Alan Wurst, regional land manager for Mid-America Pipeline Company,
taking questions and dispensing answers during the local meeting.
Residents express pipeline-expansion concerns at June meeting, comment period extended to August 15
When Alan Wurtz came to Placitas to pitch a pipeline project, the results were not unexpected.
“The meeting was a little spirited,” the regional land manager for Mid-American Pipeline Company said later.
“We’re not surprised by the reaction.
“People are concerned, and we want to address those concerns.”
And the concerns about piping natural gas liquids through Placitas were many: the potential for another and potentially catastrophic fuel spill, disruptions from construction, nonnative weeds in revegetation, lack of public notice, outdated maps, and aerial photographs devoid of recent residential development.
“It’s true the mountains haven’t moved,” Desert Mountain resident Floyd Cotton said, pointing to a topographic map dated 1954. “We still can’t tell where our houses are in regard to your pipeline.”
“We’re not trying to hide anything,” Wurtz said. “Our system has been here since 1972, and we kind of took it for granted people knew where our corridor was.”
About fifty people attended the June 29 meeting at the Placitas Elementary School, drawn mostly by a mailing from Citizens for Safe Pipelines, a group formed to protest an unrelated and now abandoned plan to revive a dormant pipeline near Placitas village. BLM officials apologized for the limited public notice, which consisted mostly of legal ads in two newspapers and an unlabeled document tacked to a cluttered bulletin board in the Placitas post office.
The BLM has since extended the public-comment period to August 15 and placed documents and updated maps in the Placitas Public Library. “We’re pleased at the response to the map problems of the original meeting and having an extended period of time to get our comments in,” Bert Miller, president of Citizens for Safe Pipelines, told the Signpost.
Mid-America, also known as MAPL, operates an 840-mile pipeline system linking Wyoming and Hobbs, with three of its lines running diagonally across Sandoval County from northwest to southeast. Built in 1972, 1982, and 1995 within a fifty-foot corridor, they were converted to carry refined products in 1996.
The corridor from a pumping station at San Ysidro runs north of Bernalillo and under I-25, clips a corner of Sundance Mesa, passes through the Placitas Open Space and follows Las Huertas Creek and then Diamond Tail Road over the Crest of Montezuma to reach Edgewood in Santa Fe County.
In 1999, a hiker discovered jet fuel leaking near Las Huertas Creek. The company did not know its product was leaking and reported the spill as totaling fifty barrels.
Two of those lines already carry natural-gas liquids, a by-product of natural-gas production, and the company proposes to boost capacity by adding twelve parallel segments, six each in Wyoming and New Mexico. The new Placitas segment would extend twenty-two and a half miles from the San Ysidro pumping station to a valve connection at the east side of the Placitas Open Space.
Because pipelines naturally lose pressure over distance, funneling three lines from a pumping station increases pressure in the remaining two-line segment. MAPL estimates the project, costing up to $150 million, will boost pipeline capacity to 275,000 barrels a day, a fifty-thousand-barrel increase.
Bill Patterson, an organic farmer whose property abuts the open space, said the project is too complicated for a simple environmental assessment and should require a full environmental impact statement. However BLM officials said that would only happen if their internal review shows an EIS is warranted.
Patterson also said revegetation from building the 1995 pipeline, while generally well done, introduced nonnative weeds to the area.
Since the Placitas meeting, MAPL has added an updated map to its Web site www.epplp.com/mapl/. Comments to the BLM can be directed to the BLM Farmington Field Office, 1235 La Plata Highway, Suite A, Farmington, NM 87401 or through a form on the BLM Web site www.nm.blm.gov.
Citizens for Safe Pipelines also is taking questions by phone at 771-8358 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Placitas Recycling Association to increase operating hours
At its quarterly meeting on July 21, the board of directors of the Placitas Recycling Associated voted to open the Recycle Center every Saturday starting on November 6 in order to be more convenient for Placitas residents. To accommodate the increased frequency, the hours of operation will be from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
In August, September, and October, the center will continue to be open from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.
Information on materials accepted at the Placitas Recycle Center is available at www.placitasrecycling.com. The association continues to be interested in new board members and volunteers. For more information, contact board chairman Len Stephens at 867-3077 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Las Huertas Creek Watershed Association strives to protect important community resource
—Las Placitas Association and Signpost Staff
There has been an abundance of activity and discussion surrounding Las Huertas Creek during the past year. Representatives of Las Placitas Association, the pueblos, the U.S. Forest Service, the New Mexico Department of Transportation, and the New Mexico Environment Department, as well as watershed consultants have been seen on several occasions exploring the creek and the watershed from which it originates. Maps have been generated and tours have been given to inform local citizens of the stream’s biological, cultural, and anthropological significance. A proposal has even been presented before the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission to upgrade the designated-use classification of Las Huertas Creek to a high-quality cold-water fishery.
Las Huertas Creek comprises the largest of the three major drainages in the Placitas area, draining approximately thirty-one square miles, including the northern end of the Sandia Mountains. The creek flows from its headwaters in the Sandia Mountains north to Placitas, thence northwest to join the Rio Grande northeast of Bernalillo.
The creek is generally an intermittent stream but is perennial throughout spring-fed portions in its upper reach, and in its lower reach below Tecolote. The flows in Las Huertas Creek generally only reach the Rio Grande in years of high snowpack runoff and during the intense precipitation events that occasionally visit the Placitas area and the northern slopes of the Sandias. The water carried by the stream more typically infiltrates into local aquifers via fault systems in the Madera Limestone formation in its upper reach and to alluvial deposits connected with the Santa Fe Formation in its lower reach.
As a result of the geology that dominates its watershed, Las Huertas Creek represents one of the most important sources for the recharge of the groundwater used by Placitas area residents throughout its course. Additionally, the water provided by Las Huertas Creek, in combination with its major Placitas area tributary, Arroyo del Ojo del Orno, also represents a significant source of recharge to the Rio Grande-Albuquerque Basin aquifer.
Las Huertas Creek is listed on New Mexico’s list of impaired water bodies for 2002-2004 because of excessive stream-bottom deposits, such as silt and sediment. Water quality has been impacted for multiple reasons within the watershed. Several causes of nonpoint-source pollution in the watershed are numerous, due to the various types of land use and land ownership that have occurred here both in the present and the past. Ever increasing human disturbances occur as traffic on Highway 165 and recreational uses of the Las Huertas watershed intensify. New urban development in the watershed has also resulted in detrimental changes in native vegetation cover and increased runoff from impervious areas. Sediment levels in the stream are also increased as a lasting effect of past overgrazing practices in the watershed’s riparian and range-plant communities. These unnatural disturbances have led to excessive stream-bank erosion and sediment deposition directly into Las Huertas Creek and other tributary channels. Historic road building, mining, fires, and other disturbances have led to the loss of native protective vegetation and replacement with exotic or invasive species.
Early in 2003 Las Placitas Association began the Las Huertas Creek Watershed Project. The project mission is to organize, coordinate, and facilitate community efforts toward the protection, restoration, and management of the Las Huertas Creek watershed. Working cooperatively with all stakeholders, including private property owners, pueblos, and acequia systems, as well as city, county, state, and federal governments, Las Placitas Association strives to ensure the health and sustainability of the watershed that has served as a lifeline for generations of Placitas residents.
So what does Las Huertas Creek mean for the residents of Placitas? Las Placitas Association invites members of the local community to join a tour of Las Huertas Creek Watershed on August 21 in order to help answer that question for themselves. Participants can board a bus in parking lot of The Merc at 9:00 a.m. to visit sites within the watershed selected by our trip leader, Rick Schrader, of River Watch. Other events, including a streamside cleanup, will be planned for later this year,
Las Placitas Association also invites you to participate in some of the other events it has scheduled for this year, including:
- Las Huertas Creek Streamside Cleanup— September 11
- Bill Dunmire, plant expert and local author, will discuss his new book, Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America— October 23
- Star Party with the Albuquerque Astronomical Society—November 6
You can visit www.lasplacitas.org/calendar.html for more details on these and updates on other planned events.
Intel PR effort downplays health problems
In a public relations effort to cap the final report for the two-year Corrales Air Toxics Study, Intel has mass-mailed an “Environmental Performance Report” giving its spin to the controversial health risk assessment.
The first issue of the quarterly mailer leads off with a quote from the consultant who basically exonerated Intel from being the cause of nearby residents’ health problems. It goes on to question the validity of citizens’ health complaints reported for the air toxics study, implying that only a handful of people think they are being harmed.
Referring to a news report that hundreds of complaints had been submitted, Intel’s PR specialists pointed out that those actually came from 28 individuals. “In fact, over half the complaints came from just two individuals and nearly three-fourths came from five individuals.”
In essence, Intel seemed to be saying that the adverse health effects on 28 people should be ignored, presumably for “the greater good,” or at least for the economic benefits derived from Intel’s operation here.
What Intel’s PR sheet didn’t mention was that in most of those complaints, the wind was reported as coming from Intel.
(Actually Intel’s PR staff seems to have misunderstood what the Journal news article said, since it referred to all of the complaints sent in, not just responses to the study’s “Air Event Reports.”)
But the data on complaints which Intel reported actually corroborates what Corrales residents affected by Intel’s emissions have been saying all along. For the past decade it has been primarily those residents near the Intel property line who have been chronically affected by Intel’s tons of toxic emissions.
More often than not, air currents coming over Intel and down the escarpment seem to channel pollutants along certain terrain features.
And that suspicion, repeated for years by Corrales Residents for Clean Air and Water (CRCAW), was corroborated by computer modeling for the pollution dispersion component of the Corrales Air Toxics Study.
Consultant Darko Koracin, of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, found a stark correlation between health and industrial odor complaints called in during September 2001 and actual, confirmed meteorological data that showed Intel’s plume was there at that time.
In the words of the air toxic study’s project manager, Mary Uhl, this past April when presenting Koracin’s modeling results, “It provides very sound evidence that Intel could be culpable for the complaints that were called in.”
The Intel mailer goes on to further dismiss the reports of illness sent in for the Corrales Air Toxics study by those 28 people by pointing out that some of their complaints are common maladies that might affect anyone anywhere. “These self-reported complaints by and large are typical of the maladies found in any community and were not validated by a medical professional.”
That might be true in general, but is not particularly relevant in this case. The average person in the average community does not live next to the world’s biggest microchip factory which reports (as Intel did in the July mailer) releasing into the air about 43 tons of volatile organic compounds a year, more than 10 tons of federally classified Hazardous Air Pollutants, and tons more of State-listed toxins.
The Intel PR sheet includes a bar graph showing those levels of pollution to make that seem insignificant compared to tonnages Intel is allowed to emit under permit.
That has proven a successful PR ploy for Intel in the past because the public assumes—incorrectly—that if Intel’s emissions are so far below permitted limits, then the releases must be safe.
As Air Quality Bureau staffers have explained repeatedly, there is no correlation between permitted levels and safe levels. Effects on public health were not a factor in the bureau’s setting Intel’s air pollution permit.
That’s a hard fact for people to comprehend, since it seems counter-intuitive. Why would the Air Quality Bureau permit that level of pollution if it were not safe? The answer is that public health had virtually nothing to do with the emissions levels which Intel sought and which state regulators approved.
Nobody made a determination that the permit limits of 96.5 tons a year of volatile organic compounds and 24 tons a year of Hazardous Air Pollutants would be safe.
Yet Intel’s PR folks are only too happy for the public to interpret their graph on annual emissions to mean that if Intel’s emissions are so much lower that the permitted level it has to be safe.
Neither the Intel PR sheet nor the disputed health risk assessment that completed the Corrales Air Toxics Study addressed the possibility that perhaps some of the people most affected by Intel’s pollution (such as the two individuals said to have sent in more than half the complaints) have been pre-sensitized to react to smaller doses of the toxins which were measured during the study.
That is more than probably due to the massive exposures they received from Intel in the early- and mid-1990s before Intel installed its main pollution control equipment.
Back then, Intel reported releasing some 140 tons a year of volatile organic compounds, compared to about 43 tons now—and nobody ever made a determination back then that 140 tons was safe. In fact, Intel’s permitted level then was 356 tons a year, and nobody ever said that was safe. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XII, No. 12, August 7, 1993 “More Air Pollution from Intel Than at Silicon Valley Factories.”)
Earlier this year, one of the three whistle-blowers formerly with the Air Quality Bureau explained how he became sensitized to Intel’s fumes when he conducted inspections there.
Matt Stebleton, a former bureau compliance officer, visited the Intel site regularly for about four years. He said Corrales residents were calling his office eight to 12 times a day in the early 1990s to complain about health effects from Intel’s emissions, “and every call was from a different person.
“They had itchy eyes, sore throat, headache, the whole gamut of things.”
Stebleton said he himself grew allergic to Intel’s fumes after repeated inspections there. “Over the time that I was going there I got kind of allergic to the emissions,” he said in February of this year. “My throat would close up faster and faster, and I would itch ....
“The way regulations are written, it’s not based on health effects. It’s not a matter of getting a bunch of scientists in a room to say, ‘well, we found the health effects on rats is this and the [extrapolated] effect on humans is this.’ That’s not how it’s done. That’s how people think it’s done, but it’s not.” ....
[This article was originally printed in the Corrales Comment of July 24, 2004.]