County to fund Placitas water study
In an effort to quantify and follow water supply trends in Placitas, the Water Resources Association of Placitas solicited from the United States Geological Survey a proposal for monitoring water wells in the Placitas area. On October 4, 2004, the Sandoval County Commission accepted the proposal and agreed to provide $23,000 to fund the study for two years.
Commissioner Bill Sapien said, "I am enthusiastic about this study. As a member of the Water Resources board for the last two years, I realize how important it is to to keep track of possible drawdowns in the water table. The USGS is a neutral party that will conduct this study as objectively as possible. They will conduct the nuts and bolts of collecting data and keep the Sandoval County Commission and WRAP in the loop. The data will help the county planning process and reassure consumers about their investment."
Rene Garcia, USGS assistant district chief for New Mexico, told the Signpost that he is consulting with his agency staff and hydrogeologist Peggy Johnson, author of the most complete study of water resources in the Placitas area, to identify areas of interest as well as springs, streams, and wells that would be representative. After access is granted, the USGS will begin biannual measurement of twenty wells and as many springs and streams as possible. "This is an open process," Garcia explained. "Anyone who wants to participate or suggest wells for measurement can contact Sandoval County or my office. How effectively this study benefits the community depends on the cooperation of property owners."
WRAP members, including prominent developers, feel confident that the study will ultimately reinforce property values in Placitas. Meanwhile, area residents will continue to face uncertainty while continuing to rely on conflicting professional opinion and anecdotal evidence.
Garcia said that this is a small step in a long-term effort to watch for changes and identify trends in the water table. Data will be shared first with the county commissioners, who can choose how they will use it to formulate land-use policy. Garcia said that the USGS was not asked but is willing to provide a detailed analysis of the raw data. However, this analysis is not included in the scope of the work agreed to in the proposal. The media will not be provided with data until all concerned parties are informed and the data has been analyzed by specialists. Reports will be posted on the USGS Web site as a part of their national data base. Posting will have a one-year lag time, so the information will not be available to the public until 2006.
For further information, call Rene Garcia at 896-8066 or visit nm.water.usgs-.gov/water_data_QL.htm
Early General Election voters chat and wait in a line that extended out the back door of the Sandoval County Courthouse and around the building to the front door. Waits ran about 90 minutes although one white-haired voter said when he got in line his hair was black.
As county commissioners sign provisional ballots, Veronica Torres of the Bureau of Elections adds to the pile of nearly 500 cast by voters whose names didn't appear on precinct rosters where they voted.
The 2004 vote
The fury of the election season and the counting of votes carried with it a dread, if not a promise, of chaos, delay, and fraud.
Yet when Sandoval County commissioners met on schedule to give their blessing to the county tally ten days after the election, the three newspaper reporters present outnumbered the political partisans. And the commissioners, in a turnabout from other recent elections, professed nothing but admiration for the hard work of the manager and staff of the county Bureau of Elections.
“Looks like you guys busted it and got it done,” Commissioner Jack Thomas said. “We're appreciative, and Sandoval County is appreciative.”
Despite preelection concerns about fraudulent voter registrations and the marshaling of lawyers and the U.S. Attorney’s office to monitor polling in the state, Bureau of Elections manager Eddie Gutierrez said only one case was being referred to the district attorney for possible prosecution. That person allegedly voted once at her regular precinct and then cast a provisional ballot at a second precinct.
“She deliberately voted twice and on Election Day, so it was no accident,” said Barbara Longeway of Placitas, a Republican challenger present during the count. That potentially is a fourth-degree felony, added county attorney David Mathews.
Provisional ballots proved to be the problem child creating trouble not only in Sandoval County but elsewhere in New Mexico and nationwide. New this election year, the paper ballots allow anyone whose name does not appear on the precinct register to cast a tentative vote pending confirmation they are registered somewhere.
The nearly five hundred provisional ballots cast in Sandoval County provided the only legal fireworks after Republican county clerk Victoria Dunlap said she expected Democrat and Republican challengers to watch quietly from a distance as votes were tallied. Republicans then won a court order forcing her to release voter information on the outside envelope of the provisional ballots as election workers determined whether each voter was registered or disqualified.
County commissioners, acting as the election canvass board, earlier had allowed Republicans and Democrats each to have two challengers present while provisional ballots were sorted and the qualified ones opened and counted. The court hearing and the laborious process of checking provisional ballots against registrations left elections bureau staff and cross-trained employees of the county clerk's office working until midnight November 10 to complete the tally.
Commissioners then had to sign each ballot during the official canvass. Still, none of the results would be official until the state canvassing board met in Santa Fe on November 23.
Bernalillo County, which logged eleven thousand provisional ballots, anticipated trouble and hired extra poll workers as a designated board of canvass to deal with them, something Sandoval commissioners said they would consider for the 2006 election. Commissioner David Bency said the Legislature needs to establish uniform rules for counting provisional ballots and added that the budget squabble earlier this year concerning overtime pay for the elections bureau should not be repeated.
“We need rules,” Gutierrez said. “We have one-and-a-half years to work this out.”
Republicans won the county for two of three national candidates: Bush-Cheney beat Kerry-Edwards by nearly thirteen hundred votes, Representative Heather Wilson defeated Richard Romero by almost five hundred votes, and Democrat Representative Tom Udall left Gregory Tucker eight thousand votes behind. Democrats, however, swept county offices, although Commissioner Jack Thomas won reelection over Republican Chris Espinosa by about 120 votes out of nearly seventy-five hundred cast.
Democrat Donald Leonard defeated Corrales Mayor Gary Kanin for the seat being vacated by commission chairman Daymon Ely, who did not seek reelection, and former county clerk Sally Padilla returns to that office after defeating Dianne Torrance. Former assessor Lorraine Dominguez bested incumbent Republican treasurer James Truscio, and Democrat district attorney Lemuel Martinez held his post for another term.
Valle Vidal threatened
New Mexico’s beloved Valle Vidal is under threat. This hundred-thousand-acre gem in the Carson National Forest, home to the state’s largest elk herd, is in danger of being leased for coal-bed methane development. This development would industrialize one of the most beautiful preserves in the state, bringing with it miles of roads, graded well pads, poisoned waterways, fragmented habitat, and the permanent impoverishment of a land vital to the economies of northern New Mexico.
In 2002, El Paso Natural Gas petitioned the Forest Service to lease the eastern forty thousand acres of the Valle for coal-bed methane development. This summer, the Forest Service released its Reasonable Foreseeable Development Scenario. The scenario predicted a large amount of gas beneath the Valle, yet it’s only enough to supply the nation with about eleven hours of gas. For that, we would see the disruption of the elk’s calving grounds, displaced wildlife populations, fragmented habitat, poisoned waterways, and the loss of a vital portion of the economies of northern New Mexico.
To help, contact www.vallevidal.org or call Jim O'Donnell at (505) 758-3874.
Are commuters ready for new train service?
While the state barrels ahead with plans to start a commuter railroad next year, local governments are wondering how to get people to and from the trains.
They also wonder if commuters will give up some of the cars that daily clog US 550, the main link from northern Rio Rancho through Bernalillo to I-25.
“I think you have a situation on 550 where people are starting to feel the pain in a lot of ways,” said Judith Espinosa, director of the University of New Mexico Alliance for Transportation Research. “People will tax themselves for better transit; they do it all over the country. But you need to show them that it's going to work.”
Espinosa, speaking at a transit summit hosted by the town of Bernalillo, said most people won't ride “a dirty old bus” but will use a dependable and efficient system.
At a minimum, Sandoval County Commission chairman Daymon Ely said he hopes to see the beginnings of a bus or shuttle system running from Rio Rancho and perhaps Cuba to the rail connection at Bernalillo. Ely, leaving office at the end of the month, likely won't be involved in any final decision.
However, he and other commissioners did move quickly to commit payments from handling Intel's recent $16 billion bond deal to a bond issue of their own. Those bonds would total $55 million, with perhaps $6 million being used to fire up buses before the scheduled arrival of the first commuter trains late next year.
“I think it's critical to Sandoval County not only that the rail project succeeds, but that it succeeds all the way to Santa Fe,” Ely said.
Extending commuter service to Santa Fe is under study with the first public meeting held November 16 in Bernalillo and another to be scheduled in January. It will take about two years to analyze route alternatives, costs, and environmental impacts before federal construction funding can be sought, according to Pat Oliver-Wright, a planning director with the state Department of Transportation.
State funding is in place to begin commuter service from terminals in Bernalillo and Belen to Albuquerque using existing Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway tracks. Commuter cars have been ordered, and the Mid-Region Council of Governments recently published a request to purchase locomotives.
Routes under study for reaching Santa Fe branch off from existing tracks at Waldo to climb La Bajada and head toward the capital from the southwest and from near Galisteo to follow the route of the old New Mexico Central Railroad northward. Existing tracks from Lamy to Santa Fe have been described as too slow and out of the way to entice commuters off I-25.
Bernalillo town administrator Lester Swindle told the Signpost he sees buses as a quick and short-term solution to shuttling commuters to and from trains. Longer term, he would prefer something off the highway like magnetic levitation trains looping from Rio Rancho through Bernalillo on dedicated guideways separate from traffic.
With Rio Rancho creating a new town center, there is an opportunity to plan transportation ahead of development, instead of the other way around, he added.
David O'Laughlin, president of U.S. Maglev Development Corporation, also attended the Bernalillo summit to promote light trains riding on a cushion of electricity as breakthrough technology. “We can levitate a vehicle an inch above the ground with no noise and no pollution,” he said.
Ely, however, remains skeptical, suggesting the technology may be useful in the future but is too expensive now.
County Line—A look down the line
Sandoval County Commission
Rather than reflecting backward as we near the end of the year, and with it my tenure as a county commissioner, I'd like to look ahead at the future of Sandoval County.
Two highly historic events are going to happen in 2005 that will influence transportation across our region.
First, a light-rail train system will become the transportation “spine” running up and down the Middle Rio Grande Corridor. Second, Sandoval County is creating a shuttle system to provide residents access to the regional transportation system.
One intra-county mass-transit system will provide access along the US 550 corridor and shuttle residents up to the Cuba area and down to both the state's rail system and the county's newly opened coordinated health-care facility. That system will provide convenient, efficient mass transit for both commuters and citizens with medical needs.
The other county shuttle system will move residents from the train station in Bernalillo. It will continue west on US 550, south along NM 528 and then to a train station in Albuquerque's North Valley area. Several park-and-ride stops will be located along the route, and the county is in discussions with Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, Corrales, and Santa Ana Pueblo to make sure the system is used effectively and that it encourages communities within the county to develop inter-connecting systems.
The train and the county's mass transit system are vital to our future. The interconnected systems will spur economic growth and help relieve worsening traffic congestion—particularly around the intersection of Interstate 25 and US 550. The rail system, meanwhile, is environmentally friendly and safer than passenger vehicles. And the system is cost-effective. The entire project is projected to cost under $300 million. By comparison, construction of just one interchange for roads—at Interstate 40 and Coors on Albuquerque's West Mesa—will cost $90 million.
Another critical endeavor by the commission is creation of a countywide system for broadband communications to expand access to quality medical care and also spur economic growth.
Broadband communication and the ability to transport large amounts of data will close the gap between the communication service available for rural and urban residents. A state-of-the-art technological environment will enhance job growth and provide new job opportunities. To make the system a reality, the county is working with high-tech providers, including Intel, the labs at Sandia and Los Alamos, and the University of New Mexico.
A third project the county is working to make a reality is the creation of a permanent fund for water and sewer.
Every community in Sandoval County has water and/or sewer needs: water-reclamation projects in Rio Rancho, improved waste treatment in Bernalillo, creation of a sewer system for Corrales and many, many others.
The problems are so large that they cannot possibly be funded entirely at once. We can, however, create a permanent fund that communities can use to leverage state and federal dollars. And we can do it in a manner that is both smart and economically prudent.
State law mandates that such a permanent fund must contain at least $10 million. Using that nest egg, a permanent fund would generate at least $600,000 in interest each year—money that could be used to gain considerably more in federal and state dollars—without ever touching the fund's principal.
As my term as a county commissioner ends on December 31, I want to commend our county residents who have sought to serve their neighbors by seeking elected office. I also wish to express my deep appreciation to the employees at Sandoval County. Their dedication and hard work on behalf of county residents have made my job as a commissioner much easier.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Ely can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, 87004.
State Engineer updates water rules; public comment sought
Proposed new Rules and Regulations for Administration of Surface Water in the State of New Mexico have been posted for public review on the Office of the State Engineer’s Web site, www.ose.state.nm.us, and may be downloaded.
The deadline for receiving public comment is December 3, 2004.
The rules and regulations, which govern effective management of surface waters throughout the state, were last updated in 1953. State Engineer John D’Antonio said, “We encourage suggestions for improvement of this draft, which will be helpful in revising these proposed rules and regulations. Revisions were necessary because the existing regulations did not adequately address additions to state law, revised methods in accounting for the state’s waters, nor the conjunctive management of surface and underground water.”
Written comments should be e-mailed to public firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to: Office of the State Engineer, Attention: Paul Wells, P.O. Box 25102, Santa Fe, NM 87504.
The Office of the State Engineer is charged with administering the state’s water resources and has power over the supervision, measurement, appropriation, and distribution of all surface and groundwater in New Mexico including streams and rivers that cross state boundaries. The State Engineer is also Secretary of the Interstate Stream Commission and oversees its staff.
Bernalillo applying for development grants, invites public opinion
The Town of Bernalillo invites all interested citizens to three public hearings to be held at 6:00 p.m. in the Town Council Chambers on November 29, December 6, and December 13. The purpose of the hearings is to receive input from the public for project selection for a community-development block grant application..
The federal (Department of Housing and Urban Development) CDBG Program is intended to provide benefits to low- and moderate-income persons, prevent or eliminate slum and blight, or address urgent needs. Funding categories include community infrastructure, housing, public-service capital outlay, economic development, emergency, and planning. Applications are limited to a maximum of $500,000 for construction projects and $50,000 for planning projects.
All citizens are encouraged to attend. Spanish-speaking individuals can be accommodated. For special assistance, please contact Lore Casaus at 771-7118.
Past successful CDBG projects in the area include the Loretto Community Center, the Southeast Area Water and Sewer Project Phase I and Phase II, the Bosque Lift Station, the Multipurpose Community and Youth Center, and the Town of Bernalillo Learning Resource Center, which houses the Bernalillo branch of UNM-Los Alamos. Bernalillo also received a CDBG planning grant for the Comprehensive Land Use Master Plan.
For more information, contact Maria G. Rinaldi, community development director, Town of Bernalillo, 829 Camino del Pueblo, Bernalillo, New Mexico 87004, or (505) 867-3311, extension 133.
Orchards master plan okayed, frontage annexation nixed
The Bernalillo Town Council has approved development of part of the former Price's Dairy but rejected an annexation request near Placitas.
Councilors approved the master plan for The Orchards, which includes 757 home sites on 168 acres of the former dairy. The project lies between the Rio Grande and NM 528 on the border of Bernalillo and Rio Rancho. Several home builders are expected to do different portions of the project, including a gated community with clubhouse for “active adult” residents over fifty-five.
Lead developer Intrepid Development has said lot sales could begin as early as next month.
The annexation request involved six acres on the I-25 frontage road a short distance north of NM 165. Developer Bailey Olson Reed had announced intentions to raze an auto-body shop on the property and replace it with an office building and storage yard for a paving company and other potential tenants.
The town planning and zoning commission had recommended the annexation with an initial zoning for manufacturing, the same zoning it now carries in the county. However, town administrator Lester Swindle said councilors rejected the proposal when no one representing the developer appeared at the council meeting.
County conducts Placitas survey
A survey to gauge community interest in a variety of possible projects in the Placitas area, ranging from a library to design criteria and land use, is being conducted by Sandoval County.
“We are seeking to bring the community together to get a sense of what residents in the area really want and need,” said William Sapien, County Commission vice-chairman, whose district includes the Placitas area.
Sapien said the survey was being mailed to 2,300 property owners in the Placitas zip code, 87043. The area is roughly bounded by Interstate 25 on the west and the Sandia Mountains on the east, between the Sandia and San Felipe reservations. He said survey results would be tabulated in a few weeks and then presented at a series of public meetings to be held later this year.
“I’ve met with many, many residents of the Placitas area and they have expressed interests in developing a community library, hiking trails, an education center, and indoor and outdoor sports facilities,” Sapien said. “The survey seeks to measure those interests, along with other amenities the residents say are important to them, such as drought-tolerant landscaping, shielded outdoor lighting, or pathways to encourage walking and biking.”
Sapien said he also wanted input from area residents on possible use of an almost six-and-a-half-acre site owned by the nonprofit Placitas Education Foundation. The land was donated to the foundation by Peggy Cavett Walden with the intent that it be developed into a park.
The survey questions were prepared by foundation board members and CCT & Associates, a planning consulting firm in Corrales that will analyze the results.