The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


The BLM tug of war

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 very enlightening.

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 early 1980s.

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 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.

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