JAL — Record oil production in the world’s largest oilfield strains the resources of small towns like Jal, even if swarms of workers boost gross receipts revenue.
In recent meetings, the Jal City Council, concerned about the town’s already out-of-compliance wastewater treatment plant, began considering a temporary moratorium on additional RV parks, possibly for one year.
With an estimated 5,000-6,000 people crowded onto an infrastructure initially supporting just over 2,000 residents, the town of Jal both rejoices and bemoans the current oil and gas boom.
Test wells surrounding the city’s sewage treatment plant and lagoons have been yielding higher nitrates than allowed by regulations. The New Mexico Environment Department has threatened action against the city for the violations. City manager Matt White said in a previous interview the problems seem to have been getting worse in the last five years and it will take at least three years to build a new plant.
Steven Aldridge, mayor of this southern Lea County town, explained, “We have over 700 RVs in town. That is a bunch. There’s a debate about whether they affect the wastewater treatment plant or not with the chemicals going to their black tanks.”
Meanwhile, some Jal residents hoping to cash in on the oil boom have been requesting zoning variances to allow them to establish RV parks on their property.
“That got the attention of the council,” Aldridge said. “It’s something we need to take a pause on until we get a better grip and understand where to go and how to manage it.”
Having turned the issue over to the city’s legal counsel for development of a resolution or ordinance for the council’s consideration, White said Monday no draft document had yet been delivered to him.
Aldridge said the city has a number of other infrastructure needs, such as water and roads.
“The RV question just goes along with the other issues of the activity going on down here, forcing us to face things we haven’t had to in the past,” Aldridge said. “Some people are worried that (an RV moratorium is) going to affect our GRTs (gross receipts taxes). Maybe a little, but until we can get a handle on it and figure out what affect RVs have on our wastewater treatment …” He paused without finishing the sentence.
Aldridge pointed out other communities are having similar problems.
“From what I’ve learned traveling around the state, it’s not just in Jal. A lot of rural areas are facing the same types of issues,” Aldridge said. “If you go to Monahans, Kermit, Eunice, Carlsbad, Hobbs, there are RVs everywhere. The issue isn’t particular to Jal. It is all over.”
He credited Hobbs for making inroads in the housing problem with both single family and multi-family dwellings, but noted Hobbs still has RV parks.
Newly appointed City Councilor Rene Cervantes said he’s watching the issue carefully, not yet ready to vote for or against a moratorium on RV parks.
“If the sewer system is up running and we can take more RVs, absolutely, why not?” he said. “But right now, because of the sewer issues, if it goes down, the whole city will be in trouble, including the RVs.”
White recently told the council a new wastewater treatment plant is at least three years down the road.
Cervantes pointed out the issue is touchy.
“My answer could be yes and my answer could be no. I just need to look more into it. I’m new in this,” he said. “It may be kind of hard to tell a person you can’t bring an RV in. Jal is the center of oil and traffic right now. If you travel from east Texas or Louisiana and you want to go to work, you’re not just going to put an RV out in the middle of nowhere.”
Housing remains an issue in Jal, Aldridge pointed out, but some effort is currently under way with both single family and multi-family homes under construction, in addition to another man camp and 40 more rooms at a local motel.
Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at email@example.com.