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Students at Cochiti Elementary/Middle School use gold shovels to break ground on what will soon be a new gymnasium for the school, while teachers, school officials, and others look on.
Photo credit:—Ty Belknap

BPS excited about new Cochiti Elementary/Middle School gym

Signpost Staff

On November 14, the Bernalillo Public School District held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new gymnasium to serve the Cochiti Elementary/Middle School. The free-standing 11,560 square foot facility that will be equipped with a hardwood playing surface, commons area, restroom, and locker facilities. The seating capacity is expected to be at 300. Facility Build will be general contractor on the job and completion is expected by fall of 2014.

The $1.5 million facility will be built on the vacant lot adjacent to the northwest courtyard and will replace the existing undersized gym on the south side of campus. Funding has been provided by a school bond that passed last year.

The entire Cochiti student body, including children from Cochiti Pueblo, Cochiti Lake, La Bajada, Sile, Peña Blanca, and Kewa Pueblo attending the groundbreaking celebration. Students names were drawn from hat for the honor of operating a ceremonial shovel. An opening prayer in native Keres language was offered by Cochiti Pueblo Lt. Governor Dwight Mody. The entire BPS board and Superintendent Allan Tapia also participated.


Heather Balas, of New Mexico First, facilitates County Commissioner Orlando Lucero’s first general task force meeting to discuss the estray horses in Placitas.

Horses are available for adoption.

Task force takes on Placitas horse issues

—Ty Belknap

On November 19, Sandoval County Commissioner Orlando Lucero chaired the first meeting of a task force that he assembled—as promised last June—to address the issue of free-roaming horses in the Placitas area. Members chosen by Lucero included representatives from the Placitas community, community boards, key government entities, homeowners associations, and animal advocacy organizations. Sandoval County provided funding to engage New Mexico First, an Albuquerque-based, nonpartisan public policy organization, to facilitate and manage the project.

In his opening statements, Lucero thanked Gary Miles of Placitas Animal Rescue (PAR) for rounding up thirty horses and moving them away from NM 165. Despite the friendly reception, Miles insisted on videotaping the meeting on his iPad, over the objection of several members who felt intimidated by the camera. He said that he needed the video for protection—presumably in court—in case he was misquoted in the Signpost or physically threatened by other task force members. A lengthy argument to cease the videotaping ensued.

When they finally got down to business, Heather Balas, president and executive director of New Mexico First served as facilitator for the meeting and explained the ground rules: no cursing, name calling, or threats. She also served as a human shield between Miles’s iPad and a member who objected to being videotaped.

Each member was asked to introduce himself, along with preferred solutions to the horse problem. Miles said that there could soon be thirty new foals, and that he was ready to administer PZP contraceptive to the mares as soon as the state granted approval. Sandia National Forest District Ranger Cid Morgan pointed out that a single stallion could service fifty mares. Joan Fenicle, representing the Las Placitas Association, objected to a suggestion of gelding stallions, because it would change natural behavior.

Despite some hostile rhetoric, everyone seemed to agree that the horse population needed to be controlled and sometimes needed to be provided with food and water. 

There is no exact count of the free-roaming horses in the area, and no general agreement on the number of horses the land can sustain. While most task force members agree on the use of PZP, the contraceptive would not provide immediate population control.

The task force split up into several work groups, focusing on trying to find consensus on different issues. Three or four general meetings are planned to be completed by June of 2014. A public forum will take place around April of 2014 to present recommendations to the community.

The task force meeting followed a month of wrangling among competing advocacies. Headlines in the Albuquerque Journal proclaimed, “Placitas horse debate reignited: Poster in post office blasted as ‘libelous’.” Channel 4 News aired a story featuring a Cedar Creek subdivision horse enthusiast who claimed to have evidence of a roundup of “wild horses” by the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District (CSWCD). CSWCD denied any plans to conduct a roundup, but had discussed ways of helping people exercise their right to impound horses that stray onto private property.

The CSWCD board has approved a resolution for the removal of estray horses from public and private lands based on their mandate to “to conserve and develop the natural resources of the state, provide for flood control, preserve wildlife, protect the tax base, and promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the people of New Mexico.” On October 1, the board passed a motion to look into securing portable corrals for residents who want to remove horses from their land.

A printout of chain of emails that included the names and email addresses of some CSWCD supervisors was posted at the Placitas Post Office on October 28, with a headline implying that the horses would end up being slaughtered. Several board members of CSWCD demanded that the posting be removed on the same day.

CSWCD president Will Ouelette issued a statement calling the headline “false, libelous, and inflammatory.” Furthermore, his statement read, “CSWCD holds no official opinion related to horse slaughter. Once the NM Livestock Board removes any impounded horses, the ultimate fate of the horse is not a function of individual landowners exercising their right to trap horses. This is not a slaughter issue. Horses can be bought directly from the NMLB for as little as one dollar. Therefore, if concerned citizens wish to protect the horses from what they perceive is the threat of slaughter, they can take responsibility and adopt a horse.”

Gary Miles, a board member of CSWCD, also issued a statement, including:

“I think it would be a mistake for the average person to try to round-up these Wild Horses. These horses are wild, and they usually do not behave like typical domesticated horses. This is a major safety concern. Any round-ups should be left to the professionals. PAR, which I am the President, has rounded up a total of thirty of these Wild Horses that were repeatedly getting on Highway 165. I worked with the BLM and the NM Livestock Board and now have ownership of these horses. All have been put up for adoption. We have found homes for eleven. A few horses have died due to being hit by cars and a few have died from natural causes. If we all work together, I am sure that these Wild Horses can be managed and preserved for future generations while addressing safety and property concerns.”

Regardless of whether competing advocacies are motivated by ecology, public safety, or the possibility of slaughter, and in spite of all the rancor, bipartisan efforts this year have changed the former status quo of unlimited range for unlimited horses.

Albuquerque Open Space promises to fence their Placitas Open Space to keep the horses out and to take steps to protect the ecology within. Even though the legislation was lobbied against by WHOA and vetoed by the governor, Marty Clifton successfully lobbied the 2013 state legislature to purchase BLM land for a horse sanctuary. Citing liability, property values, and environmental reasons, the Overlook subdivision Homeowners Association issued a directive to discourage feeding and watering horses. Thirty horses have been corralled by PAR. The NMLB reported in November that another six stallions were corralled by a private citizen near Las Huertas Creek. Miles’s roundups have not been challenged by WHOA as violations of the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, even though WHOA continues to appeal litigation against the BLM for allegedly doing the same thing.

There finally appears to be a meeting of the minds to take action as a community to solve the horse issue, rather than perpetuate it. In late November, volunteers from Ranchos de Placitas subdivision installed approximately 1,300 feet of wire, forty posts, and two gates to block a horse corridor into the Placitas Open Space. The project was funded by the Ranchos de Placitas Property Owners Association, and unanimously approved by their board of directors, who thanked the volunteers for helping to protect the community.


Commission approves 2014 legislative priorities

On November 7, the Sandoval County Commission approved capital funding requests to the 2014 New Mexico State Legislature. Specific requests included:

  • Bernalillo Senior Center—$1,925,000
  • Judicial complex expansion, plan, and design—$353,500
  • Public safety complex, plan and design—$567,000
  • Incubator business development El Zócalo—$150,000
  • Broadband initiative—$500,000
  • Magistrate court reroof—$220,000
  • Old courthouse roof and HVAC upgrade—$1,175,000
  • El Zócalo, Sena building economic development rehabilitation—$750,000

County officials host meetings to gather public input on creating jobs

Signpost Staff

In November, Sandoval County officials sought public input on strategies for creating jobs in a series of three meetings that took place across rural areas of the county. A fourth meeting covering urban areas will be held on December 11. The discussions provided an overview of a report outlining the county’s current economic picture and a strategy for improving that picture over the next decade.

The report, titled Sandoval County Economic Development Business Assessment and Strategy, describes the results of months of deliberations by a task force of stakeholders from around the county. The process and development of the report was managed by Mark Lautman, founding director of the Community Economics Lab, a private nonprofit think tank.

Lautman was the primary presenter at the meetings. He covered topics such as how many jobs need to be created in order to maintain a vibrant economy across the county, as well as strategies that should be followed to create those jobs. He also discussed the opportunities and challenges facing specific communities within the county when it comes to economic development.

Lautman’s presentation was followed by open discussion sessions, in which citizens had the opportunity to ask questions about the report or offer their own suggestions for improving economic development within Sandoval County.

Input from these meetings will be considered in preparing a final version of the economic development report that will be presented to the Sandoval County Commission. A copy of the draft version of the report is available on the County Development web page.

The executive summary of the report states:

Sandoval County is at a crossroads. In the last decade, the county’s household incomes dropped over 22 percent. In just the last five years, the county’s urbanizing communities lost over a third of their economic base jobs. The economic pictures in rural parts of the county are even worse. Recession, drought, and a succession of forest fire seasons devastated farming, ranching, and tourism and threatened the long-term economic and social viability of those communities.

Returning the county to economic stability by 2023 will require the creation of ten thousand, or more, economic base jobs. County-wide, the program apparatus for job creation is wholly inadequate to deal with the great challenges and opportunities ahead.

Incredibly so, as the need for new job creation across the county grows more desperate, private and public investment in economic development has plunged, leaving the region lacking the required land inventory, infrastructure, capital resources, and program assets to systematically create new jobs. There are several significant opportunities on the economic horizon, but these jobs have virtually no chance of being created without strategic systematic support.

Unless the basic recommendations in this strategy are implemented with some urgency, the county’s communities, households, businesses, and institutions will almost certainly have to endure another, even more debilitating, decade of economic decline.

The plan is not yet funded.

The meeting at Cuba Senior Center focused on the north US 550 corridor, including Cuba, La Jara, Regina, Torreon, San Luis, Zia Pueblo, and Counselor. Opportunities exist in forest, health, mining, tourism, and transit service. Impediments involve water, infrastructure, facilities, and transportation services.

The meeting in Jemez Springs focused on the Jemez Valley, including San Ysidro, Jemez Pueblo, Jemez Springs, La Cueva, Ponderosa, and Cañon. This area has similar opportunities and impediments as the Cuba area.

A meeting for the north I-25 corridor, including Algodones, San Felipe Pueblo, Cochiti Lake, Cochiti, Santa Domingo Pueblo, Peña Blanca, and Budaghers also focused on similar opportunities and impediments.

A meeting focusing on the largest segment of urbanizing communities with a population of 107,794 will include Rio Rancho, Corrales, Bernalillo, Placitas, Santa Ana Pueblo, Pueblo of Sandia Village, and La Madera. The meeting will focus on opportunities in back office and tele-service, health and social services, and manufacturing, as well as limitations in land inventory, workforce, and capital. The meeting will be held at 10:00 a.m., on December 11, at UNM West Room 1226, 2600 College Boulevard. in Rio Rancho.

For more information, contact Dianne Maes, with Sandoval County Development at 867-7551, or dmaes@sandovalcountynm.gov.


Bernalillo Town Council notes—October 28 and November 12

—Karen Lermuseaux

An update on the status of the housing project with Santa Fe Civic Housing included a resolution, required by HUD, that would have all buildings, improvements, and fixtures that are erected be owned by the tenant. The resolution passed unanimously. Due to the area being in a flood zone and asbestos having been found in some units, plans were changed so that 52 of the units will be demolished, 24 will be refurbished, and 22 will be new. Also, the square footage of the housing will include many three- and four-bedroom units from 1,100 to 1,369 square feet. The community center will also have to be demolished and rebuilt and will include a small kitchen, several offices, a conference room, and a computer room. However, more residents will be displaced—for up to one year. Those residents will retain their options to return. The earliest estimate for moving residents will be approximately March of 2014. Residents who need special accommodations when relocating should contact the Town of Bernalillo or Mr. Romero to arrange assistance.

The Bernalillo High School had a lockdown situation. It was reported that three males were seen getting off the Railrunner with guns and going towards the school. The Bernalillo Police Department was not able to find the males, and the lockdown was lifted. The Police Chief reports the lockdown was handled very well.

Andy Edmonson was welcomed as the Public Works Director.

Phil Montoya was recognized by Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres for the outstanding job he has done at the campground and his exceptional interactions with the visitors there.

At the November 12 meeting, we learned that the  Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) applications for funding were denied. Mayor Torres reports that the Town of Bernalillo may be appealing that decision. Program funding ended on November 15.

A resolution was passed that permits municipal elections to be held on March 4, 2014. Open positions include mayor and two councilmen. Voting will take place at Town Hall and Alegria Community Center. Early voting begins February 12, and closes on February 28, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. Declarations of candidacy shall be filed on January 7, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Mayor Torres reports that in a letter from Sandia Pueblo, their Council did not approve a plan for the Town of Bernalillo to provide fire and emergency medical services to Sandia Gas, formerly the Ashley’s station, for the sum of $25,000 dollars. As a result, the Town will not provide services to that site. Also, Torres reports that Sandia Pueblo has applied for Trust Status for that property, and that the Town has sent a response letter to the Department of Labor regarding the application. Trust Status could exempt the tribe from gross receipts taxes that would be shared by the town.

Santa Ana Pueblo has filed for Trust Status for approximately 78 acres contiguous to the pueblo and next to IHOP.

Goodwill Industries is interested in building a 17,000-square-foot service center in Bernalillo. It would be similar to the one on Paseo del Norte and would open in the fall of 2014.

South Valley Community Development Center operates a commercial kitchen in the south valley, and Torres has expressed interest that a similar kitchen be started in Bernalillo

 
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