“Riverwalk” ideas get thumbs down from community

by Kathleen Sloan | July 2, 2021
8 min read
The Riverwalk concept map recently presented for public comment for the first time highlighted areas of proposed commercial developent up and down the Truth or Consequences riverfront.

The City of Truth or Consequences will abandon its idea of encouraging commercial development of the riverfront—if it listens to the 30 or so community members who attended the “open house” held by city staff and the Wilson & Company engineering firm on June 24.

All the possible development concepts for Rotary Park, Ralph Edwards Park and other prime riverfront locations presented in a five-minute PowerPoint narrated by Wilson & Company Transportation Planner Paige Wolfram were wholly rejected by the open house attendees.

Wilson was hired last July by then City Manager Morris Madrid to do an economic feasibility study of riverfront development. The contract, or “task order,” was signed by Madrid on July 21, 2020.

The project’s scope of work, described in the Wilson contract, did not come before the city commission for review and discussion. The commission’s involvement was limited to approving the city’s application for a grant to fund the study on July 24, 2019, and then approving the grant award on June 10, 2020, according to commission meeting minutes and documents.

The New Mexico Finance Authority awarded the city $50,000 to prepare a “City of Truth or Consequences Riverwalk economic development plan,” and the city contributed a $10,000 cash match, all of which will go to pay Wilson & Company. The project will be closed out in late November 2021, as required by the grant.  

The Sun obtained Wilson & Company’s “task order” via an Inspection of Public Records request. The document states the study’s purpose is to “[c]apture the growing outdoor recreation market,” with the intent of assisting “the City of Truth or Consequences to properly plan future infrastructure investments and also tie into regional economic development and recreational opportunities.”

If Madrid and staff and the city commission had sounded out the community first, the grant money and engineering efforts might have been used to aid and enhance a concurrent river corridor planning project that began at the grassroots level and has built significant community support.

The citizen-led Turtleback Trails project, in contrast to Riverwalk’s intent to attract business to the river and identify the needed infrastructure expansion, is proposing to extend foot trails, build footbridges, improve or create new put-ins or take-outs for paddlers and tubers and restore the small wetlands providing habitat for birds and birdwatchers that was replaced by the creation of Rotary Park around 2008. (Read more about the history and objectives of Turtleback Trails planning effort in this Sun feature story.)

Like Turtleback Trails, Wilson & Company and city staff formed a steering committee for the Riverwalk project that has met twice—last October and this April. At the April meeting the Riverwalk steering committee was asked to comment for the first time on Wilson & Company’s concept map, which had been available to city staff since the fall of 2020, according to documents obtained by the Sun via an IPRA request. The 13 members of the steering committee include three city staff members, two local business owners and four state and regional economic development planners, among others. Note that some of the members’ names are highlighted in the attached list, with no explanation.

Several steering committee members pushed back against the study’s emphasis on “traditional real estate development,” one committee member told the Sun, but the Riverwalk concept map that was presented to the general public for the first time at the June 24 open house was only minimally changed from the fall version.

Among the Riverwalk steering committee’s suggestions was a request that Wilson & Company coordinate with the Turtleback Trails planning effort. The June 24 PowerPoint presentation dutifully incorporated numerous pictures of outdoor recreational activities, but the concept map’s top-down focus on partnering with businesses to erect restaurants, camp sites, roads, kayak rentals and other stores along the river remained unrevised.

After presenter Paige Wolfrom explained that “stakeholders” had come up with the concepts, several open house attendees asked who the stakeholders were. After the fourth query from the audience, Traci Alvarez, T or C’s community development director, grants coordinator and assistant city manager, said “16 or 17 people” had been consulted. They included herself and T or C’s Community Services Director O. J. Hechler, people from the “Village of Williamsburg and Elephant Butte and then businesses and John Masterson [owner of the Truth or Consequences Brewing Company and a leader of the Turtleback Trails project].”

The Sun submitted an IPRA request for the list of Riverwalk “stakeholders” and received instead a document naming the Riverwalk steering committee members, which did not answer the question of precisely who authored the Riverwalk concept map that the steering committee did not see until three months ago.

Wilson & Company Engineering Manager Alfredo Holguin was also present at the open house. Holguin, who has occasionally been asked to come to city commission meetings to summarize dozens of projects the company is working on as the city’s on-call engineering firm, advised the open house attendees not to compare or to confuse the Turtleback Trails and Riverwalk projects. “This is a totally separate project,” he said. “We think we can co-exist.”

Co-existence was not in the minds of anyone in the audience. Not one member of the public wanted more infrastructure to be built near the river beyond foot trails and footbridges that are closed to vehicular traffic to make it easier for hikers and runners to cross the river.

Traci Alvarez, who prepared the grant application for the Riverwalk study, did not pick up on the mood in the packed city commission chambers, where the open house was held. Alvarez confirmed the commercial impetus for the Riverwalk study, reporting that she gets many calls a week from people “wanting to build and purchase over there [across the river].” The city “needs to know if it is feasible to put in infrastructure,” she said.

The land on the east side of the river across from Rotary and Ralph Edwards parks is currently platted for a residential subdivision, according to the Wilson & Co. PowerPoint document. The city’s zoning map states the area is zoned T-1 or “transitional.” On the Riverwalk concept map, it is designated for commercial development and “opportunity areas” for recreation.

Local real estate broker Sid Bryant informed the gathering that the owner of the land is Mitch Brown. According to the Sierra County Assessor’s online parcel database, Brown’s Rio Vista Land Company LLC is based in Hawaii, where he currently lives.

Once informed that Brown’s land could be developed and that the city is considering how to provide the necessary water, sewer and electric services, the open house attendees began hammering on the undesirability and unsustainability of development across and along the river.  

T or C resident Jan Thedford said water is “scarce” and questioned how a “whole new development would affect our limited water.”

Kimberly Jewell, a popular T or C baker, said: “I’m most concerned about the hot springs.” The hot springs resource “is very limited, sacred and fragile,” she said, pointing out that the underground springs would be adversely affected by earth moving and construction on either side of the river. “This is not very well thought out,” Jewell said, noting that the hot springs and other environment issues had not been considered in Wilson & Company’s concept plan.

June Jewell, Kimberley’s daughter, said environmental concerns should be “considered first” before deciding on locations for development and businesses.

Noting that the community did not want a development similar to San Antonio’s Riverwalk, she urged Wilson & Company to listen to public input. The design should “improve the environment” and take into account not just the impact on the hot springs, but also on the Rio Grande as a migratory-bird flyway.

T or C civic activist Ariel Dougherty suggested the city purchase and preserve Brown’s land as open space and restrict the use of bridges spanning the river to foot traffic. The city’s comprehensive plan stresses in-fill development, Dougherty pointed out, not new development. She noted that T or C is still embroiled in a lawsuit with Hot Springs Land Development over the city’s failure to provide water and sewer capacity to HSLD’s holdings in the northern part of the city.

Klaus Wittern, a developer, observed that purchasing Brown’s property for preservation purposes would be expensive. Wittern asked Wolfrom if she had contacted Brown. No, Wolfrom replied, explaining that, since the study is in preliminary stages, it would be premature. Wittern said: “Then you won’t get buy-in [from Brown] for the plan.”

Pat Guerard, a relative newcomer to T or C, reported that her former state of Connecticut had let private individuals buy up most of its shorefront property, with the result that the public “can’t get to it.” She urged: “To preserve the river—now is the time.”

Linda DeMarino, executive director of MainStreet Truth or Consequences, argued that, given all the empty storefronts and vacant lots downtown and uptown, new development “should not take away from anything else.” A restaurant down by the river, serviced by a road, water and electricity, will attract other development, she said, “before you know it.” She questioned: “Do we have the infrastructure capacity for a thriving downtown and uptown and a new development?”

Writer and yoga instructor Patty Kearney summed up the prevailing sentiment of the audience when she asked: “Can you prevent any building on the other side?”

City Manager Bruce Swingle tried to assuage attendees’ fears. “It will be years before this happens, if it ever materializes. Unfortunately we are seeing negative reactions on Facebook, showing high-rise hotels, which is ridiculous.”

Wilson’s Alfredo Holguin had asked time and again of the attendees: “Any other ideas?” The repeated response was “no development.” At the end of the open house, Holquin asked the question yet again, raising doubts about whether he had taken in the audience’s utter rejection of riverfront development.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

5 thoughts on ““Riverwalk” ideas get thumbs down from community”

  1. It’s depressing to know that $60,000 was spent on the assessment. Those funds could have gone to a consultation company more in line with the town’s brand. I guess many of us are pleased to have better management in place, and that we now will have more input at these quarterly town hall meetings.

  2. I specifically asked who funded the Wilson study and the Wilson rep said it was grant funded and never mentioned the 10K that T or C put up. So glad Morris Madrid is home!

  3. Nate Maplesden

    I’ve been a resident for a mere eight years with no plans of leaving. Avid hikers, my family and I would welcome a river recreation project. As a business owner, I would be glad to see our county be more a attractive to visitors.

  4. I support very limited development on the east side of the river. The Ladder Ranch has blocked access to Turtleback Trail and, the way the economy looks, this question is mute. We should be looking at survival, not development. Food, housing, our seniors, etc. Let’s drop Wilson & Company’s planning for our future, drop tourism as our savior and develop our community to withstand what seems to be headed our way.

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