Residents raise concern over growing crime problem near neglected NMDOT property

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BELEN, N.M. – A problem with towering weeds in a Belen neighborhood continues to grow out of control literally.

The state Transportation Department bought multiple properties near the BNSF railway years ago. It’s all for a construction project officials say won’t even start until next year.

Folks who live nearby say the state has done nothing to maintain that land in the meantime. Now, it’s overrun with weeds–some 15 feet tall–that they claim are contributing to crime in the area.

KOB 4 first brought this up more than two weeks ago. NMDOT said they were working on sending a maintenance crew, but it looks like that hasn’t happened yet.

“I haven’t seen BNSF, the Sheriff’s Department, anybody to come by even to investigate the weed problem themselves,” said Steven Ferguson a concerned Belen resident. 

NMDOT bought the land years ago for a major road and railway project, but that work won’t actually start until next summer.

“I reached out to try to get an update as to what the construction timeline might be, and I had not heard back,” said Ferguson. 

In the meantime, all that land the state bought remains untouched.

A little over two weeks ago, the tallest weeds were close to 10 feet. That’s also when the New Mexico Transportation Department told KOB 4 they were working on hiring a contractor to clear everything out.

“Not that I’m here 24 hours a day, but I’m here quite often, and nobody’s even shown up,” Ferguson said. “It’s even worse now that we spoke two weeks ago, they’re 12 to 15 feet tall now in some places.”

Ferguson says he and his neighbors worry the weeds are concealing crime.

“All the criminals that are around here come by almost nightly to break into these houses. There’s not much to break into anymore. The D.O.T. did have a contractor come out and board them up, but they tore them off and have removed doors, and broken windows. They’ve gone into the houses and are stripping out all the wire, they’ve loosened all the countertops, things are missing, there’s quite a bit of vandalism going on here,” said Ferguson. 

NMDOT says it plans to send a crew to tear the houses down in November. But Ferguson says something needs to be done now.

“This is unacceptable there- I’m sure a lot of this has been funded by the state and the federal to build this bridge. So I don’t know who’s sitting on the money and not taking care of the properties, something needs to be done,” he said. 

A spokesperson for NMDOT says the supervisor for the area is scheduling a maintenance crew to get out and clean the lots soon, but he’s low on manpower right now.

NMDOT says it plans to send some of its own maintenance crews to help out but that could take another two weeks.

Officials also say they are not aware of any new complaints submitted through their website.