Questa Del Rio News’ editorial team recently had the opportunity to sit down over lunch with Christian Isely and Gabriel Herrera from the Chevron Questa Project. They announced some big news. Christian has joined Chevron’s State Government Affairs Team in Santa Fe, where he will help manage Chevron’s relationships with the state legislature, state agencies, and the governor’s office. In that role, he will continue to support the Questa Project and also support Chevron’s operations statewide, including in the Permian Basin.
Gabriel is taking over Christian’s role as Chevron’s local Public Affairs Advisor for the Questa Project. He will manage Chevron’s relationships with the Village of Questa and surrounding communities along with management of Chevron’s property divestments, social investment, and local media relations. Here is a recap of our conversation:
Q: Christian, you’ve been on the Questa Project for eight years now, how do you think Questa has fared since the mine closure of 2014?
A: The Village of Questa and the community has made great progress since the mine closure. I arrived about six months after it closed. I remember the tremendous uncertainty of those times; it was a big shock. Fortunately, we had great leadership from the Village of Questa and the Questa Economic Development Fund (QEDF). Both organizations worked together on the economic development plan which set out a vision for a post-mining economy. That vision is now being realized via several projects. There is certainly a great deal of economic development going on now due to our environmental remediation of the former mine site — job creation, more business activity, increases in tax revenue. However, most of that work will end one day, likely in the 2040s. By pursuing economic diversification now, Questa will be in strong economic shape when that day finally comes.
Q: Christian, you mention several economic development projects. What projects have benefited Questa the most?
A: The ones that come to mind are completion of the business park build-out, river restoration, the Questa Del Rio News, and joint strategizing on water rights. The business park required a lot of effort but was successful in leveraging Chevron funding with state and federal resources for concrete results. The Village is now better poised to recruit businesses in addition to current tenant Taos Bakes. The restoration of trout habitat along the Red River is already a benefit for locals while serving as a draw for tourists to one of our greatest recreational assets.
I want to especially emphasize the success of the Questa Del Rio News. Not only does the paper serve as an economic development tool by celebrating Questa’s successes and improvements to our local quality of life, but it also gives the community a strong voice on some very important issues. Chevron congratulates the paper on its success and looks forward to continuing our support.
Lastly, one of those important issues is water rights. We thank the paper for covering this issue and emphasizing how important it is. Water is vital to the future of this community. Without water rights, farmers can’t develop local sustainable agriculture, the Village of Questa can’t provide its residential and commercial users the water they need, and the prospect of a strong future built on locally produced renewable energy is greatly diminished. Chevron has asked me to continue to lead on water rights advocacy in my new role. We hope to see resolution of this issue as we continue to negotiate with the New Mexico Office of State Engineer.
Q: Christian, what will you miss most about Questa?
A: The people. By far, the people. The people of Questa welcomed me from the very beginning. I can name a few folks who’ve really helped me understand the local culture and community. Malaquias Rael, Jamie Archuleta, Mark Gallegos, Louise Gallegos, and Gordon Robinson are some of the folks I’ve gotten to know professionally and as friends. Their insights have proven immensely valuable over the years. Mayor John Ortega, and village attorneys Marcus Rael and Chris DeFillippo have been great on leading economic development efforts including river restoration and green energy production.
I’ve really enjoyed working with Lou McCall at the Questa Del Rio News as they’ve covered the mine and water rights. And it has been phenomenal working with Lynn Skall at the QEDF especially on the New Mexico True Campaign and the recent acequia benefit concert. That’s just a few of many people. Questa has a strong bench of community leadership to carry it into the future. I am happy to say this is not really a “goodbye.” Although I will be based in Santa Fe, I will visit as often as I can, both in my new role and due to family ties. I am so happy to see my daughter Josefa growing up in Questa.
Q: Gabriel, we know you grew up in Questa. What would you like to share about your family, educational, and professional background? Hobbies and interests?
A: I am the son of Amos and Pauline Herrera and a proud graduate of Questa High School, class of 2002. Following high school, I received my bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of New Mexico in 2006. Later that year I returned to Questa to teach high school science. During my four years at the school, I also served as athletic director and coached the soccer team. When the mine had a layoff in 2008 the school’s population declined over the next couple years and there were not enough students to justify having three science teachers at the secondary level, so I had to move on. After a brief stint at the Questa Credit Union, I eventually took a job at the mine that was only supposed to last two weeks. In the 11 years since I have held several different positions and I am about to take on an exciting new role.
Most of my hobbies and interests involve the outdoors, which is one of the reasons I wanted to return to Questa. I enjoy hiking and have hiked just about every mountain in the Questa area, many of them several times. I hunt deer and elk in the Questa area and fish exclusively at the Rio Grande in the same spots I did with my dad growing up. My favorite hobby is gold prospecting, which is another interest I picked up from my dad. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of gold to be found in the Questa area, but it is still a great hobby, and I am already looking forward to the late spring when I can get out to do some panning.
Q: Gabriel, what are you most excited to accomplish in your new role?
A: I am excited to be more involved in the economic development and social investment efforts in my hometown. In my former roles I am proud of the projects I have overseen, such as the removal of the tailing pipeline between the former Mill and Tailing Facility and how much those projects have restored the natural beauty of the area. In my new role, I am looking forward to collaborating with the Village, QEDF, and all the other stakeholders in the community as we continue our transition from being a mining town.
Q: Gabriel, how do you see Questa in 20 years when most of the remediation work will be completed?
A: I see several of the initiatives that the Village and QEDF are currently pursuing coming to fruition over the next 20 years resulting in a more diverse economy. I think if we can take advantage of the resources, recreational opportunities, and the unique culture that Questa has to offer we can create new, good-paying jobs that will stimulate the local economy and improve the quality of life for Questeños.
Thank you Christian and Gabe for your time. We greatly appreciate each of you and are also grateful to Chevron for its commitment to the Village of Questa and surrounding communities in northern Taos County. Christian, early on, recognized the need for and importance of having a local newspaper and has been one of our greatest champions. Thank you, Christian, for all you do and good luck in your new role in the Capital. We look forward to getting to know Gabriel and continuing to cover the important topics that Chevron offers to our communities. And a special thank you for your continued support of the Questa Del Rio News.