Concerns of theft and vandalism on state property in Belen

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BELEN, N.M. – A New Mexico neighborhood, once overtaken by 10-foot-tall weeds, is now overtaken by claims of vandalism and theft.

A man living nearby says the state is still neglecting this problem, and neighbors in Belen say they have had enough. 

NMDOT bought the land years ago as part of a $14.5 million project to replace the NM 109 railroad crossing and tracks in Belen. It will add new tracks to free up the road for drivers, especially first responders – but it’s taking a long time to start the project.

Neighbors say overgrown weeds on these state properties are now the least of their problems.

“You can see you know there’s another side door open over there, the garage is stripped out,” said Steven Ferguson, a concerned Belen resident. “They’ve stolen the guts out of the house panels so there’s no electricity.”

Years ago, NMDOT officials bought multiple properties on Jarales Road in Belen for a major road and railroad project – but the land remains largely untouched.

Maintenance crews contracted by the state have removed towering weeds from the properties lining Jarales, since KOB 4’s last report in September 2022. 

“These houses you could not see before they came in and cleared the weeds out. They were as high as the roof and a complete wall on some of these properties,” said Ferguson. 

But neighbors like Ferguson say it’s not enough.

“To me, they’re reactive instead of proactive on these properties. They only come out and do something when it gets reported on the news,” Ferguson said. “Since they weren’t able to keep the thieves out, there’s no longer any value in any of these houses anymore, and they continue to attract criminals.”

An NMDOT rep says the department has been proactive.

“They drive by about twice a week and check the area from for maintenance patrols. But actually, the Property Management section up in our Santa Fe office comes down multiple times a month, and actually make sure that the areas are secure, and that if anything has been damaged, or broken, that they get that boarded up as soon as possible,” said NMDOT Public Information Officer Kimberly Gallegos. 

But, when KOB 4 crews were in the neighborhood Monday, the front and side doors for multiple houses were open along with several windows exposed, revealing broken glass.  

“Several other neighbors that live closer to where most of the properties were heavily damaged, they have called the sheriff’s out in the middle of the night,” said Ferguson. 

“We haven’t had department, New Mexico Department of Transportation contact us in reference to anything going on with those properties,” said Lt. Joseph Rowland Valencia County Sheriff’s Office.

Rowland says one person has called in the last year to report suspicious activity in the neighborhood, but deputies didn’t find anything. 

A virtual public meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 5 at 6 p.m.