Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday named three new administration officials who will oversee projects funded by $3.7 billion in federal infrastructure money, with a priority of improving broadband, transportation and water systems throughout New Mexico.

The Democratic governor said the money New Mexico is receiving from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden just signed will pay for improvements the state hasn’t seen in a half-century — and that it requires strong expertise for it to be used effectively. Her appointees — Martin Chavez, Mike Hamman and Matt Schmit — are resigning from their current jobs.

“This is all about getting stuff done,” Lujan Grisham said at a news conference at the Roundhouse. “And also the opportunity to be really forward — forward about what we have in terms of a productive, positive vision for New Mexico for generations to come.”

If managed well, this is enough money to benefit all communities, including tribal, rural and poorer ones that lack access to the internet, decent roads and safe drinking water, she said.

She couldn’t give an exact timeline of when the public could expect to see projects materialize but said it would be “pretty immediate.”

Chavez, a former mayor of Albuquerque, will be the state’s infrastructure adviser and will work with communities to determine priorities for the funding. His new role began this month.

Hamman, CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, will be the state’s water adviser. He will pursue upgrades in the state’s water systems to ensure they can withstand the effects of climate change.

Hamman, who will begin in January, will coordinate development of a 50-year water plan in response to state research showing climate change’s potential dire effects in the next half-century.

Schmit, director of the Illinois Office of Broadband since 2019, will be an adviser in the new state Office of Broadband Access and Expansion. Under new legislation, Schmit will develop a three-year broadband expansion plan — beginning with rural areas that lack internet access — and will start work in December.

Chavez will be paid $143,000 a year and Hamman will receive $140,000, both as members of the Governor’s Office.

Schmit will receive $50,000 through June on a contract paid for by the legislative appropriation that is funding the new broadband office.

Lujan Grisham said the plan is to begin with the most urgent needs, such as 200 dams that are at risk of failing.

She was referring to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rating 200 of the state’s 500 dams in poor condition and warning that 170 of them could fail with deadly consequences.

A dam that deteriorated is likely to give way in a catastrophic weather event and cause loss of life and property, the governor said.

The price tag for restoring these dams is $300 million to $400 million, and the federal money will cover all the dams’ repairs, she said.

“Today is the day we talk about the people who are going to lead and support every single community across the state to make sure that isn’t something we ever have to worry about again,” Lujan Grisham said.

Chavez said national leaders have ignored the need to improve infrastructure, and it’s finally being addressed.

“It has eluded at least the last four presidents; it’s a bipartisan failure, if you will,” Chavez said. “This is the first major investment we’ve had in infrastructure in decades, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Chavez said he and the governor share a basic goal of funneling the money to projects as soon as possible, adding “it doesn’t do any good to anybody sitting in the bank.”

But he said the main reason he’s on board is because the governor has a vision of transforming the state’s infrastructure to benefit New Mexicans for many years, even generations.

“That’s what this is all about,” Chavez said.

Hamman said it’s important to focus on making the state’s water resources more resilient as a warming climate increases droughts, making an arid state even drier.

He called it a situation “of extreme concern.”

“The governor’s process for setting up the 50-year water plan ... will provide the framework for us to get our arms completely around the problems that we’re facing,” Hamman said.

It will be important to do a thorough reconnaissance of water needs and challenges in all four corners of the state because they vary in different communities, Hamman said. Combining that information with research on how climate change will be felt in different areas will help determine what projects to fund, he said.

Lujan Grisham voiced the need for equity to be built into the improvements — and none exemplified that ideal more than extending broadband to rural areas.

Schmit wasn’t present to speak about his broadband plans, but Kelly Schlegel, who will partner with him, talked about how checkered the state’s current system is.

Some kids in the state are enduring what Biden spoke of in a speech, of having to sit in a fast food parking lot to get wireless service to do their homework, Schlegel said.

New Mexico is in the bottom third of the country for providing internet access to its residents, and she would like to see it rise to the top one-third, she said, adding the long-term goal is bring internet access to every household in the state.

With this funding, the state has a chance to connect its diverse sectors and communities, which in turn will make the state more attractive to companies and institutions to move here, Schlegel said.

“But everything does have to talk to each other,” she said. “You can’t just have islands of connectivity. You gotta be able to send data and voice and communications across everything.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(15) comments

Matthew Rawlings

I wonder if they have ever thought about giving some of that money back to the people? Probably not.

John Cook

This is truly good news. We have watched the infrastructure of the entire country deteriorate for decades. At last, we have the political leadership in Washington to put federal dollars where they will do real good. Governor Lujan Grisham has a clear plan to improve New Mexico infrastructure for a generation. Brava to her! The people she has picked seem like good choices from here.

Bruce Cousins

It’s strange that the Governor didn’t appoint anyone with significant construction experience. Politicians have never been very competent at managing capital projects. Studies of a hundred years of data have shown that traditional CapEx project delivery has not had a great track record of meeting project budgets and schedules. And now both the Governor & Legislature must this opportunity needs to learn modern construction delivery strategies that deliver projects on time and within established budgets.

Mike Johnson

Key phrase: "If managed well, this is enough money to benefit all communities, including tribal, rural and poorer ones that lack access to the internet, decent roads and safe drinking water, she said." When has she or any politician in NM ever managed anything well? This will be another NM corrupt cronyism, nepotism, and partisan waste that will not benefit the common people.

John Cook

We 'common people' are plenty excited to see real improvements on the way. We are going to love it. Some of us may be sad for you.

Michael Kiley

I agree strongly with the need that Sen. Lujan has championed and now happily gets funding in Pres. Biden's Build Back Better bill. For many years, I have served in positions seriously plagued by spotty rural cell service, and I don't just mean 5g. As Director of the Colorado Emergency Medicine Conference I drove throughout the mountains and rarely found cell service. As President of the Colorado Alpine Advanced Trauma Care Project, Inc., and Paramedic and qualified Member of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group and three others, I was continually faced with no cell service or calling from the cliffs near Telluride on an fall injury and getting a Utah sheriff. Further, while delivering blood and collecting COVID tests from Ft. Defiance to Clovis, there was scant coverage. This means rural residents also do not have service, not just interstate drivers. This is a long-standing national security lacuna, and the band-aid of 911-only service does not cut it--delays for answer and uncertainty (I found calling for an accident near Carrizozo), about location make it inadequate. Thank you Joe and Ben Ray, and as for Republicans braying their political ignorance by calling public infrastructure repairs "socialism", 170 New Mexico dams threaten our lives, and Trump's plan was, 'let the states fix it'. How'd that work, red states?

Richard Reinders

I think you have the infrastructure bill and the build it better bill mixed up, when the infrastructure bill came up the Republicans along with the normal Democrats were behind it, it wasn’t until the progressive wouldn’t sign it it got delayed and Republican got tired of the in fighting amongst the Democrats. The Infrastructure bill passed eventually that is the bill that is to build internet, highways, dams and so on over the next ten years.

John Cook

Voters in New Mexico CD 2 should never, never forget that Yvette Harrell voted against this bill. She would not and never will support any bill that helps the people Mike Johnson refers to as 'common people'. We common people should remember.

Richard Reinders

Didn’t MLG remember that the Supreme Court handed her her hat on controlling fed money, hopefully the legislature is ready for round two.

Mike Johnson

I think she appointed these before she was slapped down by the Supremes. These people will be empty suits with no power.

John Cook

Good luck to you sad carpers. The Legislature and the Governor will have no trouble putting this money to excellent projects. Some of the money from the bill will be distributed directly by federal agencies. A state like New Mexico which has cooperation between the federal government, the Legislature and the Governor will do very well. The people the Governor has appointed to coordinate all these efforts will have lots of help and cooperation. We 'common people' are going to see a lot of good.

Mike Johnson

Just more incompetent political cronies on the payroll. Typical for her.

Maria Bautista

Bipartisan legislators sued and won, State Supreme Court said she does not control those funds.

Mike Johnson

Exactly, these people should just resign and go home, they have no power.

Richard Reinders

First they will sue the state to pay their employment contracts eating some of this money, has anyone added up all the annual law suit payouts from city, county an state, I curious how much wasted tax payer dollars have gone down the toilet. Not to count all the fraud loses.

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