New Mexico Law Signed to Help Wildfire, Flooding Recovery

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday signed to use zero-interest loans to help local governments in the arid, Southwest state repair or replace public infrastructure damaged by wildfires or subsequent flooding.

The law follows last year's historic Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon blaze that exploded into the largest wildfire in New Mexico's recorded history.

Begun in early April as a prescribed burn by the U.S. government, it grew into a monstrous blaze that blackened more than 530 square miles (1,370 square kilometers). Hundreds of homes in northern New Mexico were lost.

A subsequent report by the U.S. Forest Service said its employees made multiple miscalculations, used inaccurate models and underestimated how dry conditions were. Experts say the resulting environmental harms will endure for decades.

Congress and President Joe Biden have approved nearly $4 billion in recovery funds. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still establishing claims offices.

The state law just signed sets aside $100 million in loans for counties, cities and municipalities to begin work on projects that could include a water treatment plant in Mora County or roads, bridges and fences in Las Vegas, where thousands of residents evacuated last spring.

"This funding will help get infrastructure rebuilt and repaired immediately, empowering our communities to continue to heal," the governor said in a tweet on Monday.

New Mexico's Department of Finance and Administration will manage the loan program.

Supporters of the legislation said earlier that state funding would go toward projects FEMA has indicated it will cover under federal guidelines. That means FEMA funds could be used by the local governments later to repay the state loans.

The U.S. Forest Service has resumed controlled burn operations nationwide after a 90-day pause to review prescribed fire policies and procedures.