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County addresses workforce camps, RV parks

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Louis Jaramillo, Chaves County Planning and Zoning director. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

After many months of effort, Chaves County now has provisions for workforce camps and recreational vehicle (RV) parks on its books.

The new sections to the Chaves County Zoning Ordinance are meant to prepare for an expected increase of temporary workers in the county due to the oil and gas activity in Lea and Eddy counties, according to Louis Jaramillo, Planning and Zoning director.

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the adoption of Article 21 and Article 22, as well as some changes in definitions in the zoning code, during its Thursday meeting.

The vote created Revision No. 10 of the county zoning ordinance.

Jaramillo began planning for the changes soon after taking his position in the summer, based on what Lea and Eddy counties have experienced in the past couple of years and on some people’s projections that oilfield jobs will continue to grow in the years ahead bringing more workers into Chaves County.

“We’ve seen that already, there are lots of people moving into those areas,” said Sheriff Mike Herrington, referring to Dexter and Hagerman. He also said that increased traffic on roads in the area and short supplies on grocery store shelves some days are indications to him that the population is increasing in Chaves County.

In Lea and Eddy counties, apartments, rental houses and hotels have filled up. RV parks and workforce camps — sometimes called man-camps and often characterized by several prefabricated buildings on lots — have sprung up as a result.

But Jaramillo said that he and his staff have visited camps and parks in Carlsbad and Artesia and found that a lack of planning and regulations sometimes have led to safety and health concerns, such as overflowing septic tanks and dirt parking areas, or entranceways that become muddy and dangerous after rains.

A New Mexico Environmental Department website shows more than 40 workforce camps that have known violations of liquid waste permits around Carlsbad and Loving.

The Chaves County zoning changes are intended to create safe, attractive and well designed camps and parks for the benefits of their residents, as well as nearby property owners, Planning and Zoning staff have indicated during meetings.

No public comment was made about the provisions during the public hearing — although public comments were made in earlier meetings — and the commissioners asked for only a couple of minor changes concerning the definitions.

Prior to the commissioners’ vote, the articles and definitions were presented to the Chaves County Planning and Zoning Commission. After five meetings from August to December, the commission recommended the articles and definitions to the Board of Commissioners for its consideration.

Similar additions are proposed for the Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Zoning Ordinance, which governs properties inside the county but within about 2 miles of the Roswell city limits. The ETZ Commission recommended adoption of the new material on Oct. 15, and those sections will now go for final approval to the ETZ Authority, which includes members of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners and the Roswell City Council.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.