Monday, February 7, 2011

U.S. Rep. Lujan urges Martinez to request FEMA assistance

After last week's gas outages in New Mexico, U.S. Rep. Ben Lujan, Jr is urging Gov. Susana Martinez to quickly request assistance from FEMA's Region Six. He says federal money may be able to assist individuals and small businesses.

Lujan, who spent the weekend touring his hard hit congressional district, says he saw elderly people shivering in their homes -- in Northern Taos County -- without heat waiting for crews to relight their furnaces.

At a VFW Post in Questa, he talked to veterans about their concerns regarding frozen water pipes.

Lujan told us Martinez’ State of Emergency declaration doesn’t go far enough and he's urging her administration to ask for federal aid now.

He spent the morning in the New Mexico House Energy and Natural Resources committee listening to testimony from New Mexico and El Paso Corp. officials and Martinez’ Homeland Security Secretary designate Michael Duvall and Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner.

Duvall says the state is still assessing whether it has met the monetary threshold needed to request FEMA assistance.

Gardner said the administration's first priority is getting every furnace relighted and getting the New Mexico National Guard into the field to assist technicians.

Gas utility officials told committee members they cut off service to portions of New Mexico last week because they feared of losing control over their distribution system and having uncontrolled outages across the state.

New Mexico Gas Co. Vice President Ken Oostman said customers in northern New Mexico and parts of southern New Mexico were cut off when the utility faced a rapid drop in gas pressure in its lines.

Without that, he told lawmakers, pressure would have continued to drop and uncontrolled outages would have happened in homes and businesses.

Shortly after the cutoff, Martinez declared Taos County, Santa Clara Indian Pueblo and Taos Pueblo have all officially declared a State of Emergency due to the disruption in natural gas service in Northern New Mexico that occurred on February 3, 2011.

Lujan, Jr., said FEMA can provide mobile telecommunications, operational support, life support, and power generation assets allowing on-site management of disaster and all-hazard activities.

New Mexico Gas company officials told state reps that they have pre-ordered enough gas for a new storm expected to hit the state on Tuesday and Wednesday and hope to have all remaining 21-Thousands homes without supply relight by late today or tomorrow.

They said crews have been authorized to relight substandard furnaces if they can get them to a minimum “safe state.”

Vice President and Chief Legal Council for the New Mexico Gas Company Thomas Domme told committee members that the company is setting up phone lines to expedite customer claims for damages they incurred after the supply shortage -- mostly for frozen pipes. He said he claim will have to be individually analyzed.

Domme said no serious injuries have been reported.

Visit this link for the gas relight schedule.

To file a damage claim check this link at the New Mexico Gas Company’s website.

Lujan, who extended his visit to New Mexico to attend this morning's hearing in the Roundhouse, returned to Washington, D.C. this afternoon.

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