LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - Josi Rivera, 72, and her neighbors live on the wrong side of the Rio Grande.
It's a circumstance that's caused them headaches for years. Because of it, they don't have landline phone service. The postal service doesn't deliver. And no school buses drop by every day to pick up the children.
But they said their plight has become especially problematic the last few weeks, after officials unexpectedly locked the gate to their nearest bridge across the river and into Mesilla and Las Cruces.
Their new route to school entails driving three miles across a washboard-ridden dirt road, in the opposite direction of Las Cruces, hitting N.M. Hwy. 28 between Mesilla and San Miguel and heading north, adding time and distance to the drive.
They said it wouldn't be so much of a burden if the roughly two dozen residents of the tucked-away neighborhood were all equipped with trucks to drive the route, hefty finances to pay for gas and fine health. But many of the neighbors — some of whom are related — own passenger cars, are on fixed incomes and are elderly. Some struggle with medical problems.
"We're all very, very mad about it," said Rivera, of the gate closure. It seems like "they can do with us anything they feel like."
The subdivision is located southwest of the Mesilla Dam, a structure on the Rio Grande that shunts irrigation water into canals. The locked gate is just on the west side of the dam, preventing residents from taking their typical path to reach the east side.
The reason behind the closure is that International Boundary and Water Commission, which owns the river levees, is carrying out a levee-rebuilding project, said Sally Spener, spokeswoman for the agency. Also, a natural gas company is doing work in the area. She said the IBWC recognizes that the closure is an inconvenience to residents, but she pointed out it's short-term.
"We recognize there is a temporary inconvenience in areas affected by levee construction, but the long-term benefits of increased flood protection outweigh the temporary inconvenience," she said.
The 20-mile levee reconstruction project should wrap up in a "matter of weeks," according to Spener.
The project will reduce the risk for flooding in Radium Springs, Doña Ana, Las Cruces and Mesilla, according to the IBWC.
Some neighbors said they were upset by the unexpectedness of the gate closure and said they didn't any warning.
Socorro Rivera, 51, Josi Rivera's sister-in-law, said the round-about way to Las Cruces has added time and distance to her twice-daily trip to take her daughter to school. It's 20 miles each trip, which quickly adds to the gas bill. She, too, was upset by the gate closure.
"They treat us like we don't have rights," she said.
Josi Rivera said the 22-acre subdivision was originally a property that her father bought in the 1940s. He slowly but surely cleared it of brush to turn it into a farm. Her dad died in the year 2000 at the age of 100.
Now, some of the property belongs to Josi Rivera's family members, such as her 80-year-old sister and her brother, a military veteran who has health problems, Rivera said. A 90-year-old man lives by himself in a mobile home.
Josi Rivera said she worries about the additional time it would take emergency responders to reach the neighborhood, if a problem does happen.
A final concern, according to Josi Rivera, is that property owners' tax values have been hurt because of the uncertainty about the access to the subdivision. But, she doesn't think that's fair, considering her dad worked for years to pay for the property. And, though residents continue paying taxes, they don't get much in the way of services.
"I feel like we're forgotten," she said.
Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News
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