An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Sandoval Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

County defends Sandoval Broadband project

The Signpost reported in December 2006 that County Commissioner Jack Thomas was so impressed by what he heard during the ninety-minute presentation by Sandoval Broadband that he gushed, “With this program, it’s jobs, it’s health care, it’s everything we need to be one of the greatest states in the union overnight.”

Dewayne Hendricks, who had just taken over as Sandoval Broadband Project CEO, told the Signpost that the county serves as the network service provider. It is up to Internet service providers in the public sector to install the proper equipment, such as a wireless tower, prior to making wireless service available to residents. After the system is up and running, Sandoval Broadband will be sold to the private sector, with the proviso that it would provide free wireless service to the county’s schools, medical facilities, and emergency service providers.

He said, “Sandoval County invested in broadband technology to correct market imbalances and to promote economic development.” Hendricks explained, “The Internet is the highway of the future, and the market has failed to provide service to many places.”

Since the “love-in” at the December County Commission meeting, Sandoval Broadband has encountered rough times, including technical difficulties and mounting criticism.

In an article entitled, “High speed slow going” in the February 11 Albuquerque Journal, Sean Olson and Rosalie Rayburn wrote that after two years and almost $3 million investment into a $9 million wireless broadband project, “The project has faced serious delays, veered from the original business and technical plans, and is now facing questions from the state auditor.”

State Auditor Hector Balderas was reportedly investigating a series of invoices, dated from January 2005 to November 2006, billing the county for a total of about $2.1 million. Several invoices for over $100,000 were signed off on by County Manager Debbie Hays, even though she has admitted that she didn’t understand the technology well enough to properly evaluate the charges. She said that will be done later by the county’s information technology specialist, and that the county is paying a fixed amount for the finished product.

Rio Rancho Journal editor Mike Hartranft wrote an editorial on March 11 entitled “Broadband project needs a reality check.” He wrote, “But more than two years into the project, the county has precious little to show for it — there have been delays, deviations from the original work plan and, more significantly, no links in the network that have been proven reliable for long periods of time. In fact, the lone private company doing business with Sandoval County Broadband cut ties with the county last month, saying its signal isn’t dependable enough to use with customers.” Hartranft concludes, “Our elected officials, rather than standing on the sidelines and cheering as they’ve tended to do during the past two years, need to start asking some tough questions about the county’s approach to the project. That means setting some specific targets and deadlines to reach them, and demanding to know why they haven’t been met.”

County Commission Chairman Don Leonard addresses the criticism in this month’s “County Line.” He told the Signpost that he has not been standing on the sidelines cheering. To the contrary, he said, “I’ve been excited to be included in this project since 2005. Our biggest mistake was not making our intentions clear to the public. People want something they can touch, smell, and feel. They are skeptical about unproven claims about the potential of technology that they don’t understand.” Leonard said that wireless connections now available at the county courthouse and tourism center, while not as good as they will be, prove that the technology will work.

Sandoval County has hired Mike Hoag to serve as full-time director of the Division of Information Technology. He provides his expertise to the county on the complex issues of Sandoval Broadband. He stresses the important distinction between providing the backbone for the system and providing Internet service, using the analogy of “an extension cord to a power source.” He said that a stable radio signal has now been established between Bernalillo and Albuquerque. A new tower on the 10,000 foot Pajarito Peak in the Jemez Mountains holds the key to a reliable, redundant county-wide signal.

A broad bandwidth provides better and faster Internet service (hence the name “broadband”). Hoag said that the radio signal that Sandoval Broadband gets from Albuquerque has been converted from a fiber optic signal by Global Crossing, an Internet service provider. The much ballyhooed Lambda Rail will come later. Sandoval Broadband must purchase and install equipment to increase the bandwidth. The goal is to increase the bandwidth of the signal and decrease its price to private Internet service providers so they can provide high speed Internet access to the public at an affordable price.

Ultimately, the worth of the project can only be proven when it is complete. Hays said that she expects the goals to be accomplished by 2009, as projected.

Hays defends the project against the criticism in the Journal articles, saying, “We have made some mistakes and things could have gone faster, but these are uncharted waters. It’s a living laboratory with tremendous potential to improve the lives of rural residents. We have tightened up the administration, dealt with personnel issues, and have not been wasteful in spending. We have not veered from our goals.” She also said that the issues involving the state auditor have been resolved.

Bernalillo Offers Concerned Citizens’ Hotline

Many people are unaware that Bernalillo has a Concerned Citizens’ Hotline. Crime tips, graffiti, neighborhood loitering, littering, barking dogs, gang and drug activities, as well as other concerns can be reported to the police by dialing (505) 771-5888.
The hotline has been operating since July—one of several ideas proposed by Mayor Patricia Chavez after she won election in March 2006.
Calls can be made anonymously, either in Spanish or English. Residents can leave a voice mail message, which the police will listen to and then refer to other town departments as appropriate. For emergency situations, call 911.

Town of Bernalillo signs contract for arsenic removal

On March 12, the Bernalillo Town Council approved a contract with ARS USA to install their arsenic removal system for the town’s water. The company has been testing their equipment on Bernalillo water for over two years, during which time the arsenic removal claims were verified by Environmental Technology Verification (ETV), which is associated with the EPA. ARS USA is based in Bernalillo and headed by Norbert Barcena, a Placitas resident.

Rather than adding chemicals to reduce the arsenic in water as other systems do, the ARS system uses electricity. It is in fact called an electroflocculation process, meaning the electricity in the water causes the arsenic to clump with other particles that are then easily filtered from the water. During the ETV tests, the arsenic levels went from an average of forty-one micrograms per liter to twelve micrograms per liter after being electroflocculated. The test was performed on ARS equipment that has a capacity of fifty thousand gallons per day. Bernalillo’s water usage averages two million gallons per day. ARS will now begin to install equipment for all of Bernalillo’s drinking water.

Bernalillo will be the first town in the United States to use the ARS system. The technology was developed in Germany twenty-five years ago, and has been used across Europe and Central America.

In accepting the contract, Mr. Barcena noted to the Mayor and the Council that as Bernalillo will be the primary town to use this system, other municipalities from around the country will be watching closely. “This is cutting-edge technology in terms of water treatment,” Barcena said. “We’ve been working on this for a number of years. Now we are looking toward being accepted on the marketplace for a problem that is relevant throughout the country.”

New flood control agency for local watershed?
New flood control agency for local watershed?

Placitas residents— particularly acequia parcientes— were surprised and dismayed that the state legislature was considering House Bill 939, which allows creation of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) for the watershed that includes Placitas, Bernalillo (east of I-25), and Algodones.

County public information officer Gayland Bryant lobbied for the legislation, saying, “The goal is to facilitate development of flood control measures as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, to prevent a recurrence of what the entire area experienced last summer, as well as in seasons past, when rain washed away roadways and other public and private property in the upper Placitas regions, before continuing downstream [and] causing equally extensive damage in the lower areas of Placitas, and then further downstream, in the Bernalillo and Algodones valley communities . . . The damage to public roads and other property in the unincorporated areas of Placitas was extensive and exceeded $1.2 million. On at least four occasions, Camino de las Huertas, a major arterial road and school bus route in Placitas was blocked and impassable for several days at a time during the summer storms. On at least two occasions, county emergency units were unable to reach residents who needed medical and emergency assistance.”

Lynn Montgomery, mayordomo of the Acequia la Rosa de Castilla, and Will Ouellette, chairman of the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District, lobbied unsuccessfully against House Bill 939, which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. They complained that the county failed to properly inform the public of its intentions and that area residents would be unfairly taxed to pay for the county’s poor planning of residential development and poor engineering of roads. They complained that a new layer of government was unnecessary and could arbitrarily lead to the condemnation of private property for the sake of further development.

Montgomery said in a letter to Senator Kent Cravens that the watershed is too steep for large scale flood control projects to be feasible. Furthermore, he said that the redundancy of flood control makes the bill suspect, that independent efforts are presently doing what can possibly be done, and should be better funded. He also said that low income landowners would be most vulnerable to condemnation and impacted by higher taxes. He wrote, “Those that build without regard to the local lay of the land should not be rewarded by having all the rest of us pay for their stupidity.”

Oeullette said that the bill appears to usurp the authority of the CSW Conservancy District, which is, by statute, already responsible for reviewing new development.

Joan Fenicle, past president of the Las Huertas Community Ditch (in the canyon) stated, “We are not as much opposed as concerned — we will fight any high tech solutions in the canyon (i.e. concrete lining of the stream bed). We hope to be represented. This was discussed at our annual meeting and the group as a whole (20 families) shares the same concerns. No one has convinced us there is an emergency. The perception of many Placitas residents is ‘taxation without representation’ and that we might be taxed to fix the problems the county has allowed to happen due to poor planning, lack of regulation over development, and poor construction of infrastructure like the Las Huertas crossing.”

Senator Cravens told the Signpost that he voted in favor of HB 939 because “The area is growing, whether we like it or not. This bill offers the community the opportunity to provide input on flood control issues. It is permissive legislation only, meaning that residents will have a chance to vote on it.”

Since HB 939 is emergency legislation, it will go into effect as soon as the governor approves it. He will then appoint a five-member flood control board, selected from a list of residents submitted by County Commissioner Orlando Lucero. The board will include members from Placitas, Bernalillo, and Algodones. The board will be charged with the responsibility to develop, in open meetings, a flood control plan that will be submitted to the voters in November 2008. Board members will also be elected at that time. A negative vote will kill the ESCAFCA. If it passes, it can still be killed by an appeal signed by thirty percent of affected landowners.

Bryant said that the cost to residents could be as low as a half mil levy or $15 per $100,000 appraised value of properties. He said that land would only be condemned for flood control and road projects—not for new development.

Bryant also said that the proposal that led to the request for HB 939 resulted last fall from unanimous votes of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the County Commission.

The issue was raised by Carol Parker and several other members of the Las Placitas Association. She said, “We asked them to do something about Camino de Las Huertas and Las Huertas Creek before it blew up one of the pipelines that were becoming more exposed with each passing flood [below the crossing]. While the road washouts were inconvenient and the flooding was scary, those pipelines were terrifying. It turns out that counties don’t have authority under state law to do flood control. Of course, the county most assuredly has authority about planning and zoning and has not enforced its own ordinances about retaining storm water. People should be aware that, despite the county’s lack of enforcement, if the flooding from an upstream property damages a downstream property, the upstream property owner can be held liable under state law. But the better solution would be for people affected to come together and do a plan to address the flooding problems. I’m glad we will get an opportunity to have a comprehensive discussion about possible solutions and vote on whether we want to take that on.”

At the time, the Planning and Zoning Commission was presented with a proposal to expand the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (SCAFCA), which covers Corrales and Rio Rancho. It was decided that an ESCAFCA would be preferable because the two areas had different priorities and needs.

Director of County Development Mike Springfield told the Signpost that the ESCAFCA would not facilitate more residential growth in Placitas, and it would improve the planning process. It would not usurp the authority of the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District. Currently, proposed subdivisions must submit drainage plans that are confined to the subdivision itself. The ESCAFCA, he said, would map the entire watershed and would incorporate new development into a flood control plan that would include the area as a whole.

How development disturbs the watershed

Bill Zeedyk, retired U.S. Forest Service Director of Wildlife and Fisheries Management, told the Signpost in May 2005 that road building and residential development all around the Sandias have resulted in the destruction of riparian areas. Las Huertas Creek is affected by the road through Las Huertas Canyon. The creek was straightened to accommodate road building, allowing it to flow deeper and faster, picking up sediment along the way. This disturbance of the watershed is accentuated by urbanization and “hardscaping” by roads, driveways, and roofs that allow no opportunity for precipitation to soak into the ground.

“People tend to treat water as a nuisance that needs to be removed as quickly as possible,” Zeedyk explained. “Rainfall comes off a roof through gutters, drains to the parking area and then into a ditch next to the driveway; then it flows to the ditch along a county road and into the next arroyo. It’s like a pipe that allows no opportunity for water to disperse and soak in. Water from all the neighborhood houses all arrives at the arroyo at the same time, so the flood is deeper and quicker to crest. By the time it gets to the stream, it does more damage.”

Zeedyk continued, “The rapid flooding causes the creek to straighten, erode, and downgrade, destroying the character of a riparian wetland system. When creeks dry up, as Tijeras Creek did in 2002, people tend to blame the problem on too many water wells, drought, or invasive vegetation. It’s more complicated than that.”

Zeedyk said that residents need to learn how to keep water on their property longer. “If they would just delay the runoff by a half hour, it would make a tremendous difference in the size of the flood.” Water can be harvested from roofs and channeled into catchments and flatter ground areas that support vegetation.

The combined efforts of individual landowners and larger restoration projects could help maintain the natural beauty and health of the watershed, as well as promote recharge of the aquifer.

Culverts placed along Las Huertas Creek arroyo

Workers place five seven-foot culverts across Las Huertas Creek arroyo to prevent a road washout, such as the ones that occurred there during last summer’s monsoons.

Culverts replaced in preparation for summer monsoons

Sandoval County road crews installed five new six-foot culverts at the Las Huertas Creek crossing on Camino de las Huertas in Placitas. The new culverts replace those that washed out four times during last summer’s record-breaking monsoon season. Since then, traffic has been redirected through the creek bed.

Crew supervisor Lee Yardman said that the larger culverts would handle more of the debris that tends to plug culverts and cause the fill dirt cover to wash out. He said that another measure would be to place a concrete face, or concrete blanket, to stabilize the fill.

According to County spokesman Gayland Bryant, the $75,000 funding awarded at this year’s legislative session would be used to build wing walls to direct flow from the sides of the creek bed toward the culverts.

The crossing will still be vulnerable when Las Huertas Creek floods this summer, once again placing active pipelines and private property in jeopardy. Residents are pleased, nonetheless, that the culverts were installed before the spring runoff from snow melting in the mountains.

DWI costs cut deep

On November 13 of last year, Dana Pabst bought a six-pack of beer at the Giant convenience store in Bernalillo. The clerk should have noticed that Pabst was already drunk and refused to sell it to him. Pabst then drove north on I-25 beyond Santa Fe and slammed head-on into a minivan, killing five members of the Gonzales family. Pabst was also killed.

Giant was fined, and the clerk was fired for selling alcohol to an intoxicated person. But that wasn’t the end of it for the owner of the complex that housed the convenience store. Governor Richardson persuaded the liquor license owner not to renew his lease at the convenience store when it expired on February 28.

Owner Charlie Williamson subsequently closed the entire complex, including the Pueblito Mexicano restaurant and the gas station, leaving a dozen people unemployed. He feels that he has been unfairly punished for owning a building where a violation led to tragedy.

Williamson said that he built the complex in 2003, spending much more than necessary for attractive pueblo-style architecture. He said that he has invested $2 million in the complex. He lost money operating the complex himself, and subsequently leased it to several tenants. “I was trying to do something good for the town, but I ended up with a monthly note that I just couldn’t cover until I was allowed to rent to a tenant with a liquor license. [Such leases command a considerably higher rent.] I had to sell my house. I had to sell my Harley-Davidson. I traded my boat at a loss just to keep gas in the station over a weekend.”

The town denied the initial application for a liquor license, citing concerns that alcohol sales would encourage loitering and crime in the neighborhood. The decision was overturned by the Alcohol and Gaming Division, and the license was issued in January 2005.

Williamson said that he faces financial ruin if he can’t—in the very near future—find a new tenant with a liquor license. He does not in any way equate his financial problems to the tragic loss of life that occurred in November.

Williamson said, “I think they should require convenience stores to test customers who seem to be drunk with a breathalyzer. I’d pay for the breathalyzer in a heartbeat. That way something good would come out of this. It would take the guesswork out of it.”

Corrales Historical Society leads trip through North Valley

On April 26, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the Docents of the Corrales Historical Society will lead a trip through the North Valley. The group will travel through most of the old plazas or settlements that began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Among the sites visited will be the old St. Antonio chapel on Candelaria Road, the Los Poblanos farm, and the mid-nineteenth century Barela de Bledsoe House. The trip will also include a walk in the late-1930s subdivision called the Los Alamos Addition.

The cost of $30 covers the bus, lunch, and any guide charges and tips. The tour leaves promptly at 8:00 a.m. from the Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales, located on Old Church Road, off Corrales Road (NM 448). Call Hope Grey at (505) 897-3942 for information or reservations.

County line

And now, the rest of the story!
Sandoval County is in year two of a five-year, $9 million plan to develop broadband infrastructure throughout the County. While a variety of articles have been written about the project and regular updates have been presented at numerous County Commission meetings, I’ll recap the progress and problems we have encountered.

The County’s project is not about taking Internet connections to individual homes. We are building a network to enhance delivery of public services. Once it is stabilized at carrier grade, low-cost bandwidth will be contracted to local Internet service providers (ISPs) to serve homes and businesses.

The Commission knew it would be challenging to create an infrastructure model that does not exist anywhere else in the United States. But we decided that if Japan, China, and numerous other countries could make very high-speed Internet affordable and available to their citizens, so could we.

In the United States, the reality is if you have enough money and, particularly, if you live in a big city, you will eventually get access to broadband. But, if you live in a rural area and don’t have money, you may never get access.

You may say, “So what?,” but the fact is, new technologies in healthcare, education and, yes, entertainment are being developed daily that require huge bandwidth. A traditional network would have cost over $100 million dollars. In fact, an unsuccessful bidder on our project proposed a $95 million plan for Las Cruces that was rejected as unaffordable by that City Council.

In contrast, the plan developed by our contractor, AQV Communications, Inc., has progressed and, at times, regressed.
Of our project’s projected $9 million cost, we have spent approximately $2.5 million. The County committed Intel bond funds of $2 million and the State has appropriated $1 million. Additional funding sources are close to fruition.

The backbone of our network is being developed in pilot phases. At the end of the first year, connections had been made to Bernalillo, Placitas, Zia and Jemez Pueblos, and, briefly, to Cuba. The goal for year two was to stabilize and upgrade our network to carrier class efficiency. Last November, however, a major signal disruption caused the backbone to fail. Personnel problems and the worst snowstorm in our State’s history further delayed addressing the problems.

Although the first-year pilots were never designed to carry commercial traffic, we prematurely tried to meet the needs of a local Internet provider and were unsuccessful. Now, the signal from downtown Albuquerque to Bernalillo has been stable for several weeks. While wireless is available, connection of the County network will not take place until after upgrades and retrofits have been completed in the County Courthouse. Reconnection of the Zia and Jemez Pueblos and Cuba links will be completed by the end of April.

Contract requirements for technology enhancements to education and healthcare are moving very rapidly. A telemedicine program designed to diagnose and treat veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome will be piloted in Sandoval County beginning in July. Additionally, an innovative Internet-based reading and math recovery program has been provided to every school district in Sandoval County, and collaboration among school districts is encouraging further problem-solving and sharing of resources.

Finally, the project’s affordability requirement relates to both development and cost to the end user. When we began Sandoval County’s project, the monthly price for just one megabit of bandwidth was $150. That cost now has been cut to $50. While we are pleased with that savings, the fact that one megabit in the San Francisco area costs about $8 per month—and only costs about 24 cents in China—tells us there is still a lot of work to be done.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Leonard can be mailed to him at Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.





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