In a move that surprised both sides in the acrimonious debate over stream access, State Game Commission Chairwoman Sharon Salazar Hickey has delayed the decision on closing portions of five streams in New Mexico until Aug. 12.
Commissioners and members of the public were stunned at Hickey’s announcement. It came at the start of the commission’s first in-person meeting in a year, and both sides were expecting a decision today. Opponents of the stream closures, including NM BHA, were pleased with the delay. NM BHA had specifically asked the commission to postpone Friday’s decision until the New Mexico Supreme Court rules on the question of whether the closure regulations are constitutional. At least three times in recent years, the state Attorney General’s Office has said the regulations are not.
Representatives of the landowners who want to block the public from streams running through their property were not happy with the chairwoman’s decision to delay. “We had to go to federal court to get the commission to act,” said one. “You have a duty to act,” said another.
Hickey said her decision to postpone revolved around potential conflict of interest concerns. Her daughter is trying to get a job with the Albuquerque legal firm that is representing many of the landowners trying to shut down public access, she noted. In addition, allegations of conflict of interest have been raised about Commissioner Gail Cramer, from Mayhill. Hickey wants the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate all commissioners for potential conflicts of interest before it acts on the stream access closure applications. “There are certain matters that can’t be rushed,” she said, “and this can’t be rushed.”
The postponement gives the public more time to comment in support or opposition of the five applications – until July 29.
It also gives the New Mexico Supreme Court time to decide the fate of the lawsuit filed by NM BHA, Adobe Whitewater Club and New Mexico Wildlife Federation that seeks to strike down the stream closure regulations. That lawsuit was filed in March 2020 and a decision has been expected for months.
In the meantime, a federal magistrate in March 2021 ordered the Game Commission to follow its current regulations and decide the fate of five new stream applications within 120 days. The commission has until early September to act. If it doesn’t, it could be in violation of a federal order.
The next commission meeting is set for Aug. 12 in Santa Fe. NM BHA will keep members informed about the issue