An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Signpost cartoon, c. Rudi Klimpert

It’s a gusher!

Last month, Sandoval County development director Michael Springfield announced the discovery of a significant supply of brackish water beneath the Rio Puerco basin. The discovery provided vindication for county officials who invested $2.5 million of public funding into the exploration project to sink three wells as deep as nine thousand feet into the Rio Puerco in hopes of finding enough water to supply to up to eighty thousand residents of the proposed planned community Rio West. Sandoval County has a controlling interest in the water project in partnership with Rio West developer Recorp Partners of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Springfield said that preliminary testing indicates that there is potential of more than fifty thousand acre feet per year for one hundred years discovered at thirty-seven-hundred feet (a considerable savings from the estimated nine thousand feet.) Water flowed from the well, pressured possibly by heat or gas pockets. He said that more testing is required. Another well will be drilled into the aquifer one mile away, and pump tests are required to confirm these estimates. One well will be flowed, and drawdown will be measured on the other well.

Although the county came under some criticism for the bold expenditure of funds, Springfield said that the exploration was not a shot in the dark. “Hydrologists provided a very educated guess that there is a lot of water down there. It is an appropriate function of local government to supply water to residents,” Springfield said, adding that most desalination projects are government-funded. They are looking into a desalination plant and General Electric water treatment technology.

If these water supplies are confirmed, Recorp Partners will accelerate its planning process. If not, they will have to start looking into water transfers. As per the agreement, Rio West will get the first eighteen thousand acre feet. Any supplies in excess of that will be “gravy” available to the rest of Sandoval County, easing the demand for water rights from the surrounding area. Springfield said that water from such depths may be unappropriated and not under the jurisdiction of the Office of the State Engineer (OSE). He stressed that the county has been working with the OSE in “the most positive way possible.”

Does this mean Sandoval County will be home to the next Phoenix? Commissioner Jack Thomas said of the discovery, “I think it’s just tremendous. It’s the best thing that’s happened around here in twenty-five years and it benefits the entire area. Water supply is the absolute centerpiece of the puzzle [in sustainable growth]. Growth is not necessarily a good thing, but working people keep moving here because it’s affordable and there are jobs. Available water will help keep it that way. If we have guaranteed water for one hundred years, I’m convinced that new technology will find new ways to supply water in the future.”

Sandoval County Commission faces issues

There was only one Sandoval County commission meeting in July. A crowded agenda took over three hours to complete, but the main event involved the resurrection of Sandoval Broadband. Commissioners voted unanimously to invest another $1.1 million into the countywide wireless Internet system which has almost nothing to show for the $2.6 million of county funds spent since the bold initiative started in 2004.

Articles in the Albuquerque Journal and the Signpost have detailed questionable management of the project by county manager Debbie Hays, lack of oversight by the county commission, and possible fraudulent dealings with entrepreneurs and contractors. State Auditor Hector Balderas announced last week that his ongoing special audit reveals problems with the project that now require a special forensic audit to determine if the problems involve criminal activity.

Scott Akrie of Netlogix (a company hired by the county to review and evaluate the feasibility of the project) presented his company’s findings to the commission. He said that of $1.2 million paid to the Dandin Group to build a system “backbone” to provide a broadband signal from Albuquerque to Cuba, the county had only a $1,000 radio to show for it. The rest was “vaporware” and did not exist. That was the bottom line.

The rest of the Netlogix report was more positive. Akrie encouraged the commission not to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” He told the commission that building a backbone is “not rocket science” and uses equipment and technology that been used for years. He described the project as “very doable” and “the right thing to do.” He recommended a systematic approach to the acquisition of towers and radios—installed within a system of checkpoints and milestones—that would make the delivery of one hundred megabits of broadband achievable. He said that the system would cost about $1.1 million to buy and $16,000 a month to operate. Akrie commended the county for creating a demand for the technology in the fields of education and health care.

Information technology director Michael Hoag said that requisitions for bids by contractors could be out by September and that a five-person oversight committee would approve all proposals. Debbie Hays said that funding could come out of money earmarked for education services, since the “free connectivity to schools was the best thing for education.” She said that she also expects to recover funds from Dandin through insurance coverage and litigation. Hoag said that he was seeking grants for up to $9.8 million.

Commissioner David Bency commented that it was good to “take a step back, reevaluate, and admit mistakes.” Commissioner Joshua Madalena said that it was hard to trust the next person in line not to deliver more worthless equipment. “I’ve heard it all before. This is a necessary tool for people in my district who are suffering. We have failed to supply a need for my constituents.”

In a private executive session, the commissioners agreed to seek legal specialists and sue the Dandin Group for fraud and breach of contract.

In other business, speakers encouraged everyone to come out to the County Fair held every year in Cuba (see County Line, this Signpost). Queen’s Court contestants presented the commissioners with gift baskets and free passes.

Sandia Pueblo Governor Victor Montoya requested a resolution in support of the exchange of land adjoining and within the National Forest for land bordering Placitas on the Pueblo’s northern border. The T’uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Act authorized the land exchange in principal with specific properties to be agreed upon later. Governor Montoya assured the commission that the exchange would not lead to commercial or residential development and would not affect recreational use. The Loop Road and all trails into the forest would remain open.

Sheriff John Paul Trujillo received permission to purchase two used motorcycles for “highway drug interdiction.”

The commission approved the preliminary plat for Diamond Tail Phase II, a 142-lot subdivision in Placitas. This in spite of protest by neighbors Bob Wessely and Mark Rose, and a letter from San Felipe Pueblo raising concerns about impairment of surface water flow to springs. County development director Michael Springfield testified that all subdivision regulations had been met and that approval of the preliminary plat did not preclude further attention to the neighbors’ concerns. He said later that the Corps of Engineers may be funding a study of impacts on the springs.

Sandoval County buses no longer free

Sandoval County Easy Express will begin charging for trips on August 1. The fare structure creates a network of zones along the two rural bus routes.

• Travel within one zone—for example, between Jemez Springs and San Ysidro—will cost $1. A trip from Jemez Springs to Bernalillo—two zones—will be $2. Passengers will pay the same amount for the return trip.

• The other route runs between the Village of Cochiti Lake and Bernalillo, passing through Santo Domingo Pueblo, San Felipe Pueblo, Algodones, and Santa Ana Pueblo.

• A discounted fare of fifty cents per zone is available to seniors ages sixty and older, mobility-impaired riders, and children ages six to eighteen. Children five and younger will ride free.

• A monthly zone pass will be available for $32 for adults and $16 for riders who pay a discounted rate. A monthly pass for unlimited system-wide travel will be $64 for full fare and $32 for the discount rate.

Rio Rancho city informs residents via Web

The first video installment of Rio Rancho University is now available.

The video, which focuses on how the city is funded and provides services to residents, can be accessed online via the city’s website at The ten-minute video can also be seen on RioVision Cable Channel 15 by Cable One subscribers. Check local listings for air dates.

Rio Rancho University is a city-funded and sponsored program with the mission of informing and educating residents about the many different components of local government in Rio Rancho. Throughout the year, new topics with an associated video will be added to the city’s website and RioVision.

Local media production and advertising agency Edit House Productions, LLC, produced this video in conjunction with staff from the city’s Cultural Enrichment Department.

Work on Rio Rancho’s new City Hall nearly complete

City staff is eagerly preparing for the move to their new location at 3200 Civic Center Circle NE. This facility will be located in the city’s new Downtown City Center and across the street from the Santa Ana Star Center.

On Tuesday, July 31 at 5:00 p.m., the current City Hall (located at 3900 Southern Boulevard SE) will close to the public. The closure is necessary to ensure public safety while the many elements of this move take place. The city appreciates the public’s patience during this process of packing, unpacking, and reinstalling equipment. The city intends to complete this move in a manner that will ensure the public is served to the best of its ability following this transition.

On Tuesday, August 7 at 8:00 a.m. the new City Hall, located at 3200 Civic Center Circle NE, will open to the public.

Public meetings will continue to take place during the month of August at the City Hall location at 3900 Southern Boulevard SE.

To get from the previous City Hall (3900 Southern Boulevard SE) to the new City Hall (3200 Civic Center Circle NE), you will head west on Southern Boulevard to Unser Boulevard. Make a right on Unser Boulevard and you will travel on Unser for several miles until you reach Main Street. Make a right on Main Street and proceed east toward City Hall.

For more information, call (505) 891-5000 or visit; the city’s website will provide the latest updates and information regarding the move.

Building the wine museum

Under the direction of Rick Catanach, young Bernalillo adults refurbish Bernalillo’s crumbling old historic casket shop into the new New Mexico Wine Museum. (Top row from left) BJ Garcia, Ivan Perez, Rick Catanach, Luke Catanach, Mike Sandoval, Andrea Colbert, Diego Gauna, Jesus Valdez. (Bottom row from left) Lorraine Colunga, Amor Montoya, Vince Gnodle, Adrian Casillas. (Not shown: Charles Gurule)

crew at work

“Casa Funebre” gets a new life as the New Mexico Wine Museum courtesy of Rick Catanach’s crew of young Bernalillo adults.

Rick Catanach and Amor Montoya

Crew leader Rick Catanach shares an old article about Abenicio Salazar’s buildings with Lorraine Colunga.

Amor Montoya, great, great-granddaughter of Abenicio Salazar (architect and builder of El Zócalo) shovels mortar.

Passing a reclaimed terrone

Adrian Casillas hands a reclaimed “terrone” up to Diego Gauna.

Andrea Colbert pours water into Luke Catanach’s clay-and-sand mixture to make adobe mortar.

Teens join in historic adobe restoration project

It’s hotter than July in Bernalillo today. The humidity is up there too, but Rick Catanach’s crew of teenagers works happily away in the sun and the heat. They are rebuilding a crumbling old adobe casket workshop on the grounds of the town’s wine festival park. It is the first time many of the dozen or so native Bernaleños have worked in this once ubiquitous material. When they are finished, the town will have a home for its new Museum of New Mexico Wine, and the teens will have attained a new set of real world skills.

The restoration is being coordinated by Bernalillo Community Development Director, Maria Rinaldi, through a grant from the Youth Conservation Corps and in conjunction with Cornerstones Community Partnership, an architectural preservation nonprofit whose Architectural/Technical Manager, Francisco Uvina, lives in Bernalillo.

“We are doing much more than just training an earthen architecture labor force: each worker has received sixty hours of OSHA training and they are enrolled and earning credits at UNM Los Alamos in preservation. They have lectures every week on architectural preservation and community development. So, we feel we are gaining young citizens with a lot of knowledge who will have a deeper pride in this community. Plus, it’s a great job and way to make money for them,” Maria says.

For Rick Catanach, this is a dream come true. A lifelong informal New Mexican folkways historian, woodworker, and master adobero, Rick has often bemoaned the loss of the cultural skills and physical beauty of the dying art of adobe construction.

In recent years, Rick’s son Luke Catanach has become Rick’s right-hand man with an enthusiasm that leaves hope that these old ways are moving forward. Luke is the crew chief on this wine museum job and as such is a perfect bridge to help transport his father’s knowledge to these teens.

The project has garnered a lot of quiet attention in adobe circles. Nearly every day an old friend of Rick’s or someone with knowledge of local history will stop by to see the crew’s progress. “Orlando Lucero stopped by today and was telling us about the production of terrones,” Rick says.

This building, as well as many other buildings in Bernalillo, is made not from hand-formed bricks, but from terrones—squares of sod with the roots still in.

“There were a lot of marshes around here due to the flooding and it was explained to us that they would come behind a horse and plough and cut terrones to size. They were an easier way than making adobes. But Orlando was telling us a story this morning that if you didn’t let the terrones sit for at least eight months, your house could grow. It would kind of heave up. That might’ve been what happened to this [building]. Look at the difference in coursing. We’re trying to level it up. We have four courses to catch up to two. So we’re gonna have to wedge it in there to get this thing nice and level.”

Some of the crew stands on the scaffolds with Rick eyeing the gap. They must level and call down to workers on the ground who search through a pile of reclaimed terrones for pieces the right size to wedge into the courses. Others fill five-gallon buckets of mud and use a rope and pulley to lift the mud up the scaffold.

Though none of the kids have worked in adobe before, they are discovering how satisfyingly simple the building techniques can be. One member of the crew, Amor Montoya, is the great, great-granddaughter of Bernalillo’s famed adobero, Abenicio Salazar. Just a stone’s throw from Salazar’s two-story adobe school (now known as El Zócalo), Montoya shovels mud from a wheelbarrow and says, “I think it’s a great opportunity for me to learn his history and to experience what he did.”

Taking a break from screening the pebbles out of a pile of dirt in order to prepare it for a smooth mortar mix, Vince Gnodle says, “It’s more historical to build this way. I like it better than wood construction.”

Adrian Casillas admires the reporter’s digital camera and muses that it is payday. The pay is nine dollars an hour, substantially more than minimum wage. Perhaps for the workers, that is the best aspect of this job.

Work will continue on this building throughout the summer and into the early fall. Meanwhile, Maria Rinaldi is working to secure other grants that will enable this freshly-bonded team to keep working to stabilize other adobe buildings within the town and to preserve a great aspect of their cultural inheritance.

County Line—Sandoval County Fair returns

Take a break from the sweltering heat and attend this year’s Sandoval County Fair for a refreshing perspective of our area’s truly unique heritage and programs that help mold the future of our youth. You won’t go away disappointed. This year’s fair promises to be the biggest, most diverse, and entertaining in its thirty-one-year history.

The fair will be held Thursday through Sunday, August 2-5, at the County Fairgrounds in the cool climate of the Jemez Mountains, just off US 550 south of Cuba. Admission is only one dollar.

To make traveling more convenient, the County’s newly-launched Sandoval Easy Express—or SEE—rural transportation system is offering free round-trip rides to the Fairgrounds on Friday and Saturday. The buses will travel from the Sandoval County RailRunner Express station at US 550 and I-25 in Bernalillo, with a stop in San Ysidro. Call the County Visitor’s Center at 867-7640, for more information or schedules.

Highlights that entire families can enjoy include rodeo performances on Friday and Saturday nights, an Indian pow-wow competition, dinner and dance on Thursday, and a rodeo school that will be held from 9:00 a.m. to noon on Friday and Saturday.

Saturday’s events include an exciting pony express race, a parade through Cuba, a wild horse race, and a working cow horse exhibition. Events during the fair’s closing day on Sunday include a dog show, team roping, animal scramble, a junior rodeo, and crowning of the 2007-2008 fair queen and court.

Other attractions throughout the four-day event include exhibits of arts and crafts and baked goods produced by county residents.

My personal favorites are the livestock shows and judging competitions on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, the always-popular 4-H Club auction will give fairgoers the opportunity to bid on poultry and livestock that have been raised and cared for throughout the year by the County’s youth. The 4-H Club members’ livestock projects are a valuable way to instill animal husbandry skills and first-hand experience raising livestock.

The Sandoval County Fair dates back to 1976. The Rio Puerco Basin Fair, as it was once called, has evolved over the years into the highly anticipated fair and rodeo that residents now enjoy.

Sandoval County acquired the sixty-seven-acre fairgrounds site from the Bureau of Land Management in 2006 and has begun making extensive improvements. In the past year alone, existing facilities have been repaired and improved, and new bathrooms and concession buildings have been constructed, along with modern, covered bleachers and lighting at the rodeo arena. This spring, the County hired Cuba resident Mark Hatzenbuhler to manage the fairgrounds property.

Improving the fairgrounds and shaping the annual fair into an event that is enjoyed by participants and spectators is not an easy task. It is being accomplished only with tremendous amounts of dedication and work by committed members of our communities and by the county’s Tourism and Economic Development staff who oversee the fairgrounds property.

This year’s fair is organized by the all-volunteer Fair Board, which includes president Vivienne Vanlandingham, vice president Timothy Johnson, treasurer Darlene Gurule, secretary Karolyn Schaefer, and members Hilma Lewis, Paul Enyert, Betty Lou Leeson, Leroy Lovato, and Michelle Taylor.

The board members and all of the individuals and groups who work so hard on behalf of our youth and other residents certainly deserve our deep appreciation.

See you at the fair!

Questions or comments for Commissioner Leonard can be mailed to him care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P. O. Box 40, Bernalillo 87001.





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