Sandoval Signpost
An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Up Front

Belknaps are back

—Barb and Ty Belknap

After a three-year sabbatical, we, as Belknap Publishing, Inc., have resumed publishing the Signpost. A lot has changed. Sandoval County has gone from one of the fastest growing counties to the county with the most home foreclosures. Rio Rancho and the county are struggling with the negative results of their pro-growth agendas. Bernalillo’s new mayor has faced a fiscal crisis and many problems with the town’s infrastructure since taking office in 2010. Bernalilo Public schools seem to be in constant state of managerial strife. The county has a new temporary manager and a new administration building. Ambitious projects like Sandoval Broadband and the deep water desalination plant seem to have faded away.

Several grass-roots organizations, websites, and email trees have sprung up in Placitas to deal with a perceived lack of local government representation and information. Concerned citizens flocked to the roundhouse in a successful effort to extricate Placitas from the controversial and expensive Eastern Sandoval County Flood Control Authority. A watchdog group called Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association has been formed to keep an eye on issues of concern to the community.

As always, we will continue to welcome community input.  It’s been a long, hard recession and a long, hot summer, but we still think Sandoval County is a great place to live. As a twenty-two-year-old business, we thank you for your continued interest and support. We feel fortunate to have this opportunity, once again, to bring you the Signpost.

Las Conchas fire plume

Smoke plume from Las Conchas fire on July 15, 2011. Photo credit: Gary Priester

Monsoon rains pose threat to fire-damaged areas and Rio Grande Watershed

—Signpost staff

On July 22, the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque stopped drawing drinking water from the Rio Grande, which had turned black from ash runoff. Currently, inter-agency Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams, coordinated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), are working on burned lands, including Santa Clara Pueblo, to mitigate flood dangers in various ways, including reseeding severely burnt watersheds, creating erosion barriers, and removing debris.

NM State Land Commissioner, Ray Powell, met with officials from Cochiti Pueblo, the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Bureau of Land  Management (BLM), the University of New Mexico (UNM), and other state and federal agencies to address concerns resulting from the devastating wildfire.

The Dixon Apple Orchard, which is located on State Trust Land, was damaged by the fire. The orchard sits on a flood plain directly below a severely damaged canyon that extends for six miles and drains 20 thousand acres. Cochiti Pueblo, Cochiti Lake, and much of the water supply for the Rio Grande Valley are fed by this watershed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Albuquerque District has announced its decision to keep all Cochiti Lake Project public use sites and recreational facilities closed until August 17, at which time the lake and portions of the campground will likely be reopened on a limited basis. The fire's intense burning created hydrophobic soil conditions in the watershed draining to the lake, which deters the absorption of water. The Corps' hydraulic engineers expect even small amounts of rain to contribute to significant runoff and debris flows into the Rio Grande and Cochiti Lake.

On July 14, firefighters ignited two miles of roadside along the east side of FR 266, west of Ruiz Peak. This burnout climbed upslope to merge with the edge of the wildfire backing downhill from Peralta Ridge. The smoke produced by the two fire fronts generated the large plume, which appeared from miles around to indicate that the fire was getting worse. All of the fire was within the containment lines. In most areas, the fire was an underburn, consuming ground vegetation but sparing trees and larger vegetation. Smoke from the fire rapidly began to dissipate after these operations.

The Las Conchas Fire started on June 26, when a tree fell on a power line at a ranch bordering the National Forest. It was reported that if the caretaker had been present he might have extinguished the fire quickly. Instead, the fire practically exploded in tinder-dry conditions and spread to over a thousand acres in an hour. The Las Conchas Fire roared through Santa Fe National Forest in Sandoval, Los Alamos, and Rio Arriba Counties, including Santa Clara Reservation, Jemez Reservation; Cochiti Reservation, Santo Domingo Reservation, Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve, and state and private in-holdings. Fanned by high winds, the fire eventually spread to nearly 160,000 acres by July 21 when it was deemed 80% contained.

Ten fire crews, including 678 personnel, fought the fire, which narrowly missed the town of Los Alamos and Los Alamos National Laboratory, threatened 410 residences, and destroyed 63 residences. Crew manned 19 engines, 24 water tenders, and three dozers. Fourteen firefighters were injured. Most of the Las Conchas Fire is contained and is in patrol and mop-up status. Three wildland fire modules remain in place in the north half of the fire to closely monitor for, and mop up, hot spots as they are detected. Fireline restoration operations continue where necessary. As activity dwindles on this fire, many resources are being released for availability elsewhere.

A large thunderstorm over the fire on July 20 afternoon prompted the incident meteorologist to issue a flash flood warning, and minor flooding was observed. Lightning from this storm resulted in a few new starts, which were quickly contained.

The Northern Rockies Incident Management Team transferred management of this fire to the local resources, supported by a National Incident Management Organization, effective 6 a.m. Saturday, July 23. The Team thanked the local communities, pueblos, and other residents for their cooperation and support throughout the suppression process.

Flash floods on and near burn scars can be life threatening. Monitor forecasts and prepare to take action or evacuate should flash flood warnings be issued. Thunderstorms can form and produce lightning and heavy rainfall within 30 minutes.

Sandoval County news

—Ty Belknap

On July 20, Orlando Lucero, Sandoval County Commissioner for District One (including the communities of Sandia Pueblo, Bernalillo, Santa Ana Pueblo, Algodones, Peña Blanca, San Felipe Pueblo, Placitas, La Madera and San Pedro Creek Estates), replaced Placitas resident Mike Lucero (no relation) with Bernalillo resident Gino Rinaldi as a board member on the Planning and Zoning Commission. Orlando told the Signpost that he likes to rotate new members into the board as often as possible. Board members are appointed by their county commissioner and can retain their seat as long as the county commission wants. Algodones resident, John Arrango, has served as P&Z Commissioner for over ten years.

Orlando Lucero said that though Mike had done a good job, he was being replaced because he had missed half the P&Z meeting during his two-year term and because he was involved in real estate. Even though Placitas residents have served on the board for the past twenty years, Orlando said that he did not see the change as a problem. He said that Rinaldi was familiar with county development issues and lived closer to the meetings so attendance would not be a problem. Orlando also said that he had tried to find someone in Placitas to take the position but could not find a willing candidate—other than former P&Z Commissioner and Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Authority board member Wayne Sandoval (who can’t serve because he works for the county at the Placitas Community Center). Orlando denied that there was any conspiracy in the county administration to remove Mike from the board.

Mike Lucero said that he was surprised and disappointed that he had been informed of his replacement by mail, with no warning or previous discussion. He disputed his alleged poor attendance record and said that he was no longer selling real estate. He felt that it was important for a Placitas resident to have a spot on the board.

Placitas has been the center of controversial zoning issues for many years. The P&Z Commission, as per court order, will again consider an application by Cashwell Limited Partners, for approval of a Zone Map Amendment from Rural Residential/ Agricultural (RRA) to Special Use District (SU). The application is for a Cluster Housing Development that would contain a maximum of 65 dwelling units on approximately 103 acres of land, located on the north side of Highway 165, just east of the Placitas Library.

In other news, the Sandoval County Commission will hold a special meeting on July 26 to consider the adoption of the County’s Final Budget for Fiscal Year 2011-2012, and an award for professional consulting services for the 2011 county redistricting.

The pending case of fired County Manager, Juan Vigil, has been moved to District Court in Gallup and promises to cost county taxpayers some big bucks. Hopefully Intel is happy now and won’t leave Rio Rancho in ruins.

District Two Commissioner, Donny Leonard, has missed the last couple of meetings due to a serious illness. (The Signpost joins his many well-wishers.)

The county administration plans to hire a public information officer and resume their monthly “County Line” Signpost column in the near future.

Black water

Rio Grande irrigation ditch flows with black water from Las Conchas fire ash near Algodones. Photo credit: Chris Wright-Swank

Sandia Ranger District closure lifted

Stage II restrictions still in place

On July 22, District Ranger Cid Morgan announced that the Sandia Ranger District is returning to Stage II fire restrictions on Saturday July 23, 2011, 8:00 a.m. Cid Morgan said, “The Sandia Ranger District has received enough rainfall to safely open the forest to visitors. We will continue to keep Stage II restrictions in place until we see additional rainfall within the forest. We thank all the people who have assisted in keeping the forest and surrounding communities safe from wildfire.

Stage II fire restrictions include: building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, charcoal, coal, wood or stove fire; using explosives; operating chainsaws, welding or torches; smoking except within an enclosed vehicle; operating or using an internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device that is properly installed, maintained and in effective working order and driving motorized vehicles off Forest Service roads. All motorized (vehicle) trails remain closed to motorized vehicles.

Fire Management Officials will continue to monitor temperatures, humidity, precipitation and assess the dryness of the vegetation to watch trends and adjust restrictions as needed on the district.

For more information about current fire restrictions go to Cibola National Forest and Grasslands: or call 505-281-3304 for additional information on Fire Restriction and the Sandia Ranger District.




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