Sandoval Signpost

 

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Up Front
 


Gravel Mine degradation

Undeveloped land designated for mining in BLM preferred alternative (left) in stark contrast to gravel mine (right).

Stock tank
Old stock tank with more bullet holes than tank on BLM land north of Placitas

Citizens concerned about development, water, mining, wildlife, public access, and erosion control on the BLM land north of Placitas gather at the Placitas Community Center in November.

Many Placitans enjoy seeing the free-roaming horses, but express concern for their safety.

Gravel mines and horses

—Ty Belknap

November finally brought an end to the public comment period for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Rio Puerco District public. Like the election, not everyone was happy about the process, but most people are glad that they are over. Expanded gravel mining on BLM lands in the Placitas area is the major public concern. The subject of free-range horses, although not addressed in the RMP, has colored the process. Wildlife corridors and indigenous land claims entered the conversation, though they are not mentioned in the RMP either.

The Rio Puerco district consists of about 9.5 million acres of land within the six counties of central New Mexico, including four tracts of land in the Placitas area. This includes about 744,387 acres of public surface lands and 3.4 million acres of subsurface minerals. When approved, this RMP will replace the 1986 Rio Puerco RMP.

Things have changed a lot since 1986, mostly because of booming residential development in Placitas. An abundant supply of gravel on public land near I-25 is good for the miners and consumers, but conflicts with the community that has grown up around it.

Although Sandoval County presently has no road building plans, officials have expressed an interest in an easement through Placitas BLM lands in anticipation of continued development that could overburden existing transportation routes.

Las Placitas Association (LPA) and Eastern Sandoval County Citizens Association (ES-CA) took the lead by hosting several meetings to educate the public and assist the public with the proper procedure required to submit substantive comments to the BLM.

Critics of the draft RMP contend that it does not adequately consider the health and welfare of area residents. Among the main issues is that the “preferred alternative” of the RMP allows gravel mining in the eight-hundred acres of the northern part—Tract A. It also allows for oil and gas exploration and extraction throughout all these BLM lands. The draft RMP mentions positive reasons for allowing such mining, but includes none of the negatives, such as effects on property values, open space, and quality of life.

LPA and ES-CA contend that this indicates a bias towards commercial uses of the BLM land that makes the draft RMP unbalanced. They found a number of discrepancies in the RMP that led to an extension in the comment period from October 11 to November 26. A final workshop was held at the Placitas Community Center on November 17.

Attendees were provided with paperwork, which made it easy to submit comments in an acceptable form. Orin Safier told the group that substantive comments would create a public record that would make it difficult for the BLM to ignore public opinion. Suggested comments included issues of environmental justice, loss of recreational resources, shooting, traffic impacts, wildlife corridors, gravel mines, and free-range horses.

Representatives of Santa Ana Pueblo and San Felipe Pueblo presented their cases for public support of their efforts to acquire the 3,100-acre Tract A which borders, and is claimed, by both pueblos as ancestral land [see October 2012 Signpost: sandovalsignpost.com/oct12/html/up_front.html#b]. Their presentations dominated the time allotted for the meeting even though the alternative of transferring BLM lands to a tribe does not appear in the RMP. BLM does not acknowledge discussing such a transfer.

Both tribes expressed their opposition to mining, drilling, and paving of the land. Both promised to keep the land in its current undeveloped state for a wildlife corridor. Both agreed that they should not fight over the land, but neither expressed an interest in sharing it. Transfer of this land would require an act of congress.

Santa Ana’s presentation centered on its fourteen-year record of wildlife management, habitat restoration, and hunting restrictions based on animal population. Range and Wildlife Division Manager Glenn Harper said that the Bird’s Eye View study found that the “hottest” part of the an existing wildlife corridor passed from the Sandia Mountains, right through Tract A, through Santa Ana and on to the Jemez Mountains. Acquisition of Tract A would allow Santa Ana to expand its wildlife program and protect the corridor. Harper said that the tribe planned to drill several solar-powered wells and install a system for water distribution and wildlife drinkers. They plan to preserve wildlife habitat by prohibiting grazing, rounding up free-range horses, and by restricting access.

San Felipe Land Management Specialist Ricardo Ortiz based his plea for support on the tribe’s record of restricting development in the nine-thousand acre Ball Ranch acquired in a land swap with BLM in 2006. He said that San Felipe had no agenda for the land other than to leave it in its natural state. The tribe does not claim ownership of free-range horses but highly respects them and provides water for their sustenance. He promised to start a program to begin darting mares with contraceptives. Ortiz pointed to San Felipe’s historical bond with the people of Placitas and an ongoing effort to reacquire lands along the border. He said that the tribe welcomes wildlife through a corridor, but that the land was too dry to provide much habitat.

The Placitas based Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) and Pathways Wildlife Corridors have endorsed San Felipe’s bid to acquire Tract A. WHOA has advocated using Tract A for a wild horse sanctuary.

Diane Ransom submitted a letter to the Signpost in favor of San Felipe Pueblo’s acquisition of Tract A entitled, “The 100 Percent Solution,” in which she wrote, “The major controversies over the future of this land center around these issues: water, mining, wildlife habitat, non-motorized public access, and erosion control. One proposed solution seems to solve all of these issues elegantly. If you wish to assure that the wildlife of the Sandias does not become cut off from habitat and migration routes to rivers and other mountains in middle New Mexico, if you are a wild horse hugger or would rather see the wild horses from afar in numbers that do not overburden the grasses available, if you wish to continue accessing the BLM public lands in a mode that does not destroy the turf, if you wish that the view from your home does not include a gravel pit mining site, the choice is simple.”

To others the solution is not so simple. They say that San Felipe’s hands-off approach to land management has led to land that is severely overgrazed due to an uncontrolled population of horses that were abandoned by members of San Felipe Pueblo.

Mike Neas writes in this Signpost’s Gauntlet, “About 18 months ago, I counted approximately two-hundred horses on San Felipe land off the Hagan Road north of Placitas. At that time the terrain was badly overgrazed and in bad shape from the lack of water. About six months later, in November of 2011 we began having horses in Ranchos de Placitas. Now they are a common sight in and around our neighborhood, as well as in many other areas of Placitas. There are often times when I can see three groups of horses from my back porch. That is thirty to forty horses from one viewpoint at one time.” Neas wrote in his comments to BLM, “The BLM must address the horse issue as it pertains to BLM managed land in the Placitas area. This would include all issues related to the health of the land and the number of horses that the land can sustain at any given time. Any lack of responsible management on this matter directly affects the quality of life for all of the wildlife of the area as well as that of the horses and the neighboring human population.”

Marty Clifton also submitted a letter to the Gauntlet this month, saying, “For some, there seems to be a rush to judgment about the matter, quickly moving to the side of the Tribes. Apparently they see the BLM as the bad guy, and the Tribes as the good guys.” Clifton offers another option of the BLM administering Tract A as a recreational area as they do with other public lands throughout the Rio Puerco (www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation).

The ES-CA and LPA approach might drum up enough public opposition to cause the BLM to abandon any plan that includes development. BLM operates under a mixed-use mandate and is under pressure from corporations and government to use public land for commercial development. BLM District Manager Tom Gowe stated at one of the public meetings that if the opponents make it too difficult to change the existing management plan, the BLM could just adopt the “No Action Alternative,” leaving the Rio Puerco in its current unprotected status.

Although the cumulative effect of another eight-hundred-acre gravel mine would be detrimental, the RMP does not allow the BLM to lease this acreage without environmental studies and public comment.

Meanwhile citizens are free to enjoy the grandeur of their public lands close to home where it is still legal to shoot a gun, walk a dog without a leash, camp, hike, ride bikes, drive ATV’s, and drink a beer without any signs or supervision. These luxuries might not be safe or sustainable, so enjoy them while you can.

After the final RMP is scheduled to be published in about eight months, there will be a thirty-day protest period, during which objections can be raised. Administrative remedies can be sought through Congressional representatives.


Mariposa

Business office and retail shops at Mariposa

Mariposa homeowners sue developer

—Signpost staff

On October 31, eighteen Mariposa homeowners filed a class action lawsuit against High Desert Investment Corporation (HDIC). The plaintiffs accused the developers of the Rio Rancho subdivision of fraud and breach of contract because HDIC announced on June 14 that they were vacating their sales office and could no longer afford to cover a $1.1 million annual shortfall in property taxes that pay for the $16 million debt of the Mariposa Public Improvement District (PID). The PID was orchestrated by HDIC and the City of Rio Rancho. See July Signpost: www.sandovalsignpost.com/jul12/html/up_front.html.

Also named in the lawsuit are the City of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque Academy (AA). AA is a well-endowed private prep school with a national reputation for excellence. The lawsuit states that HDIC “was created for the express purpose of making money for AA.” Furthermore, it states that AA gave homeowners the impression that it would support Mariposa in the long-term, but, after making a profit, left homeowners at risk for unlimited tax increases. The courts will decide if AA is liable for the actions of HDIC.

The lawsuit seeks revocation of the homeowners purchase agreements, actual and punitive damages, and attorney fees and costs.

A Massachusetts bank that is owed $2.5 million by HDIC has sued for foreclosure on the 16,000-square-foot office complex at Mariposa.

A Texas-based mortgage company sued HDIC in October following default on a $3.2 million loan on the 9,870 square foot Mariposa community center. The center, which closed last summer, includes indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

Gordon submitted the following statement to the Signpost November 19:

“While High Desert Investment Corporation is aware that a suit has been filed against it, the City of Rio Rancho, and Albuquerque Academy, it will not comment on the specific claims alleged. High Desert never violated any laws, and it never undertook any action in a fraudulent manner. High Desert is not the alter ego of Albuquerque Academy. High Desert is a legally constituted corporation that was doing business in an independent manner. In the years following the formation of the East Mariposa Improvement District, High Desert struggled to conduct its business in the worst residential home building market experienced in the nation’s history. Like many other land development companies of this era, it fell victim to the market.”

Last summer, HDIC spokesman Gary Gordon said that HDIC, as a separate entity from AA, might be forced to file for bankruptcy if homeowners filed suit. Bankruptcy proceedings could further delay resolution of the financial crisis. There has been little movement toward resolution, however, and homeowners have seen a substantial increase in property taxes.


Rio Rancho Winterfest 2012

This year’s Winterfest will take place in the City Center area of Rio Rancho on December 15. Events will include a parade—with the theme of Rudolf in Rio—through the City Center with thousands of luminarias on display. There is a $15 fee for the parade.

Inside the Santa Ana Star Center there will be refreshments, arts and crafts, holiday music and movies, a train for children to ride on, and a special visitor from the North Pole will make an appearance with picture opportunities available. At the UNM West campus there will be refreshments and children’s storytelling.

Those attending Winterfest are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and clothing items to the Santa Ana Star Center starting at 4:00 p.m. on December 15. Those who donate items will be entered into a raffle to win a variety of prizes including event tickets to future events held at the Santa Ana Star Center, including Cirque du Soleil, local restaurant gift cards,and much more. The donated items will be given to Storehouse West and Community Clothes Closet for distribution to those in need. For more information, call 891-5015 or visit the city’s website: www.ci.rioprancho.nm.us.


Bottleneck at the polls

Signpost Staff

Thirty-thousand people showed up to vote in Rio Rancho on the November 6 election day. Some had to wait nearly five hours to vote at “convenience centers.” Many questioned the competence of the Sandoval County Bureau of Elections. Since Rio Rancho tends to vote Republican, critics allege that the long lines may have contributed to several narrow Democratic victories in local races. Some voters were said to have left the lines and gone home when Obama was declared the victor.

Governor Susana Martinez passed out water to those waiting in line. “It appears there is a huge disparity. You have the Town of Bernalillo, which is in Sandoval County, and they have one machine less, and they have a tenth of the population that Rio Rancho has,” Martinez said.

A large crowd of concerned citizens turned out at the November 7 County Commission canvassing meeting to express their outrage over their long wait in line. Accusations began to fly.

“This is outrageous,” Republican clerk candidate Paula Papponi told KRQE News 13. “It’s voter suppression. It’s disenfranchising.”

An op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, by Rebecca Endzel, blamed indecisive uninformed last-minute voters for slowing the process by studying sample ballots in the voting booths.

Papponi, along with fellow Republicans David Doyle and Dan Foley sued County Clerk Sally Padilla on November 8, requesting impoundment of tally sheets, registration certificates, paper ballots, absentee, provisional and in-lieu-of ballots and ballot envelopes used throughout Sandoval County. Their attorney, Pat Rogers, said that the ballots should be kept in a secure place where “interested parties” can inspect them.

Attorney General Gary King is investigating what he called a “near meltdown of voting procedures.”

Thirteenth Judicial District Judge John Davis ordered the impoundment. On November 16, after the County Commission, acting as canvassing board, confirmed the official results, State Police delivered the ballots next door to be held at the District courthouse.

After several hours of discussion dominated by the two disgruntled Republican commissioners, the board voted unanimously to accept the official results. Democrat John Sapien retained his State Senate seat with an eighty-nine vote edge over Doyle. Democrat Eileen Moreno Garbagni beat Paula Papponi by 315 votes.

Democrat Nora Scherzinger edged Michael Frese for the District Two County Commission seat by 243 votes. If Frese had won, the Republicans would have had their first majority on the commission.

County Clerk Sally Padilla, a Democrat, said the voting disaster was definitely not deliberate. “This was not voter suppression, not on my part,” Padilla told KRQE News 13. “My job was just to run the election, and it didn’t matter to me what party came in. It wouldn’t have occurred to me in the world, and I wouldn’t be that kind of person.”

Padilla blames the problem on a lack of ballot-printing machines for the five voting centers in Rio Rancho. She claimed that her staff called and called the Secretary of State’s Office asking for twenty-five machines, but they only got fifteen.

Secretary of State Dianna Durán says her office delivered what Sandoval County asked for. She sent News 13 a copy of an e-mail that shows the request for fifteen machines. Padilla says once her office finished canvassing votes, they would look for written documentation to back up her claims of requesting more machines.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico blamed Susana Martinez because she withheld $1.4 million in extra election money, and that denial of the election money forced the secretary of state to cut back on voting equipment in Sandoval County.

An election budget shortfall was brought to the attention of the Martinez administration in September when Duran asked the state Board of Finance—which Martinez chairs—to provide $1.4 million in emergency funds to cover requested voting equipment projected to exceed Duran’s budget.

The board denied the request. Democrats charged that long voter lines “were the inevitable result of (the governor’s) decision” to withhold funds.

County Board of Elections Director Eddie Gutierrez said that he made a verbal request for more voting machines, but admitted that he had underestimated voter turnout and accepted the blame. Ortiz, the secretary of state’s spokesman, said Sandoval County officials did not request additional equipment until it was too late. Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell pointed to poor planning by Sandoval County officials as the reason for voting delays.

The Republican Party of New Mexico issued a statement supporting the impoundment that read, “Court oversight of the handling and processing of the ballots and related election materials is absolutely necessary given the appalling lack of competence and planning shown by the Sandoval County Clerk.” The Democratic Party also supported the impoundment.

County Public Information Officer Sidney Hill told the Signpost, “The convenience centers were designed to make voting easier in heavily populated areas by providing several places where people could vote. Ballots at convenience centers are not preprinted. A shortage of voting machines and the extra time required to print ballots caused a bottleneck. The Board of Elections is going to reevaluate convenience centers and try to make sure this problem doesn’t happen in the future.” Hill said this was not a partisan issue—that there was no evidence of voter suppression or that any votes were mishandled.

Candidates were given six working days (until November 28, after Signpost press time) to examine the impounded ballots and decide whether to ask for a recount. The results printed in this Signpost could change if there is a recount. [See results, to the left.]


Sandoval County Election results

Nasty election campaigns over; PACs battle on

—Jeff Radford, Editor/Publisher, Corrales Comment

Do you need a good shower after all the sleazy mudslinging around you during the last two months?

Are you tired of constant insults to your intelligence from blatantly dishonest, deceptive political ads? Or is it okay as long as the final vote came out the way you wanted?

Is it “Hooray for our side!” if the fools within the electorate were successfully suckered by your party’s political action committees (PAC) lies, half-truths, and border-line slanders?

Surely Corrales voters got more than enough phony, biased polling telephone calls from political campaigns and more than enough slick, negative flyers in their mailbox.

Finally election results are in. Although not official, preliminary ballot counting revealed that the local electorate is very evenly split between Republican and Democrat.

As predicted, Democrats generally prevailed in central and northern New Mexico moving Martin Heinrich to the US Senate, keeping Ben Ray Lujan in the House of Representative and sending Michelle Lujan Grisham along with him.

In the closely watched race for NM Senate District 9, pitting incumbent Corrales Democrat John Sapien and former Corrales Republican Representative David Doyle, election night tallies gave victory to Sapien, with 50.2 percent of the vote to 49.8 percent for Doyle.

[Doyle gave up what was probably a safe House District 23 seat to run for the Senate, and now that vacant seat may go to Corrales Democrat Marci Blaze after a recount].

The other Corrales representative to the House, Republican Jan Powdrell-Culbert, had no challenger, so she is re-elected to another two-year term.

For the District 2 seat on the Sandoval County Commission, vacated by term-limited Corrales Democrat Donnie Leonard, former Village Administrator Nora Scherzinger squeezed past Michael Frese with a 51-to-49 percent margin.

In other bottom-of-the-ballot races for which Corrales Comment published candidate profiles last month, unofficial tallies gave victory to County Clerk, Eileen Garbagni; County Treasurer, Laura Montoya; District Attorney, Lemuel Martinez; and Probate Judge, Charles Aguilar.

Blasted by a flurry of PAC-financed mailers in the last weeks of the campaign, House District 23 candidate Marci Blaze responded with a mass-mailed “Dear neighbor” letter that countered attack ads. In it she repudiated attack ads and robo-calls aimed at her opponent by a PAC supporting her, and laid out a defense of her character and business dealings.

“My opponent and his backers want you to believe that I have attacked his family, that I am anti-business, want the largest tax increase in the history of the world, and was caught embezzling and fired from my own company while being chased out of California,” Blaze wrote. The letter refuted each of those political shots.

Presumably the candidates themselves did not produce or direct the most negative attack ads aired and mailed during the heat of the campaign. Among the more offensive were those credited to Reform New Mexico Now and People for Pacheco. Similar biased blasts were aimed at Republican candidates by Justice League PAC.

Reprinted from the Corrales Comment.


ES-CA holds public meeting to discuss County budgets

—Marty Clifton

On December 15, at 2:00 p.m., a public meeting of Eastern Sandoval County Citizens Association (ES-CA) will be held at the Placitas Community Center (Camino de las Huertas). At the meeting, there will be a report on findings to date. In addition to presenting an overview of how the County obtains and spends its money, they will discuss the budget itself—what information it does and does not provide—and aspects of the budgetary process. They will focus on services of particular interest to residents of the Placitas area—police (the sheriff), fire/EMS, and roads.

Residents of the unincorporated areas of Eastern Sandoval County receive essentially all their local public services (other than schools) from the County government. To understand what services are offered, what they cost, and how they are financed, two Placitas citizens, Stephen Barro and Marty Clifton, have been reviewing the County’s budget and financial documents

Following the presentation, ES-CA will have a workshop-style discussion on funding needs in Eastern Sandoval County, an ES-CA Budget Group plan to participate in County public budget meetings, and other County budget issues. ESCA plans to invite representatives of Sandoval County to participate in the workshop discussion

 
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