Hunters will have an easier time enjoying their hobby in the popular recreation areas near Queen if a proposed ordinance gets the go-ahead from the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
Eddy County awaited approval from the governing body to clear nearly seven miles of pavement for use by all-terrain vehicle operators along New Mexico State Road 137 in Queen.
The Eddy County Public Works Department, Eddy County Sheriff’s Office, and New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) worked together to request NMDOT’s Commission authorize use of all off-road vehicles in the western Eddy County wilderness areas, wrote County Public Works Director Jason Burns in a memorandum to the Eddy County Board of County Commissioners.
Burns presented the original resolution in January to commissioners.
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“This has been a back-and-forth deal, and this is something really simple that has turned into something complicated,” he said during Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.
Burns said he and NMDOT District 2 Engineer Francisco Sanchez from Roswell drove on New Mexico 137 deciding on a start and end point for use of off-road vehicles on the paved highway that begins at U.S. Highway 285 south of Artesia and ends at the Texas state line at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Nearly seven miles of New Mexico 137 from mile marker 14.7 to mile marker 21.5 were designated for off-road vehicles, according to Burns.
He said NMDOT’s governing board postponed a number of off-road pavement requests earlier this year, and when reviewing the County’s request Burns said NMDOT lawyers found a discrepancy from the original starting and finish point which created a need for revisions.
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Burns expected approval from NMODT commissioners during a Nov. 17 meeting in Silver City.
A bill passed nearly six years ago by the New Mexico Legislature allowed local authorities and the NMDOT commission authority to pass resolutions or ordinances designating certain paved roads as open to off-road vehicle traffic, read the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website.
It is illegal to operate off-road vehicles on pavement without prior approval from local or county governments or the NMDOT commission, per Game and Fish.
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Ross Morgan, spokesperson for the Department of Game and Fish, said game wardens enforce laws helping counties and municipalities manage non-traditional traffic on those roads.
“We don’t have an issue as long as people abide with ordinances and resolutions,” he said.
Morgan said Eddy County’s proposed ordinance allows flexibility for hunters in the Queen area traveling the paved sections from one hunting spot to another.
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Eddy County approved an off-road vehicle ordinance in 2018 within paved areas of the county some two years after state approval.
Sanchez said NMDOT commissioners evaluate certain criteria when reviewing applications for off-road use, placing priority on any request from a county or municipality for route designation for off-road vehicles.
Sanchez said also heavily considered is road safety.
“One of the biggest criteria that the State Transportation Commission and NMDOT must meet or like to meet is does it meet the characteristics of the community for these recreational vehicles. Eddy County did request through the State Transportation Commission review New Mexico 137 to Queen,” he said.
The seven mile stretch of New Mexico 137 is within Eddy County’s jurisdiction.
“The problem is that law didn’t provide for state highways, and the Queen Highway is a state highway,” said Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage.
He said there are some provisions where off roaders can ride parallel to the highway and cross over the highway.
He said the off-road designation also benefits Queen residents who deposit trash in dumpsters near the Queen Volunteer Fire Department or trek from house-to-house for visits.
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“The County would like to have more of it designated but I agree with what they (commissioners) did, and you take what you can get and then see if you can get more later,” Cage said.
“It’s a great benefit to the folks up at Queen. It’s a great benefit to the recreational people riding on the trails and everything. We’re just trying to do what’s best for the citizens and visitors that are going to go up there,” he added.
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at [email protected] or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.