the ditch was no longer used for irrigation and agriculture, and was primarily now a flood control ditch.
“They said they were going to turn the ditch over to the local flood control board (Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority). I said, ‘You haven’t done that yet, it’s still yours, so let’s get it cleaned up.’”
The just completed cleanup took nearly a month and involved about 15 MRGCD employees using excavators, mowers and trucks working from Central Avenue to Blake SW, a distance of about three miles. The debris included large household appliances and furniture.
Within the 120-foot wide easements, the ditch itself is about 30- feet wide and about 12-feet deep in most places. Water flows through it year round and it is home to fish and turtles, and attracts ducks and other birds, said Jerry De Lara, a supervisor for the MRGCD in the South Valley.
De Lara said many tons of debris were removed from the ditch, though he didn’t have an exact number, and that conservancy district employees clean, mow and perform maintenance on it twice a year.
Baca, however, said the Isleta Drain has been mostly ignored and poorly maintained for decades.
The neighborhood association called upon Pearce for help because Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., in whose district the ditch lies, was unresponsive to invitations to attend a June gubernatorial candidate forum where South Valley issues were discussed. Dominguez said he sent the invitations to both Lujan Grisham’s congressional office as well as her campaign office.
“She would have been aware that the ditch cleanup was a South Valley priority if she was present or even sent a representative,” he said.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and Pearce, a Republican, are their parties’ nominees in the New Mexico race for governor.
“It’s unfortunate that this group did not reach out to the congressional office for assistance regarding this matter,” said James Hallinan, communications director with New Mexicans for Michelle. “Had they done so the congresswoman and her staff would have been able to assist them.”
Lujan Grisham has participated in more than 1,700 constituent meetings, and her congressional office has handled more than 6,000 constituent cases and responded to 350,000 contacts, he said. On the day of the forum, the congresswoman was visiting a Red Cross victim site in Eagle Nest in connection with the Ute Fire, Hallinan said.