Sandoval Signpost

 

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Alien cloud bobbles over Placitas in March


Aerial view of I-25/US 550 interchange scheduled for reconstruction

Reconstruction of the I-25/US 550 interchange underway

Signpost Staff

Initial stages of the reconstruction of the I-25/US 550 interchange, conducted by the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT), began in March.

The project includes the portion of US 550 west of the interchange through the US 550/NM 313 intersection and the portion of NM 165 east of the interchange for approximately 1,500 feet. The project area serves as a regional commuter route and a local commercial corridor for the Town of Bernalillo. US 550 is also the primary highway from the Albuquerque area to the northwest quadrant of the state and the Four Corners area.

NMDOT Public Information Officer Phillip Gallegos told the Signpost that this is phase one of a long-term plan that will continue to make improvements on US 550 west of Camino del Pueblo where a bottleneck will continue to exist—especially when traffic is stopped by accidents. Gallegos said that the problem cannot be fixed in one step, but current reconstruction will help a lot.

The Environmental Analysis (EA) discusses proposed modifications to the Interstate 25 (I-25) and US 550 interchange (Exit 242) and portions of US 550 and NM 165 east and west of the interchange. The project is undertaken by the NMDOT in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration. The purpose of this project is to provide operational, accessible, and safe improvements to the interchange, which currently gets backed-up and congested during peak hours.

Public involvement and agency coordination started early and was continuous throughout the study process. The EA describes impacts to the human and natural environments as a result of the proposed project as minor.

The core of the interchange will be constructed as a single-point urban interchange. A single point urban interchange has four ramps that converge at a single traffic signal in the middle of the interchange. To understand how this system works, visit the top-down street view of the new interchange at I-40 and Louisiana Avenue in Albuquerque on Google Maps. In addition to the interchange, the proposed project would include other improvements:

  • A series of local access (or “backage”) roads would be constructed north and south of US 550 to provide access to businesses. Left turns would be prohibited between Rail Runner Avenue and NM 313. Rail Runner Avenue will continue north to connect to Bernalillo High School.
  • Modification of the US 550/Hill Road intersection to allow right-in/right-out movements only—a new two-lane road would be constructed to the west of the existing intersection and would pass under US 550 adjacent to the railroad tracks.
  • Widening of NM 165/US 550 to three lanes in each direction, including widening of the I-25 overpass.
  • Realignment of the I-25 frontage road and NM 165 intersection approximately 750 feet farther east than the existing intersection.
  • Construction of continuous sidewalks and bicycle lanes on both sides of US 550 from NM 313 east to Hill Road. The sidewalk and bicycle lane would continue on the north side through the interchange.
  • After the widening is completed, new access and exit ramps will be constructed and tied into the interchange.

Gallegos said that the construction of local access backages nearby will be an initial priority, in order to minimize the impact on local businesses. Two lanes in each direction will be open during peak traffic hours throughout the project in order to facilitate traffic flow. The reconstruction is projected to be completed in 240 calendar days—sometime in November 2013.

For more information, visit the NMDOT at dot.state.nm.us or call Phillip Gallegos at 841-2764.


County considers economic development plan

Signpost Staff

At the March 7 meeting of the Sandoval County Commission, County Manager Phil Rios requested a motion to adopt a resolution establishing a task force to identify policy and processes for the development of a county economic development plan. Rios suggested a list of seventeen task force members. The list included business leaders, government officials, and economic development professionals from communities throughout the county.

The task force resolution followed up on a February 19 workshop held to discuss an Economic Development Strategic Plan One, in which the consultants of the workshop estimated that if the county is to be viable, it needs to create 745 net jobs per year for the next ten years. Rios estimated that the state had lost 50,000 jobs from 2008 through 2011, and thousand more could go if the federal government follows through with imminent spending cuts. Participants of the workshop conceded that economically the county is getting worse in every area—that populations aging and the number of families living in poverty is increasing.

Rural areas have lost traditional sources of employment such as agriculture and lumber. Employment opportunities are increasingly concentrated in Rio Rancho, which is suffering a huge setback in the Great Recession, especially in the real estate market. An economic plan would have to find a balance.

During the lengthy discussion among county commissioners, Commissioner Don Chapman, a Rio Rancho Republican, stated that the task force list was too long to get anything done, and described the county’s diversity as a “challenge.” He said that the plan first needed a source of funding. He gave examples of the millions of dollars spent by other counties and towns throughout the country. Chapman said, “We need to be serious about economic development if we want to compete.”

Chapman suggested that funding for an economic development plan could come from investing the interest from property tax money being held for the new hospitals in Rio Rancho. He said the money could be held in a permanent fund to be available as opportunities arise.

County Attorney Patrick Trujillo expressed doubt as to whether a permanent fund could be set up that would pass from one administration to another. He also questioned the legality of using the interest money from hospital funding to fund other projects.

Commissioner Glen Walters, also a Rio Rancho Republican, objected to the wording of the task force resolution. He said that the commission should not abdicate its role as policy maker, and that the resolution should tell the task force more specifically “What do we want them to do?” Walters also questioned the makeup of the task force and suggested that members should be added from the corporate and medical communities of Rio Rancho.

Commissioners Orlando Lucero, Nora Scherzinger, and Chairman Darryl Madalena, all Democrats from more rural areas, expressed their support of a large group of task force members to represent the diverse needs of the county. Scherzinger expressed doubt as to whether “John Q. Public” would agree to using tax dollars for projects unspecified projects.

Finally, Phil Rios was given the authority to assemble a task force, and the resolution was passed.

In other business, the commission approved a request by County Assessor Tom Garcia to approve the second year of a county-wide property reappraisal plan, along with an additional $80,000 for term employees to complete the project by March 31, 2014. Garcia said that the project will add about nine million dollars in previously unrecorded houses and other structures to county tax rolls.

Following a continuance from the February 7 meeting request for a motion to approve transfer of ownership and location of a liquor license for Rio Grande Liquor Stand to Algodones, a number of Algodones residents attended the March 7 meeting to oppose the transfer. They were disappointed to find that the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department had already determined that the county had run out of time to make recommendation and had granted a license for the bar and liquor store that is planned for a location near the I-25 Exit 248.

At the March 21 meeting, the commission formed a committee to plan a proposed expansion of the Sandoval County Judicial Complex and to figure out how to finance this expansion. Chapman and Walters contributed $35,718 from their districts’ discretionary funds to help pay for Rio Rancho’s new bulk water facility. The station is located in an unincorporated area outside the city limits where residents without water hookups are suspected of stealing water from fire hydrants.


NM Legislature bill funds Placitas projects

—Ty Belknap

The 2013 New Mexico State Legislature enacted legislation to fund three Placitas projects as part of the “2013 Work New Mexico Act,” including:

  • $45,000 to purchase land for a public recreational park and horse sanctuary, and to design, construct, and repair recreational trails in the park and sanctuary between Placitas and Algodones
  • $250,000 to plan, design, construct, and equip improvements to Las Acequias de Placitas water system in Placitas
  • $75,000 to plan, design, renovate, and construct improvements to the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District  (CSWCD) reservoirs serving Las Acequias de La Rosa Castilla, Las Acequias de Placitas, and Las Huertas Community Ditch.

CSWCD Board member Jon Couch said that CSWCD requested a capital outlay of $75,000 on behalf of the three acequias of the community of Placitas. All three acequias use reservoirs constructed in the 1800s to develop a head of water that enables water to flow throughout the system of irrigation ditches. Because of deterioration, only the Acequias de Placitas’s reservoir is functioning but it is still in need of repair and renovation. The acequias would also like to line their reservoirs to conserve as much water as possible. The projects are important to the community as well, since the reservoirs could be used to fight wildfires in water-scarce Placitas.

Since all three acequias of Placitas share a common need for reservoir renovation, and because the projects are similar in nature, CSWCD combined them as a regional infrastructure capital improvements plan with the CSWCD as the lead partner.

Las Acequias de Placitas president Burt DeLara said that restoration of the reservoirs will benefit the Village because of water retention. He said that Las Huertas Ditch reservoir is downstream of the area that recharges the Village reservoir, so the two acequias are not competing for increasingly scarce water supplies on this project.

DeLara estimates that complete repair of the Village domestic water supply would require over a million dollars, but the $250,000 funding will pay for the initial phase of replacing piping. A second phase would install meters, and a third would increase storage.

During the current drought, domestic water is sometime shut off at night when supplies run low; the problem is exacerbated by leaking pipes.

The original request for $145,000 for the park was reduced to $45,000 which will pay for the purchase of a 3,400-acre parcel of  Bureau of Land Management land, known as the Buffalo Parcel at the north end of the Placitas area. BLM is reportedly open to selling the land to the state for $10 an acre under the Recreation Parks and Public Purposes Act (RPP&P). Placitas resident Marty Clifton requested this funding in order to solve several problems facing the area. It would eliminate gravel mining that could be included in BLM’s pending resource management plan, and it could also provide land to provide sanctuary for free-roaming horses. It would also prevent an Act of Congress that would give the land either to San Felipe or Santa Ana Pueblo. Clifton says that covenants promised by the tribes could not guarantee public access or prevent gravel mining. (See Clifton’s open letter to Governor Martinez in the Gauntlet, this Signpost.)

There is no guarantee that the RPP&P Act would allow unlimited grazing by unlimited horses (although that is currently the situation in the Placitas Open Space that was also purchased under the RPP&P Act). Unlimited grazing by an unlimited number of horses describes the current status quo in all public and private lands in the Placitas area. Some residents risk the label “horse hater” by suggesting that this well-established policy is unsustainable.

Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) bulk-mailed a newsletter to Placitas voicing opposition to the park idea, suggesting that it will lead to horse slaughter. The park plan proposes sanctuary, not slaughter. Neither does it call for a round-up. WHOA’s disinformation is effective, because the moral dilemma posed by the possibility of killing horses is the major obstacle to finding consensus in the community about how to address the problem of overpopulation.

A request for $100,000 for fencing and reclamation of the Placitas Open Space did not make it through the legislative process, but Albuquerque Open Space promises to pay for fencing and to address the horse problem.

Legislative action that requires capital outlay funding for these projects requires the signature of Susana Martinez to sign or veto by April 15, 2013. Support or opposition to this legislation can be addressed to: gloria.marquez@state.nm.us; Subject: Attn: Governor Susana Martinez.


San Felipe Pueblo talks to Signpost about wild horses

—Barb Belknap, Signpost

In early March, Pinu’u Stout of San Felipe Pueblo’s Department of Natural Resources invited the editors of the Signpost to come to San Felipe to talk openly about the free-roaming horses that populate the San Felipe-Placitas area.

During this meeting, Stout was quick to state that San Felipe Pueblo has never claimed ownership of these horses. She said, “The Pueblo has always allowed these wild horses to roam the land. The majority are majestic, healthy animals.”

We discussed an article that appeared in the March 2013 Signpost that told of several distressed horses that appeared to be trapped by a fence on San Felipe Pueblo land and a group of concerned residents who brought these horses water. Stout said that these particular horses had not been previously seen by the staff of the Pueblo’s Natural Resources Department, which checks on the area’s wild horse population on a weekly basis. She stated that as soon as the Pueblo became aware of this situation, alfalfa and water were provided to the horses, and that because these horses seemed accustomed to eating alfalfa and drinking water in very close proximity to humans, San Felipe Pueblo does not think they are part of the local wild horse herd.

The Signpost staff attempted to get a comment for the March article from San Felipe Pueblo prior to press time, but received no comment. Stout explained that this was not because San Felipe chooses to be uncommunicative with people interested in the horse situation, but because they were unavailable on short notice. She said, “We could not comment to the Signpost article prior to its printing, because we were busy taking care of the horses and our staff is small.”

The San Felipe Pueblo Department of Natural Resources staff expressed that it was unclear as to why these particular horses were congregating at the border of the pueblo and private land rather than roaming to areas where other horses are regularly seen. They stated, “Although a small stretch of fence in this vicinity was mended recently, there were other fence openings that horses move through in this area. As was not apparent to the concerned residents who were mentioned in the Signpost article, the horses were not fenced in or out of the pueblo or away from locations where the local wild horses regularly obtain water and forage.”

Stout said that San Felipe Pueblo seeks good relations with its neighbors and that a scarcity of communication to the outside media should not be perceived as secrecy or hostility, but rather as a tradition of privacy and a right to handle tribal business as they see fit, as is their right as a sovereign nation.

We asked Pinu’u Stout to discuss the Pueblo’s recently implemented Wild Horse Program. She said, “The tribe recognizes that the horse population problem is made worse by our present drought situation. We are currently working to get a count of the horses in an effort to employ a contraception program that would include the administering of the PZP vaccine to block further fertilization.”

We relayed some of the concerns that many Placitas residents have—and tell the Signpost—regarding the free-roaming horses’ trampling and overgrazing of the land in drought times, an abundance of horse feces straggled around, the cost of fencing their own property, and the ever-increasing growth of the horse population. Stout said the tribe openly acknowledges that the wild horse situation in the San Felipe-Placitas area is complex.

She stated, “San Felipe Pueblo strives to preserve their land and the ancient cultural sites that have been part of the pueblo since time immemorial. We are working to bring back into San Felipe’s ancestral homeland a healthy balance between both the animals and the land.”

Currently, San Felipe Pueblo and Santa Ana Pueblo are vying to attain a parcel of BLM land adjacent to both pueblos on which the horses roam. If acquired, Stout said that San Felipe intends to utilize both traditional knowledge and modern techniques to ensure the health and well-being of the land and wildlife. Stout went on to say that these lands are within San Felipe’s aboriginal boundaries and should they be returned to the Pueblo, any activity such as mining, oil, and gas development, or highway construction will be opposed and prevented through enforceable restrictive covenants which would run with the title to the land. 

Stout ended the meeting by saying, “San Felipe Pueblo enjoys being a good neighbor to area residents, and appreciates all the support which was expressed by Placitas area residents throughout the BLM public-comment period.” She said, “We will work with them to find a satisfactory solution to the horse issue and to ensure the BLM land, should it be returned to San Felipe, will be managed in a way that honors the wishes of the majority of area residents.”

 
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