People in one Rio Rancho neighborhood say the pond behind their homes has turned into more of a swamp over the last week.
Michael Pattin has lived in the Enclave Neighborhood for the last six years, and like Pattin, many neighbors swarmed the area for the view.
“They’re used to seeing a golf course as part of their backyard,” Pattin said.
“This is one of the things that attracted a lot of people to live here,” Kathi Lilla said.
Surrounding the Enclave neighborhood is the former golf course known as Club Rio Rancho.
Last year, Land Development 2 (LD2) purchased the property. Well known real-estate developer Josh Skarsgard manages the nearly 270-acre golf course, that includes almost nine ponds.
Skarsgard’s attorney, Becky Torres, said the prominent developer purchased the property with high hopes.
“The original plan was to leave the ponds in place thinking that a golf operator would be coming in relatively quickly,” Torres said.
However, Torres said it’s been a struggle and the process is moving slower than anticipated. She said after talking with potential golf operators, they identified a few ponds they won’t need. Torres said they wanted to drain two of the ponds before the summer heat set in.
“We were trying our best to condense the process for neighbors,” she said.
However, neighbors said the exact opposite happened. Pattin and others said they weren’t made aware of any plans until last week when they smelled dead fish.
“It’s kind of a bad odor and now there’s birds eating on them,” Pattin said.
“Every single day the smell is getting worse,” Lilla said. “I get depressed every time I come to my son’s house because something so beautiful is now going to garbage.”
There are hundreds of fish washed up on shore and floating on top of what’s left of the pond. Neighbors said they’re even relocating turtles to the Rio Grande River when they find them.
“They just drained this and didn’t even manage to transport them,” Lilla said. “My son had seen them just load up bags of dead fish.”
Torres said Skarsgard hired an environmental consultant in September to test the water once every month. She claims they never knew there was fish there because the other two ponds didn’t have any.
“Because of the water quality, they didn’t expect there to be fish. Second, the fish that were in there are gold fish and an invasive species, they’re bottom feeders so they didn’t see them,” she said.
The New Mexico Environment Department said they were made aware Skarsgard planned to drain the ponds. The department said LD2 also had a permit to do so.
Neighbors claim this isn’t the first time they’ve had concerns about the way Skarsgard is keeping up with the property.
“He should be held responsible for maintaining the property that he purchased and I feel, and I know a lot of homeowners feel, that he’s not doing that,” Pattin said.
The City of Rio Rancho sent KRQE News 13 a property maintenance plan, put into place in December with Skarsgard after neighbors complained.
In regards to the ponds, neighbors said someone should be held responsible
“Siphoning water off in the middle an old golf course, allowing that water to come close to people’s properties and leaving dead fish into the ponds for five days. How can you expect a community to back you when you can’t even take care of the little things?” Pattin said.
KRQE News 13 asked Torres if she feels LD2 handled the situation as best they could.
“We do,” she said. “We feel like we handled it the best way we could. We were in contact with the appropriate governmental agencies and in contact with the HOA.”
Torres said they’re still working on draining that last pond and they’ll be sending someone out there to clean up the dead fish.
New Mexico Game and Fish told KRQE News 13 it was also notified of neighbors’ concerns. The department said it didn’t identify any endangered species, so there is no need to step in.