Las Conchas lawsuits could be costly for NM electric co-op

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Lawsuits stemming from a 2011 wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes as it raced across more than 230 square miles of northern New Mexico's Jemez Mountains could end up costing a local electric cooperative millions of dollars.

General Manager Ernest Gonzales told The Santa Fe New Mexican in a story published Sunday that it's too soon to know how much Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative will have to pay and how the costs will affect its members.

"We're still in the discovery phase," he said.

A two-year deadline has passed for plaintiffs to sue over the Las Conchas Fire, which was sparked when a tree fell onto a power line.

The co-op, Tri-State Generation and an Espanola tree service are being sued by more than 50 property owners and insurance companies over damage caused by the fire. The pueblos of Cochiti and Jemez also have filed claims against the co-op and the U.S. Forest Service. Tri-State provides power to member co-ops.

The plaintiffs blame the co-op for not keeping the power line easement clear of trees and say the tree service may have had a contract to do so. They also blame the Forest Service for not granting the co-op a wide enough easement to keep tall trees from falling onto the power lines.

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