This Tuesday, Curry County commissioners have a simple vote to cast: Close the Wheaton Road rail crossing on the west edge of Clovis.
Doing so means Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s proposed $15 million railyard expansion and 80 high-paying jobs bringing in $6.4 million more in annual payroll will happen and reinvigorate our economy
Plus it means that, in about two years, another sorely needed overpass will be built just west of Wheaton, at the NM Highway 467 crossing.
This is the vote that should have come out of the April 15 county commission meeting. Instead of welcoming this economic boost, BNSF was told, “Do it this way or we won’t say yes.”
The county wanted the railroad to sign a “kitchen sink” contract guaranteeing every option discussed, including tax abatement, number of new jobs and payroll, safety equipment reinstalled at railroad cost if the crossing was ever reopened, ad nauseum.
Risking capital is normal business. Compounding risk by demanding the key components be locked in this way is insulting. Most owners know business conditions can change dramatically and rapidly, and flexibility to respond immediately as company officials see fit is critical to economic survival.
Many firms would have given Curry County a one-word reply to these demands: “Goodbye.” Burlington Northern could have done that and taken its $15 million expansion and 80 high-dollar jobs elsewhere.
To Burlington Northern’s credit, it did not.
Since the April 15 vote, BNSF lawyers and executives have spent many hours trying to work out the right language for their company and investors, and for the county. We’re told the terms were worked out just last week in a private work session — not an official meeting — between city, county and state officials and the railroad. The changes will be unveiled Tuesday in what will be an important step in Curry County’s ongoing evolution of economic development.
Unless there are surprising developments, those terms need a formal stamp of approval. The county commissioners are sure to hear again from some residents living south of the tracks near Wheaton who oppose this project under the guise of preserving their property rights and safety.
The commissioners should reject those pleas and that NIMBY (not in my back yard) form of logic. If they don’t, and try to dictate to a privately owned company how it can invest in the community, undoubtedly BNSF officials won’t shake their heads and try to work things out again. We believe they will wave as they walk away.
Wouldn’t that be a shame? How many times a year does Curry County have a chance to say, “You know, we’d sure love to have you spend $15 million here and hire 80 or so of our sons and daughters to work for us for an average of $80,000 each?”
If BNSF takes this project and jobs elsewhere, how long will it be before the company moves some existing jobs here to a new locale?
Should that $38 million in annual payroll go, God help us all.
Even the Curry County commissioners.