Patriotic Stop on the Mother Road
Originally published January 22, 2014
Gallup was settled 31 years before New Mexico became the nation's 47th state. Photos by Jeanne LaBella.
Rand McNally last October named Gallup, N.M., “the most patriotic small town in America.” The designation, part of the map company’s annual Best of the Road awards, prompted Mayor Jackie McKinney to purchase red, white and blue shirts for all city employees to wear one Friday a month throughout the year. The city also installed signs announcing the honor at 168 locations along the main thoroughfares, Aztec Ave., Highway 491 and the iconic Route 66.
Known as the primary destination for trading Native American artifacts—jewelry, rugs, pottery and other artwork—Gallup sits near the New Mexico-Arizona border, surrounded by the Navajo Nation and other Native American reservations. The town honors the people who occupied the North American continent before European settlers arrived. It also honors veterans who served the United States in wars dating back to the Spanish American War. The Navajo Code Talkers, vital to U.S. intelligence during World War II, and Hiroshi Miyamura, a veteran and POW during the Korean War, are local heroes.
Water is the dominant concern for Gallup Joint Utilities, the municipally owned electric, water, wastewater and solid waste utility. Throughout his 28-year career at the utility, Lance Allgood has worked on the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project, a project with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to assure a reliable supply of potable water for Gallup and its surroundings.
“The first mention of the project in the Federal Register was the year before I was born, in 1958,” Allgood said. The project was discussed for decades and finally authorized by Congress in 2009, with enactment of Public Law 111-11. Construction is underway and is expected to be completed in 2025. The project will divert 37,000 acre-feet of water annually from the San Juan River and Cutter Reservoir, treat it to meet drinking water quality standards, and deliver it to Gallup and surrounding communities through 260 miles of pipelines and 24 pumping stations.
The $1 billion project is probably the largest capital project in New Mexico, Allgood said. The federal and state governments are contributing to the project; the city must pay $85 million, including interest.
“That’s well over the city’s entire operating budget,” Allgood said.
Richard Matzke, left, and Lance Allgood show a map of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.
Today, Gallup and surrounding Navajo Nation communities draw their water from aquifers that have dropped as much as 200 feet over the last decade. Allgood is confident that the city’s water future is secure.
Allgood today is director of water and wastewater for Gallup Joint Utilities. Until last year, he was executive director of utilities. But the enormity of the water project required a staff expansion, leading the utility to hire Richard Matzke to head the Electric Division. Matzke came to Gallup from the municipal electric utility in Forest Grove, Ore. He brings broad electric utility experience to the New Mexico utility. He started his career at Houston Lighting & Power in 1972 and later worked for the city-owned New Braunfels Utilities in Texas. From there he went to the city-owned utility in Estes Park, Colo., before moving to Forest Grove.
His expertise positions the electric division of Gallup Joint Utilities to take on its big challenge for 2014: a new power supply contract. The utility issued a request for proposals last fall and attracted five responses. Public Service of New Mexico has been the city’s wholesale power supplier for many years; a short-term contract with the investor-owned utility expires at the end of June. At this writing, Gallup is negotiating with it top-ranked bidder, Continental Divide Electric Cooperative. If negotiations are successful, the utility will present a contract to City Council for consideration, Matzke said. He hopes to win council approval of a contract in March.
Matzke also brings to Gallup experience with energy efficiency and net metering programs. For the last three decades, utilities in the Northwest have been directed to turn to conservation and energy efficiency first when adding power supply resources. Formal energy efficiency programs have been low key in Gallup, but Matzke expects to begin rolling out small projects, perhaps starting with Energy Star appliance rebate programs.
A local nonprofit group, Gallup Solar, is working with elected officials, the utility and businesses to bring solar energy to the city. As the group’s success grows, the utility is addressing compensation arrangements with customers who install solar generation on their homes or businesses. Net-metering agreements, under which the utility would compensate a customer whose solar generation exceeded customer-site needs, are risky, Allgood said. With just a half dozen residential solar installations in the city, net metering is not harmful, he said. “On an individual basis, it’s not a big deal, but on a cumulative basis, it is a big deal.”
“We want to work on the pricing so that the ones who benefit from it are the ones who are truly paying for it,” said Matzke. “No utility can afford to buy power at retail, which is what you are doing under a net-metering arrangement.”
Avoided cost rates for owners of distributed solar generation appeal to Matzke. “I think that’s what we’re going to look at,” he said. “We want to give the supplier a fair price for solar. We don’t want to give them something for free. To me, that’s what happens when you turn the meter backwards. We’re storing electricity for them, in essence, for no cost. If we actually pay them for it, then we’ve bought it at retail. Shame on us.”
Gallup’s economy is vibrant, driven largely by tourism. Artisans on the Navajo Nation and other nearby Native American reservations bring their jewelry, rugs, pottery and other artwork to Gallup to sell. Eighty-five percent of the Native American crafts sold worldwide are traded in Gallup, according to the local Chamber of Commerce.
The city celebrates its location on historic Route 66, the 20th-century paved highway that once stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif. In his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck dubbed it “the mother road.” Route 66 was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985, but preservationists in several cities along its path celebrate the heritage of the route that was established in 1926. Route 66 in Gallup today is lined with retail shops, many selling Native American crafts. Railroad tracks parallel the old highway.
For more than 90 years, the city has hosted the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial. Every August, more than 50,000 people, including representative of 40 Native American tribes, gather in Gallup to celebrate their culture. The week’s events include rodeo competitions, dancing, art exhibits and parades.
The city hosts an international film festival, featuring Native American films, every year in the fall. Each December, the Red Rock Balloon Fiesta, North America’s second-largest hot air balloon festival, takes place in the state park on the edge of town.
Gallup was established in 1881, 31 years before New Mexico became the 47th state in the union. The town developed because of the railroad and mining. More than 100 trains pass through Gallup each day on the tracks that parallel old Route 66.
“Our name is derived from the person who was the paymaster – his name was Gallup,” said Allgood. “When railroad and mine workers went to get their pay, they would say, ‘Let’s go see Gallup.’”
Today, the phrase lives on—but it’s tourists spending money, not laborers collecting their pay.
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