DOT seeks public input on I-25/US 550 Interchange upgrade
The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT), in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), hosted a public information meeting to discuss the proposed I-25/US 550 Interchange Project at Exit 242 in Bernalillo on November 9 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. The meeting was attended by about 150 residents. The purpose of the proposed project is to improve traffic flow within the interchange and on US 550 between I-25 and NM 313.
Several potential design concepts to improve traffic flow were identified, presented, and discussed by the NMDOT Project Team that is seeking feedback from the public regarding these alternatives.
NMDOT Project Development Engineer Hooshang Tavanaiepour told the Signpost that construction for the estimated $35 million project is scheduled to begin in early 2013. Twenty-million dollars in federal funding is currently available for the project.
This is not part of the big picture which was presented for public input several years ago before the housing bubble burst, temporarily providing relief from the increasing traffic problem. A pro-growth policy that did not plan for the inevitable traffic gridlock was to include development all the way to the top of the escarpment west of the Rio Grande, a northwest loop highway to I-40, an airport, a new industrial complex, a new planned community of 80,000 residents, and a desalination plant. These grandiose plans are on hold as Sandoval County has moved from the fastest growing county in the state to the county leading the state in housing foreclosures.
The big picture involved options such as a bypass thru Santa Ana Pueblo, a tunnel under the Rio Grande, fly-over ramps like the Big I, and a new bridge south of Bernalillo—options that were put on the table for public comment several years ago.
The Town of Bernalillo, whose citizens suffer most from gridlock, was planning to increase residential density and to annex property just east of I-25 for a major shopping mall. The recession and new administration has put these developments on hold, but the bottleneck remains from the I-25/US 550 interchange and the stretch of US 550 from I-25 to NM 313 (Camino del Pueblo).
An initial transportation study of this project area has been conducted by NMDOT, and several alternatives have been identified. These alternatives were presented, and recommendations will be included in the detailed evaluation portion of the project study. The no-build option is also being considered.
Option 0 is a Standard Diamond Interchange, similar to the current interchange, but, as in all options, the goal is to increase capacity and flow of traffic.
Option 1 is a Partial Clover Interchange that forces traffic headed either north or south to enter I-25 by turning right onto a cloverleaf so as not to cross oncoming traffic.
Option 7 is a Single Point Interchange that forces traffic to merge one vehicle at a time and is controlled by red and green lights.
Option 9 is a Diverging Diamond Interchange that allows left turns without crossing oncoming traffic to avoid “T-bone” collisions.
One option for US 550 between I-25 and Camino del Pueblo includes intersection improvements, additional through lanes, and access modifications. Another option is to gain right-of-ways to backage roads off Camino del Pueblo north and south of US 550 to access the Railrunner station, Bernalillo High School, and the Walgreen’s strip mall by turning right.
Questions about the project can be addressed to Hooshang Tavanaiepour at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-222-6778. The comment period officially ended November 26, but comments can still be emailed to that email address. Late comments will still be considered and published with the report which will be presented by the Project Team at the next public information meeting in March or April of 2011. For more project information, visit www.i25us550.com.
Raptors and owls at the library
The Placitas Community Library will host Wildlife Rescue, Inc. of New Mexico on December 11 as part of our annual Holiday Open House. Have you ever wished you could get very close to a Great Horned Owl or a Red-tailed Hawk? Placiteña Peggy McCormick will bring these and several other birds, including her raven, Poe, to the library on December 11 at 2 p.m. She and her helpers, Penny Elliston and Ruth Wheeler, will increase our appreciation for wildlife and our awareness of the hazards that all wildlife face due to factors such as habitat loss, pollution, cat predation, and man-made obstacles.
ESCAFCA board reacts to election by voting to change the rules
On November 2, the voters in the East Sandoval County Arroyo and Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) area, which includes Algodones, Placitas, and the part of Bernalillo east of the river, elected JoAnn English and Doris Faust to the ESCAFCA board of directors. English and Faust, who are both residents of Placitas, will replace Debbie Kilfoy from Bernalillo, who was defeated in her re-election bid, and Bob Gorrell from Placitas, who chose not to run. Starting in January of next year, the board will consist of Sal Reyes from Algodones, Mayor Jack Torres from Bernalillo, and Wayne Sandoval, JoAnn English, and Doris Faust from Placitas.
At the ESCAFCA board meeting on November 16, the present board passed by a three to one vote a resolution to implement districting for ESCAFCA board elections. Outgoing director Kilfoy introduced the resolution, and directors Reyes, Sandoval, and Kilfoy voted in favor of it. Gorrell voted against the resolution. Director Torres was absent from the meeting.
Michael Sharp from Research & Polling, Inc. explained in a presentation that districting would involve dividing the ESCAFCA area into five districts, each with approximately 3,000 residents, such that each voter would only be able to vote for one candidate representing his or her district. The state legislation that established ESCAFCA in 2007 (HB 939) made it clear that elections for ESCAFCA directors were to be “at-large,” though that term does not explicitly appear in the legislation. This means that each board member represents the full ESCAFCA area, and each voter can elect candidates for multiple director seats, regardless of where the candidates live in the area, as has been the case in the last two elections.
ESCAFCA’s legal counsel, Michael Cadigan, stated that the legislation is unclear as to whether elections should be at-large or by district, though he admitted that some language in the legislation makes sense only if the elections are at-large. But if ESCAFCA’s rules were changed to districted elections, then this would clearly contradict some provisions of the legislation. Yet, the ESCAFCA board chose not to first send this matter to the legislature for possible amendment of the legislation. Instead, the chairman instructed legal counsel to begin work establishing the districting policy.
Reyes said that districting was needed to preserve the present composition of the board, with two members from Bernalillo, two members from Placitas, and one member from Algodones. He said that it was the intent of the legislation to have that exact distribution. Changing to districting, he claimed, would help preserve that intent. Cadigan, however, correctly pointed out that nothing of the sort was written into the legislation, nor even implied by the legislation. The composition of the board was instead due to how Governor Richardson appointed the original members. Furthermore, Mr. Sharp explained in his presentation that districting would require that each district have the same population, yet Algodones has approximately one third the population required for a full district. So a district including Algodones would have to be combined with part of Bernalillo, part of Placitas, or parts of both. Algodones could end up with no member on the board. So neither at-large nor districted elections will guarantee that the original distribution of the board is preserved.
Cadigan advised the board that they not only should, but quite possibly must, make this change to election policy. The present at-large method of elections, he said, could be viewed as a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, Section 2, since it discriminates against the Hispanic population of Bernalillo. Bernalillo, he said, has approximately a 75 percent Hispanic population, while Placitas has approximately an 80 percent non-Hispanic population. According to Cadigan, there could be a lawsuit against ESCAFCA due to the white voters being able to elect candidates to dominate the board, with the result that Hispanic residents of the ESCAFCA area would have their interests inadequately represented. Such a lawsuit would be expensive to fight and would drain ESCAFCA’s limited resources. Furthermore, the courts at present favor districted over at-large elections.
Both of the two other flood control agencies in Bernalillo and Sandoval Counties (AMAFCA in Albuquerque and SSCAFCA in Rio Rancho and Corrales) were originally established as at-large. SSCAFCA has remained at-large. In 1998, a suit was brought against AMAFCA some months prior to its coming election, and its board chose to change to districted elections. When the state legislature established ESCAFCA in 2007, it would have been fully aware of the AMAFCA districting example, yet it chose to establish ESCAFCA as at-large.
In providing grounds for his recommendation, Cadigan stated that while the voters in Bernalillo had voted handily for the 2008 ESCAFCA bond, Placitas voters had voted against it by a large margin. This, he said, indicates a bias of the predominantly white portion of the ESCAFCA area against the interests of the predominantly Hispanic portion. Yet research on the official records shows that approximately 46 percent of Placitas voted for the ESCAFCA bond and 54 percent against. That is by no means a large margin.
Gorrell characterized Cadigan’s grounds for recommending districting as “outrageous.” As an indication that the population in Placitas is not biased against Bernalillo’s interests, Gorrell cited the support that Placitas voters have given to Bernalillo school district bond issues. To the extent that voters are showing a lack of support for the present ESCAFCA board, it is due to their paying high property taxes for ESCAFCA, which they were misled to believe would be significantly less. This had nothing to do with racial divisions.
Public comments on the districting resolution criticized the reasons given by Cadigan and board members in support of it. Michael Lucero, Sandoval County planning and zoning commissioner and a resident of Placitas, said that Cadigan presented only one side of the issue. There is a fairly concentrated Hispanic population in Placitas of significant size. Would they have to be given a separate district? Lucero pointed out that there could be multiple lawsuits in a number of different directions over any attempts to draw districts. Mr. Sharp estimated that the cost of the districting effort would be between $10,000 and $30,000. But if there were prolonged, complicated legal battles, then the total costs could be far more.
In other ESCAFCA news, Michael Neas, a builder and Placitas resident, has informed the attorney general and secretary of state, as well as the press, that ESCAFCA has engaged in deceptive and possibly fraudulent activity as regards the 2008 elections for directors and the $6 million bonds. ESCAFCA resolved in 2008 that it would publish notification inviting nominations to the board of directors in the Albuquerque Journal, yet those notifications never appeared. Thus, the public had no adequate notification that they could be nominated for the board, and consequently, the five original directors were the only ones to appear on the ballot, guaranteeing their election. Prior to the bond election, the board authorized a $4,500 incentive payment to the public relations firm Griffin and Associates, to be paid only if the bond issue passed. Griffin publicized and promoted the misleading figures, which gave the impression that the property tax cost for ESCAFCA would be $66 per $100,000 valuation, while it turned out instead to be $115 per $100,000. The ESCAFCA board had set the tax mil levies for the bond issue and operating expenses well in advance of the election, so they and their contractors were fully able to recognize that the $66 figure they publicized was far too low. Were the voters informed of the actual cost, the bond issue, which passed only narrowly, might well have been defeated, and the $4,500 would never have been paid. In fact, had that issue been voted down, then the legislation establishing ESCAFCA would have forced it to dissolve.
Neas has identified a number of other irregularities and deceptions on the part of ESCAFCA. In order to gather this information, he needed to submit a number of Requests for Public Records, most, but not all, of which he has received. Chairman Reyes has repeatedly emphasized at public meetings how costly these requests have been, and in one meeting, characterized this as harassment.
In the two years since the bond issue was passed, not a single shovel of dirt has been turned by ESCAFCA to divert drainage water or prevent flooding, which is ESCAFCA’s primary reason to exist.
Sandoval County Line
—Orlando J. Lucero, Chairman, Sandoval County Commission
I am winding up my year as Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. It has been my honor to serve as the Chairman and to lead the County during a time when fiscal constraints were facing counties, cities, the State and Nation. Sandoval County’s operating budget has been a major issue of concern. With the assistance of the other Board members and our staff we have been able to adjust the budget to maintain services to the public. I also want to thank the electorate of District 1 for the confidence they have in me and for re-electing me to a second term on the Commission. During my campaign I learned that many of our citizens were not familiar with the function of County government and of the services we provide. In this article I will summarize some of the functions.
Sandoval County encompasses 3,716 sq. mi. and includes 6 incorporated municipalities and all or part of 9 Indian Pueblos, 3 Navajo Chapter and the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. Only 758 sq. mi. of land are in private ownership while the remaining land is in trust or owned by the Federal or State governments. This information is important as you will see. Counties are entities of the State and can only act as authorized by the Constitution or State Statues. The role of the Board is to set policy in administering these responsibilities. There are 5 elected offices, each is responsible for specific functions and these offices are “administered” by various State departments. The County Assessor, being one such office, is responsible for establishing the values of all taxable property and for letting the owner know their valuation for tax purposes. The Assessor gets his information from the County Clerk who maintains legal documents, including property records and handles voter registration and elections. The County Treasurer collects and deposits all County revenues and is the tax collector for all of the taxing entities in the County and for the State. The Treasurer’s role is to send each taxing entity, such as a public school, its allocation of the property tax. The County Sheriff enforces the laws of the County and State in the unincorporated area or in municipalities or Tribal land if there is an agreement to do so or if the situation requires immediate attention. The Sheriff is also responsible for serving legal document issued by the Courts. The fifth office is the Probate Judge, who acts over informal probate, as necessary, to settle estates of deceased owners of property in the County. So in addition to these 5 countywide offices, you the voters also elect the 5 County Commissioners who run by district.
Sandoval County is a Commission/Manager form of government. The Board hires a chief executive to carry out the policies of the Commission, to propose a budget, to serve as the County’s representative on committees and act as the liaison to other governments and organizations. The County has several operating departments who report to the County Manager. Community Services offers a wide array of services including Senior Program, Community Health, Indigent Services and DWI Prevention Programs. Senior Programs are funded by the County about 2/3 and 1/3 by State and Federal grants. The Fire Department consists of 21 career Firefighters/Emergency Services personnel and about 250 volunteers. There are 9 districts in the County. Over 85% of the emergency responses are related to paramedic type emergencies. The Public Works Division maintains all public roadways, culverts and programs road right of way and improvements. The Road Crews are responsible for snow removal and provide support during fires and other emergencies. This Division also oversees the Solid Waste program which operates a landfill and several convenience transfer stations in the rural areas of the County. The other functions are to oversee the construction of facilities and to maintain all County buildings. They also provide vehicle and heavy equipment maintenance for the County. Land use actions are handled by County Development. The Planning and Zoning Commission is appointed by the Board to consider matters involving the use of land and to evaluate proposals on subdivisions, master plans and to make recommendations to the Board. Economic Development and Tourism provides our visitors with guides to Sandoval County. Located in the historic Salazar District in Bernalillo, the El Zocalo Complex rents the space for weddings and receptions and leases office space to new businesses. The County Fairgrounds in Cuba hosts the annual fair and supports the County 4H and other programs. It is the site for a 30 bed youth facility and will soon operate campsites and a RV park. A State mandated service is the detention of persons sentenced by the County’s court system. The Detention Center’s goal is to provide for the safety of the inmates and staff and to assure access to visitors without compromising the community’s welfare. To support these functions the County’s Finance, Human Recourses and Information Technology along with the County Manager provide administrative and operational support.
I invite you to come to our County Commission meetings and to become involved in County government. We are located in a new County Administrative Office at 1500 Idalia Road, Building D. The Board’s regular meetings are the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month. The meeting room is on the 3rd floor.
For more information you can visit our website at: www.sandovalcounty.com