Members of the Ruidoso Forestry Working Committee keep edging closer to some specific recommendations for changes to the village's forest management rules and a fee structure.
But they also heard during a meeting last week that the prospect of using woody material cut from lots in the community to generate power looks unlikely, because of an uncertain sufficient future stream of fuel and a relatively small energy product output.
Forestry Director Dick Cooke of the forest utilization subcommittee was told to continue refining his recommendations to present to the full committee in November when finance subcommittee members also are expected to share their recommendations.
He reported that when he met with forestry project contractors, they had no problem separating tree sections larger than 6 inches in diameter from smaller pieces, but they did see a problem with longer specified lengths such as 9 feet, Cooke said. They told him that on smaller and steep lots, they often can't move in the necessary equipment to handle safely larger cuts of wood. They preferred not go with specified larger lengths.
They contended the smaller segments would be picked up and used by somebody as firewood, Cooke said. "I don't like leaving utilization to, 'They will pick it up for firewood.' That would depend on time of year," said committee member Glen Barrow, who operates a wood shavings business in Glencoe.
The contractors also said they cannot always place the cut material on the road next to the house where the work is being performed, because some roads are narrow or there are overhead electrical lines. But Cooke said they usually find the closest wide area of road and leave it there. "As soon as they put it on our right of way, it becomes our wood, essentially," he said. "I'm open to suggestions. You're talking about a labor-intensive process."
Assessing a disposal cost before material is cut would be complicated, because part may go to a processor, some to a woodcutter and other pieces for fuel wood before the remainder is left on the road to be collected by the village, he said. The village charges based on what a landowner puts out on the street.
Subcommittee Member Jon Crunk warned that many nonresident landowners would use every loophole to avoid compliance, especially on larger lots. But the biggest challenge is the one-acre lots with no structures receiving water service. "That's where $200,000 of bills are not being paid," he said.
Barrow said a contractor such as Robby Hall, a committee member, owns the equipment to handle the larger wood segments even on small lots. Hall said many of the other contractors operate with a chainsaw and pickup truck.
Member Bart Byars said, "My concern is the property owner who wants to do it himself." Hall said a homeowner could stack forest slash in one pile and the larger 9-feet or less pieces in another pile.
"We have a finite number of operators and a significant number only have chain saws and do a significant portion of the work," Cooke said. "We shouldn't subsidize them, but I don't want to drive them out of the village by putting projects out of their reach."
Barrow countered, "At the same time, our committee (was formed) to make the system more streamlined and effective for the village."
Village Manager Debi Lee said finance committee members are working on the vacant lot problem. Without water service, the village has little leverage and cannot threaten to shut off service. It can file a lien, however. Lee said safety and efficiency are important, "But the bottom line is money. We can't be responsible and operate at a deficit."
Cooke said, "I guess the overriding thing, (the contractors) didn't really think we had that big a problem and that utilization was more than we perceived, and they thought we were trying to fix something that wasn't broke."
Hall said contractors would prefer going back to a flat compliant/noncompliant rate approach, "because there are so many beautiful trees coming off of people's lots that are compliant."
Cooke said the village received two state wildfire fuel reduction and healthy watershed grants, $98,000 for 66 acres adjacent to high school and $127,000 for 73 acres on the Wallace property north of Ruidoso. The acceptance will come up at the next village council meeting.
Committee Chairman Jim Stoddard, a village councilor, said some thought should be given ahead about how the big projects will affect the village solid waste department.
"I hope we can come up with some recommendations for (Solid Waste Director Jeff Kaplan)," Stoddard said. "I remember the last big project like that and he got slammed and the taxpayer ended up paying to haul off the (cut material)."
Cooke said any project over five acres involves a customized removal plan for better use.