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Complicated path forward for monitoring pipelines

—Bill Diven

A plan for community watchdogs to sniff for spills from petroleum-related pipelines in Placitas is still moving forward, but there won’t be an election soon on helping to pay for it, according to its organizers.

The effort has shifted its focus from a mail-in ballot in April to creating a public improvement district, said Dwight Patterson, a board member of the Las Placitas Association, which has proposed the project. Known as a PID, the district is a way to create, pay for, and manage infrastructure improvements within a defined local area.

The idea is to protect groundwater by spotting pipeline spills through sampling the air in shallow wells near the pipes, Patterson said. The monitoring would be independent of the pipeline companies, he added.

Patterson said he did not know how long the process of setting up a PID would take. However, a mail-in ballot to approve a property tax to maintain the system won’t happen in April as first hoped, he said. Patterson had been working with Sandoval County to find a way for a public entity to manage the monitoring. “We really appreciate (county manager) Phil Rios finding a pathway for the monitoring,” Patterson said. “But we’ve hit an obstacle. It’s complicated. It’s expensive. Right now we’re reflecting on it.”

Rios also said he had no estimate of how long all this might take. There are certain windows when special elections can be held, and this being an election year complicates that, he added.

“Right now it looks like a potential way to do this,” Rios said. “The issue is, there’s a process.”

Under state law and an analysis by a contract county attorney, creating a PID involves multiple steps. To start it requires a petition signed by 25 percent of property owners based on assessed property values, and it must be approved by the Sandoval County Commission.

Then public meetings are held before an election that requires a 75-percent yes vote to pass. Unlike other elections, votes are weighted based on how much property each voter owns in the proposed district.

An appointed board governs a PID initially but is then replaced by an elected board.

Patterson said the cost of maintaining dozens of shallow monitoring wells would be small and that there may be other funds to pay for their installation. He’s estimated the installation cost at about $150,000 dollars, which may be raised from other sources, and maintenance at around twenty dollars per property a year on average.

There are currently five pipelines sharing a corridor in western Placitas before splitting near the Placitas Open Space. A crude-oil line runs southeastward from there to Camino de las Huertas, passing near the Placitas village on its way to southeastern New Mexico.

The other pipelines carrying natural gas liquids, products, and carbon dioxide run east from the Open Space along Las Huertas Creek leaving the area by way of Diamond Tail Ranch.

Meanwhile the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association has been working with the pipeline companies and regulators “to urge safety, enforcement, and accountability,” according to its website. ES-CA also questions whether the monitoring plan is an experiment not tried elsewhere that would result in taxation without benefit to the community

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