Online commenting is more open than 3-minute snippets

Is the opportunity for public comment on oil and gas limited, less open and transparent? Actually not.

The process is far more open than mere snippets of three-minute comments.

Is it different than what we did last year? Yes, but it actually has and is giving citizens more opportunity for input to the process.

For the last four to five months, the Citizens Working Group, which was acknowledged by the Sandoval County Commission in March, has held meetings open to the public. In addition, the CWG has gone out to the public to solicit its input.

As just one example, it held two meetings in the Cuba area in which it received input from oil and gas people and other people in the community. They’ve also meet with pueblo and tribal representatives.

On July 12, the Sandoval County Commission held a workshop in which the Citizens Working Group (now actually two groups) provided their input; New Mexico Tech made a presentation on their oil and gas and water study, and an oil and gas company presented on their perspective on the issues. The planning and zoning commissioners and county commissioners spent almost another two hours asking questions of each of the participating groups.

This four-hour-plus meeting is accessible on the county website for all to view and learn from.

The county established a way for all citizens to provide input by setting up an email address:

No one is limited to three minutes at this site. Anyone who wishes to provide their thoughts about the issues can take whatever time they like.

Each week, all the emails are published on the website for all to review.

In addition to comments, the proposed ordinances under consideration, the study by New Mexico Tech about the hydrology and petroleum geology of Sandoval County, past agenda videos and future agendas can be found at

Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald and I have been visiting with tribal leaders. So far we have met with Santa Ana, Sandia, San Felipe and Kewa tribal leaders.

The commissioners have agreed to follow-up meetings with these leaders to keep them informed as the process moves along.

On July 31, we are attending the Tri-Chapter meeting in Ojo Encino. We have reached out to other tribes and pueblos and are awaiting their response to schedule meetings.

The planning and zoning commission and county commission will listen to public comment at future meetings as an ordinance is drafted. The dates for meetings at which live public comment will be encouraged will be announced once their dates become known. 

It is estimated that these meetings including public comment will be in mid- to late October through early November. If there is a large number of people who want to speak, public comments will likely have to be limited to three minutes.

However, because of the process of meeting with citizens that will have gone before these public comment meetings and have engaged discussions of unlimited time, there is likely to be far fewer people feeling the need to speak at commission meetings.

Why? Because the process of reaching out to all the stakeholders is already proving to be more productive in getting citizens’ opinions than the mere snippets of three-minute public comments allowed at commission meetings.

Dave Heil represents District 4, which covers western Rio Rancho, on the Sandoval County Commission. He also serves as commission chairman.

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