tug of war
—CAROL M. PARKER, ATTORNEY, LAS
On March 1, 2007, the Las Placitas Association gravel committee
invited local managers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
to an informal discussion about the BLM land in Placitas. It was
To those not familiar with the issue, some
background information is helpful. BLM manages its lands according
to Resource Management Plans (RMPs). Those plans are like zoning
plans; they say what uses are acceptable. In preparing plans, BLM
is supposed to maintain consistency with local plans “to the
maximum extent feasible.”
The RMP that includes our area was prepared
in 1986 and decided that all BLM land in Placitas could be mined
for gravel. A 1970-era gravel mine was already operating in Placitas.
There was no inconsistency with local plans because Sandoval County
did not have a plan. In 1990, the County adopted a plan that classified
the mines on private land as “nonconforming uses.” This
term applies to pre-existing uses that may continue but are not
compatible with the residential/agricultural classification for
Placitas. Such uses may not be expanded beyond the current area
owned or leased for mining unless they receive a zone change.
To withdraw the Placitas BLM area from mining
would require an amendment or revision of the RMP. Meanwhile, Placitas
and its surroundings have changed since 1986, becoming more developed
and less rural. BLM has contributed to that change by trading large
blocks of land which were developed for residential use. The areas
known as La Mesa, Sundance and Overlook today were BLM land in the
When BLM managers met with Las Placitas Association
representatives, BLM conceded that its plan is out of step with
today’s conditions. Last year, BLM began preparing for an
amendment or revision to the Rio Puerco RMP. (Rio Puerco is the
name of our local resource area that includes Placitas.) But BLM
explained that the five thousand acres of the Placitas BLM land
is only a tiny part of the Rio Puerco planning area, which covers
nearly 900,000 acres.
BLM’s Rio Puerco planning area includes
lands near Estancia on the eastern plains, and as far west as Gallup
where BLM manages the Malpais. It includes Belen to the south and
extends farther north than Tent Rocks. The extent of the Rio Puerco
planning area can be seen at http://www.nm.blm.gov/recreation/albuquerque/rio_puerco_rec_map.htm.
Understanding the comparative size of the Placitas BLM land to the
larger Rio Puerco planning area is important in understanding BLM’s
perspectives on Placitas issues.
In preparing to revisit its RMP to possibly
amend or revise it, BLM has divided its planning area into five
units. Despite the small size of the Placitas BLM land, BLM plans
to make it a separate planning unit, Unit 5. That unit will include
the population of the Albuquerque area, but the Placitas land will
be the only BLM land in Unit 5. The reason for handling it separately
is that BLM believes it will generate by far the largest number
of comments and controversy.
Already, BLM has received formal and informal
inquiries for its Placitas land from many entities. The Placitas
Board of Realtors has asked BLM to dispose of lands for real estate
development. The Village Academy Charter School wants land to build
a school. Las Placitas Association wants the Las Huertas watershed
on BLM land protected. Lafarge wants to mine the BLM land for gravel.
The Wild Horse Association wants to make the BLM land a horse preserve.
Three individuals want to use it for cattle grazing. Oil companies
occasionally ask to drill for oil exploration. At least three Indian
pueblos have aboriginal land claims relating to this land. It’s
not hard to see that all of these uses cannot be accommodated simultaneously,
and someone is likely to be disappointed with the end result, whatever
it may be.
However, at this time, BLM does not believe
it will have money to begin the planning process for at least two
years. In the meantime, BLM plans to maintain the status quo. It
isn’t going forward with any of these ideas due to its outdated
plan. It isn’t clear how long that will continue. Las Placitas
Association will continue to monitor this issue and inform the community
as the situation evolves.