Albuquerque Taxpayers to Cover Costs of Downs Cleanup?

Just about a year ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued an order to the Downs at Albuquerque Inc. and EXPO New Mexico, to halt discharges of animal waste, industrial run-off and other pollutants into the Rio Grande.

The EPA formalized this order into an Administrative Order (“AO”) on April 4, 2012. On June 18, 2012, the EPA found the Downs of Albuquerque Inc. and EXPO New Mexico to be “in violation of the above-referenced AO”.

While the Downs and EXPO are responsible for this mess, it appears that the City of Albuquerque and its taxpayers may foot the bill to correct this problem. According to the EPA it was the Downs and EXPO that brought the city into the mix, in its “Plan for Elimination of CAFO Waste Discharge to Municipal Storm Water Drain” that the Downs and EXPO jointly submitted to the EPA.

Why would the city take on the costs of the Downs’ mess? And just how much might the taxpayer’s have to spend to clean up the Downs’ crap?

Perhaps it is because of the close relationship between Darren White, Jay McCleskey, and Richard Berry, Albuquerque’s mayor. Darren White endorsed Berry in the mayor’s race and was appointed chief public safety officer for the city. Berry took White’s appointment one step further, giving White complete control over APD bypassing the responsibilities in the chain of command typically given to city’s chief administrative officer.

After White stepped down from the city after involving himself at the scene of his wife’s one car accident, Jay McCleskey got White a job as a “consultant” with the Downs of Albuquerque as the Downs was in the process of submitting its response to the RFP for the 25-year racino contract. White then became the project manager on the Downs construction project (falling way behind schedule) before being named general manager of the casino despite having zero gaming or racing experience.

McCleskey ran Berry’s campaign and helped to get White installed in his position. Berry is up for re-election while the city is the worst performing metropolitan area in the country when it comes to job creation and while also facing a federal civil rights investigation.

Berry will need all the help he can get to be re-elected, especially the help of McCleskey.

McCleskey also spent a great deal of time working the media on behalf of the Downs at Albuquerque during the bidding process. Regardless of who paid McCleskey for his efforts on behalf of the Downs, there is little doubt that he helped diminish the media’s interest in covering the rigged deal.

According to the minutes of a special meeting of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (“AMAFCA”) on October 3, 2012 to discuss approaches to dealing with the Downs’ excrement, the city is currently proposing an initial expenditure of approximately $2 million dollars, the majority of which would come from bonds slated to address other drainage problems in the general area of the state fair grounds. This portion of the project would require tearing up Lomas between Louisiana and San Pedro and reducing the number of lanes available for traffic for approximately six months.

The next phase would cost the taxpayers between $12 and $14 million dollars to install new piping down to the Embudo Channel.

According to AMAFCA, the $2 million portion of the project could be greatly reduced in cost and in disruption by running the pipe through the fairgrounds rather than down Lomas. Doing that would take only 60 days and require tearing up one street on the fairgrounds property.

The $14 million portion of the project could also be greatly reduced simply by building a 30 acre-feet pond on the state fairgrounds.

However, EXPO New Mexico manager Dan Mourning objected to using state fairground’s property for either portion of the project, as it would possibly require giving up parking spaces a source of revenue for EXPO.

EXPO was willing to allow the Downs to construct its casino on existing parking spaces despite that loss of revenue.

The EPA has as of yet not approved the Downs and EXPO’s plan.

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