An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

The Gauntlet

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re: correction

In the March 2002 edition of the Signpost in the Gauntlet section, we erroneously allowed the following statement to be printed. “. . . Charles Mellon, the agent listed with the county for Placitas Animal Rescue. . . .” Dr. Mellon is not now nor has he ever been an agent for Placitas Animal Rescue. He has never registered with Sandoval County or any other entity as an agent for Placitas Animal Rescue. We regret the error and offer apologies to Dr. Mellon.

Signpost Staff


re: early morning house fire

Our house did not burn to the ground, thanks to the Placitas and Algodones Volunteer Fire Departments, who came quickly and contained the fire.

It was the coldest night of the year. The cold, the smoke, the sounds and sights of fire are still in our minds. The volunteers were so helpful; even when moving and covering furniture, they took great care. Their diligence and professionalism was impressive. They arrived around 2:30 a.m. and did not leave until after 8:30 a.m., when they were sure the fire was out.

The American Red Cross also arrived early. They provided coffee and Krispy Kremes for the volunteers, and again at 6:00 a.m. provided much-needed Egg McMuffins and more coffee.

Our new neighbors, Christy and Brian Jones, helped a great deal. They stored the belongings that we took frantically from the fire. They took our two dogs, Dotty and Cyber, into their home and out of the cold. Then they made hot tea for us all at about 3:00 a.m. We are ever so thankful that they were there when we needed help.

Getting an electrician at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday could have been a real problem, but Matt Kwapich was available, which enabled us to get the heat restarted so the water pipes didn’t freeze and add to the mess. Also providing immediate help were Candy and Skip Baron. With assistance from David Van Driessche, they boarded up all the openings in the walls and roof.

To all who helped, our sincere thank-you!

—Marlene and Dean Walker


re: congratulations to firefighters for hard work


I am a lieutenant in the Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade. My name is Sal Gullo. On Sunday morning, March 3, we responded to a call. It was 3:00 a.m. and the dispatch was a house fire/chimney fire. We responded quickly with about twelve members and five pieces of apparatus.

Upon arrival at the scene we saw smoke coming out of most of the roof vents. This is an indication that the fire is developing in intensity. We set up the apparatus to flow water and made our attack. A team was sent inside to tear open the walls near the fireplace to expose the fire trapped in the walls. Another team was sent up on to the roof to open an area of the roof to allow a place for all of the superheated smoke and fire to escape. After about an hour we had the fire extinguished. The hard part to deal with is searching around walls and roof areas for the hidden hot spots. It is very important to expose all the potential hiding spots for the fire.

All in all we worked hard in the early morning hours of a Sunday morning in temperatures between fifteen and twenty degrees! Our hoses froze to the ground and had to be pilled frozen onto the trucks and brought back to the station to be thawed out!

The following letter was sent out by our chief to the members who were there to help! I too wish to extend a thank-you to those members. If you would consider placing some of this material in the next issue of the Signpost, I would be grateful.

Thank you in advance.

—Sal Gullo
Lieutenant, PVFB


Wow! We have such a great department!

I just wanted to say thanks to all who came out for Sunday morning's fire. Everyone on scene did a fantastic job and we saved a house that, in my opinion, was on the verge of being lost.

We caught the fire right before it entered the pocket roof and spread throughout the house. We did have do tear apart some walls to catch it, but the damage was minimal compared to losing the house.

I'll be honest, at one point, when the charged smoke coming from the walls was banking down to the floor and Charlie was reporting that smoke was coming from all the roof vents, I thought we had lost it. Amazingly though, we caught it in time.

As IC [Incident Commander], I was pleased with everyone's safe action. The roof team was awesome, the interior team was awesome, the support crew was awesome. Communication was excellent, all the right resources were asked for and received and we kept the home owners informed. I was glowing all day at work on Sunday (until I collapsed around 9:00 p.m. from exhaustion). I am proud of the department and the members. It was cold, icy and miserable. Thanks for getting out of bed at 3:00 a.m. and working until 8:00 a.m. to help a neighbor. I plan on checking in with the homeowners at some point in the next day or so to see how they're doing. Great job! Keep up the good work.

Chief Glow-A-Lot!
—Paul Bearce
Fire Chief, PVFB


re: Equilon’s relationship to the Olympic Pipeline accident
in Bellingham, WA

This morning, March 20, 2002, the headline in the Bellingham Herald reads, “Blast Defendants Want No Mention of Three Fatalities.” The defendants in the criminal trial for that pipeline accident are arguing that the three deaths are “irrelevant” and information about those deaths and the environmental damage that was caused would unnecessarily prejudice the jury. Since Equilon is proposing a pipeline through our community and Equilon had some involvement with the Bellingham pipeline accident, it seems appropriate to update the Placitas community with information that we recently obtained about Equilon’s relationship to the accident that resulted in those three “irrelevant” deaths.

When Equilon representatives came to meet with us in the spring of 2000, we had no idea that Equilon had been directly involved in the Bellingham accident on the Olympic pipeline. We had heard that it was a terrible accident, that three young people had been killed and that there had been a massive fireball that traveled a mile and half along Whatcom Creek in Bellingham, Washington. We had heard that the accident was the impetus behind strengthening pipeline safety laws in Congress but that was all we knew. Dick Williams of Equilon told us that, “The industry has learned a lot from Bellingham.” 

In internet searches to learn more about new laws that were being proposed we came across a City of Bellingham letter sent to the Office of Pipeline Safety that referenced Equilon. Further searches led to the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) Notice of Probable Violation assessed against Equilon for the Olympic pipeline accident. The penalty assessed was the largest in OPS history. 

We asked Equilon representatives about this and Dick Williams told us that it was a paperwork mix up and that Equilon’s relationship to Olympic was just the same as it would be if one us bought 100 shares of Coca-Cola stock. Being a shareholder wouldn’t make you liable for something that the company did. They insisted that the pipeline was operated by Olympic and that Equilon was just a shareholder.

Eventually word came out that there were several Equilon employees working at Olympic Pipeline in top management positions. Today, Equilon’s web site explains that fact by calling them “loaned employees” and continuing to assert that Equilon had no responsibility for the accident. 

On the Internet, we have recently been able to get copies of many of the documents filed in the court cases related to the accident in Seattle, Washington. It turns out that one of the parties that is accusing Equilon of having been the operator of the pipeline at the time of the accident is none other than Olympic Pipe Line Company. The Olympic civil lawsuit and the criminal lawsuit have been a useful source of information about the relationship of Equilon to the Olympic pipeline. 

The criminal indictment states that Frank Hopf, Jr., was an Equilon employee and was the highest ranking manager at Olympic Pipe Line Company. It accuses Mr. Hopf of canceling a planned excavation to remove a damaged section of the pipeline. The damage had been detected by an internal inspection device and the damage was large enough to qualify for excavation and repair. The pipeline later ruptured at that point. 

Citizens for Safe Pipelines is gravely concerned that Equilon has not been completely forthcoming about its role in that accident. Thus, we are concerned that Equilon could also be less than forthcoming about safety flaws in its pipeline through Placitas. Equilon told the community at the public meeting at the Placitas Elementary School that it would internally inspect the pipeline. Internally inspection is pointless if, when damage is discovered through inspection, the company fails to repair it. 

We recognize that pipelines are the safest method of transporting materials such as gasoline to communities all over our nation. However, when a company ignores known safety problems a pipeline stops being the safest method and becomes a hazard to which no community should be exposed.

Deaths from pipeline accidents are not “irrelevant.” They are the direct consequence of improper management. Citizens for Safe Pipelines needs your help. We need members. We need donations. We need people to come to our monthly meetings. If you would like to get involved, plan to come to a meeting. To find out when the next one will be, call Carol Parker at 867-0778 or e-mail her at Donations can be sent to Citizens for Safe Pipelines, P.O. Box 124, Placitas, NM 87043.

—Carol Parker
Citizens for Safe Pipelines