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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Corrales Historical Society leads trip through North
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.
—DON LEONARD, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION
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.