An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Bernalillo Bosque

Autumn leaves fall in the Bernalillo bosque

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Broadband saga continues

—SIGNPOST STAFF

The office of State Auditor Hector Balderas released Sandoval County’s fiscal year 2006 audit on November 20. The report contains four alleged violations of state regulations, including failure to report $1.3 million expenditures to the state for the audit, amending a planning contract that quadrupled its worth while avoiding proper procurement regulations, paying for goods and services without making sure they were received, and awarding the original contract to Jonathon Mann and AQV, the Utah company that wrote the request for proposals from contractors.

Balderas was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal, “Had the county followed more prudent practices, much of this loss in taxpayer dollars could have been prevented. Their lack of accountability hurt the taxpayers of Sandoval County.” He said that there are no penalties for these violations, but that they could hurt the county’s financial rating. He also said that his investigation will continue, focusing on “particular transactions and persons.”

County staff have denied some of these allegations in the past, but had no comment pending the receipt of the final copy of the audit.

In other developments, county information technology director Michael Hoag resigned his position on October 15. He was hired nearly a year ago to act as a liaison between the county and Sandoval Broadband, which was being run at the time by DeWayne Hendricks of the California-based Dandin Group. Hendricks resigned late in 2006, leaving Hoag in charge.

On November 7, the county announced that it was suing Hendricks and Jonathon Mann, alleging that they lied to the county about their ability to complete the project and that they pocketed money paid by the county without providing goods and services that were promised. The county, represented by the Albuquerque law firm of Sutin, Thayer & Browne, seeks punitive damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees.

The county has little to show for the $2.6 million invested in the project over the past three years. County officials continue to insist that by providing low-cost high-speed wireless Internet service, they can “level the playing field” for otherwise disadvantaged rural residents. They also tout advances made in education and public health and safety.

Scott Akrie of Netlogix (the national wireless consulting firm hired earlier in the year by the county to review and evaluate the feasibility of the project) presented his company’s findings to the commission last July. 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 has 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. The county commission has approved funding the project and issued Requests for Proposals from contractors in September.

Last month, the Sandoval County Commission selected Netlogix to take over as project manager.

Bernalillo adopts Transit-Oriented Development plan

—TY BELKNAP

On October 30, the Bernalillo Town Council adopted the controversial Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan as a supplement to the town’s comprehensive land use plan that was adopted in 2004. It also terminated the moratorium prohibiting acceptance of planning and zoning or building permit applications for properties within the sixty-four acres of the TOD plan, opening the door to anticipated development of the area around the two Rail Runner stations.

The three-to-one vote to adopt came after a tumultuous week of protest by Bernalillo citizens—seventy-five of whom signed a petition opposed to the TOD plan. During two packed meetings arranged to hear these last minute complaints, residents complained that they had not been adequately informed of the plan. They expressed concern that private property could be taken by the town by eminent domain and that property taxes would increase. Speakers worried that the density of new development would destroy the small-town feel by bringing in thousands of commuters, take funding from existing projects, and creating traffic gridlock and loss of open space. Some residents raised the issue of preserving the history and culture of Bernalillo.

Planners considered these concerns at an October 26 work session and modified the resolution accordingly. Resolution 10-30-07 included clauses which stated that the TOD plan would not affect the town’s existing eminent domain powers and replaced numbers with the vague term “traditional village center densities.” It stated that the TOD plan does not have the force of law and shall be considered a “work in progress” and a “living document which shall be continually reviewed and revised as appropriate with public input and participation.”

There was no public input or participation allowed at the October 30 meeting. Prior to the vote, Mayor Patricia Chávez described the many opportunities for public input at public meetings that took place over the past year.

Marian Jaramillo was the only counselor to vote against the resolution. She stated after the meeting that “village-centered density” left the door open and that she “tried hard to keep the density as low as possible” to “keep Bernalillo Bernalillo.”

An attractive brochure produced by the Town and the Mid-region Council of Governments states:

“The plan focuses on maintaining those parts of the town residents identified as important, while recognizing the real pressures of growth and change that the town—and the region—is experiencing. To address residential growth, the plan recommends offering more housing options with a wider variety of prices, types, and styles so the town can continue to be home, now and in the future, to all Bernalillo residents. This includes families who have deep roots in the community and newcomers who are attracted and charmed by small town living and the traditional culture of the region. Additionally, the plan promotes existing community businesses by recommending increasing public parking, establishing attractive pedestrian connections, and a few key new roads connecting Main Street, existing neighborhoods, schools, and the Rail Runner station.”

Residents Steve Amiot and Max Smelling continue to oppose the plan, saying that the crowded area around the stations will serve as a precedent for the development of the town as a whole—including the incorporated areas west of the Rio Grande and the areas east of I-25 below Placitas that are slated for annexation. They complain that the town government does not communicate openly with residents about what appears to be a pro-development agenda.

New Mexico Film Studios

New Mexico Film Studios architectural plan for Budaghers, New Mexico

Big-time film studio comes to Sandoval County

—SIGNPOST STAFF

On November 15, the Sandoval County commission enthusiastically approved a request by Coronado Investment, LLC to amend the official zoning map from the SU (Special Use-Shopping Center) Zone to the SU (Special Use-Film Studio) Zone for the purpose of operating a film studio and post-production facility in the Algodones community. The property is located near the intersection of I-25 and West Frontage Road off the Budaghers exit. The property is currently known as ¡Traditions! and contains approximately forty-nine acres. The existing 168,000 square feet of buildings would be remodeled for new uses, and over 250,000 square feet of new buildings would be constructed.

Michael Harbert, President and CEO of New Mexico Film Studios, told the commission that his company plans to begin investing over $20 million early next year into a studio “with everything a producer and director need to make a movie.”

The studio promises an educational center to train local people to fill three hundred jobs, full-time and temporary, in fields ranging from food services and security to high-tech production. Productions could start as early as May 2008 on television commercials, music videos, and television series. Feature films will come later.

The studio will draw from labor and talent pools in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, the Pueblos, and all points in between. It will also benefit from generous incentive programs offered by the state.

New Mexico Film Studios is so new that it does not yet have a website or phone contact for further information.

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Oil wells: It’s not a done deal

—LEOTA HARRIMAN

No matter what Santa Fe County does about Tecton Energy’s plans to drill for oil in the Galisteo Basin, it will likely get sued, according to county spokesman Stephen Ulibarri.

Tecton recently bought mineral rights to some sixty-five thousand acres in the Galisteo Basin. The company will seek permits for eight exploratory wells from the state this week, according to Bill Dirks, Tecton’s managing partner.

At a public meeting Tecton hosted last week in Santa Fe, hundreds of residents showed up to voice opposition to the idea of large-scale oil drilling in the area.

While Ulibarri said legal issues that could go to court include the county’s authority, Dirks said Tecton has no plan to sue the county. “Tecton is not coming to bully our way into the process, and we are not a litigious company,” Dirks said. “The last thing we want to do is litigate over this kind of thing.”

Meanwhile, Santa Fe County has been working on revising its hard rock mining ordinance “to make it more applicable to oil and gas drilling,” Ulibarri said.

Galisteo resident Nancy Seewald fears the change would weaken the current ordinance. “We’re afraid that the many months of lobbying by the New Mexico oil and gas industry and by Tecton may have influenced the county attorney to write a weaker ordinance than we already have,” she said.

Area organizers have put up a blog, drillingsantafe.org, and have retained attorney Eric Jantz of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. “At this point we are providing advice,” Jantz said. “There are currently no lawsuits, no drilling, and no permits being applied for.” He added, “It’s not a done deal.”

“Companies like Tecton have rights, too, and they need to be protected,” Ulibarri said. “Our job isn’t to side with Tecton or the property owners. We’re not going to make either side happy—that’s our role in this. The public should understand that both sides are positioning for a probable legal fight down the road.”

Residents of Galisteo and the surrounding area are pushing for a moratorium on permits for oil drilling that Tecton intends to pursue.

Commissioner Mike Anaya, representing southern Santa Fe County, initially said the commission has not talked about a moratorium but later said he would support it.

Anaya said he gets five or six letters every couple of days, as well as a handful of calls a day about the prospect of oil drilling in the basin. “My constituents are dead against it,” Anaya said. “They want to know how [Tecton] will prevent contaminating the air and water. And I hear realtors are concerned about the effect on the price of land and the tourism industry.” Anaya was born and raised in Galisteo.

Ulibarri said “only about one hundred” of the letters the county has received are from affected residents. Only one letter has supported drilling, he said, while Anaya said he has received no letters or calls in support of drilling.

The process to extract oil and gas from the limestone underlying the basin is hydraulic fracturing, called “fracking,” Dirks said. About forty thousand gallons of water under high pressure—with chemical additives including a thickening agent, detergent, alcohol, and sand—would be injected two- to eight-thousand feet below the surface, cracking the rock two hundred to six hundred feet around the well bore, Dirks said.

Dirks said drilling will not contaminate groundwater. The biggest concerns the company is hearing from neighbors are groundwater contamination and water scarcity, he said.

“Nobody is very clear about what the environmental conditions are like on the ground,” Jantz said. “There is no comprehensive data about what the hydrogeology of the Galisteo Basin looks like, or what the results of fracking there would be. None of that stuff has been explored in any detail. The [Santa Fe County] Commission will demand some sort of comprehensive cultural and environmental review of the entire Galisteo Basin.”

Dirks estimated forty to sixty percent of the forty-thousand gallons of water used could be recycled. Asked where the water would come from, Dirks replied, “We don’t know yet.”

Asked if Tecton had been in contact with the consortium seeking to sell water rights from the Estancia Basin, Dirks answered, “No.”

In the 1980s, when sixteen oil wells were drilled in the area and oil was discovered, hydraulic fracturing was not economically viable. But as gasoline prices soar again, that has changed.

Even more alarming to residents is the prospect of larger oil companies moving in if Tecton discovers the hundred million barrels of sweet crude it expects.

“We both explore and develop oil resources,” Dirk said. Tecton’s website describes the company’s primary business as exploration. “When you find a big resource, it’s very common for a larger company than ours, like a Shell or a Conoco-Phillips, to come after us,” Dirks said. “And even if no other company came in behind us, we don’t own all the mineral rights in Santa Fe County by a long stretch. Other companies will likely buy those rights and exploit them themselves.”

Further complicating the issue is the “split estate,” meaning that surface rights and mineral rights are owned separately, and governing bodies are not allowed to make laws that infringe upon the mineral rights’ holders access to those resources. That means that a company like Tecton can sink an oil well on privately-owned land.

The location of such a well can be restricted by ordinances like Santa Fe County’s current mining ordinance, which says a mine—in this case an oil well—must be half a mile from any residence. At least one of the eight wells Tecton wants to activate is about three-hundred-fifty feet from a house, and others are “right on Galisteo Creek,” according to Seewald.

“It just doesn’t make sense that [Tecton] would propose sites that would require so many variances,” Seewald said.

Dirks acknowledged some of the eight wells would require county variances, but added, “This is a gray area to us. The state has no such setback requirement.” Asked if the county could have a more restrictive ordinance than the state, Dirks said, “I don’t know, and the county doesn’t know, either.”

“I don’t believe we’re going to issue a permit, and we’re not looking at it like [Tecton] is making the rules,” Anaya said. “I’d consider a short moratorium until the [mining] ordinance is revised.” That revision will get its “first look” about the end of November, Anaya said.

“People don’t know what’s going on behind locked doors at the county—they don’t know what is happening,” Seewald said. “If we knew what was going on, maybe our fear would be alleviated. We want to see the draft ordinance so we have something on the table to talk about.”

The revision process will involve at least two public hearings, Ulibarri said. A county town hall meeting was held at Eldorado Elementary School on November 15, Anaya said.

Asked if any representatives from the oil and gas industry or from Tecton in particular have been involved in the process of revising the ordinance, Ulibarri said no.

Dirks estimated the total financial benefit to the county and state at hundreds of thousands of dollars per well per year.

“Oil and natural gas is a resource we all need to live our daily lives, and every single one of us uses it,” Dirks said. “I believe it can be developed in a safe and even sensitive fashion.”

More information can be found at tectonenergy.com, drillingsantafe.com and nmenvirolaw.org.

This article was reprinted with the permission of The Independent, a weekly newspaper covering the East Mountains.

 

 

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