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  The Gauntlet

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Signpost welcomes letters of all opinions. Letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, libel, and other considerations. Anonymous pen name letters will not be published. Attach your name and contact information. Send to: Signpost, P. O. Box 889, Placitas, NM, 87043 or


—Lynn Montgomery, Chair Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District.

The open lands of Placitas have a sad history. Since the time of Coronado, people have taken advantage of the area, which has been relentlessly overgrazed for centuries. We can only imagine waist-high grasses waving in the wind as ponderosa pines grace the ridge tops, along with vast stretches of the beautiful shrub called winterfat, its pure white inflorescences mimicking a deep snowfall.

When I first arrived on Las Huertas in 1971, the devastation of the 50s droughts was still very evident. The junipers were only averaging five-feet tall and there wasn’t much grass for Rumaldo Montoya’s holsteinXwhiteface milk cows. Now the junipers are touching each other in many instances and average 15 feet tall, as the grasses fade even further into nonexistence.

Most of us take our natural resources for granted. Who pays attention to the watershed, our limited but essential surface water, the groundwater, the flora and fauna, and the soils? We don’t observe the land as we speed by on our way to wherever. After all, we have much more important things to do. We don’t observe the actual land as we believe it’s all on paper at the County Clerk’s office, its value only existing at the Assessor’s office.

Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District’s office is just north of those other offices. It is here that that the land and water are important. It is here where our resource predicament is recognized and where bringing balance and productivity to what allows us to exist on our land is attempted. It is here where individuals and the community at large can work on ascertaining problems, find solutions, and bring in the resources to carry them out. It is where we can plan and take charge of our future.

Rumaldo knew a lot. He was a member of the Board of the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant. He was a supervisor at Coronado. He had gone to agricultural college. He was the Placitas Town Marshal. Although he lived a very humble life without onsite water, electricity, or central heating, he managed to provide our families with his delicious milk and cheese. He was a great story teller, educating us on how to live on the land, protect the water, and weather hard times. He oversaw the restoration of Acequia la Rosa de Castilla, which brings water to his ancestors’ farms. He nurtured the local community and was the hub that kept us together and content. He would point out a lonely winterfat bush and tell of the prominence of the plant and its high value to survival and even prosperity.

Winterfat likes to grow here. But it can’t take harsh drought coupled with overgrazed and barren land. It is extremely nutritious, and will keep livestock in good shape through the winter. Especially goats. It likes to be grazed and will come back in abundance if it is. The goats used to be taken care of by 15-year- old goatherds. They would take two hundred of them up into the mountain for the summer. They herded them in the winterfat during the winter. People survived—often well.

Some of us are gathering winterfat seed to add to our shrub and grass mix in preparation of the watershed projects Coronado is embarking on. A land use plan is in its beginning stages so that we can work in full and equal partnership with the BLM, the Forest Service, and other agencies. Local concerns will have solid, binding weight. Funds are being sought and experts are being brought in to assist. Workshops are being attended and the knowledge and skill base is building. The missing link is you, the local residents and landowners. Coronado’s role is to assist you to take care of your resources. But you have to do it. Please join us.

Our land is wonderful. Let’s bring it back to a healthy state and protect our water, wildlife, and landscapes. The beautiful winterfat will tell us we did the right thing.

Coronado meets the third Thursday of each month at 9:00 a.m. in the transportation building in the Sandoval County Complex off Idalia Rd. We will be forming local workgroups to plan and implement projects. All are welcome to take part.

ESCA projects update

—Chris Daul

The Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) has been closely monitoring the Sandoval County lawsuit against Vulcan (formerly Lafarge), with the Land Use Planning Trust (LPT) being the lead entity. ES-CA has now decided to join the lawsuit against Vulcan. The ES-CA board voted to ask the membership whether ES-CA should join the suit and the membership overwhelmingly voted yes. ES-CA will not use any membership dues to pay for legal costs, but will continue to rely on residents, home owner’s associations, and local businesses to contribute to the LPT.

The ES-CA board realizes that not all Placitas residents are opposed to the Vulcan mine. However, the issue is not just mining, but enforcement of zoning laws. Zoning laws are what protect our property values and ES-CA is committed to protecting the interests of all Placitans.

Both Sandoval County and ES-CA believe that Vulcan has violated the terms of the original agreement permitting the mine. If our zoning laws are not enforced, then anyone could conduct any activity in Placitas. The board does not believe that any residents would support that position.

ES-CA has been developing State legislation that would tighten the regulations concerning sand and gravel mining and strengthen the enforcement power of the State and the counties. We have been discussing this issue with our State representatives and both agree that we need to move forward with legislation. They also both agree that mining cannot continue unchecked in the Placitas area. Senator John Sapien has asked NMED to be more vigilant in their enforcement and Representative Jim Smith recently organized a meeting with NMED and the ES-CA Land Protection Trust. To this end, NMED has recently issued a comprehensive Notice of Violation to Vulcan. ES-CA will closely follow the disposition of the enforcement action.

Currently, the County has only the authority to fine an entity three hundred dollars for a zoning violation and anything more requires a lawsuit. ES-CA does not believe this administrative hobble is appropriate in all cases such as a county versus a multinational corporation. ES-CA has additionally proposed revisions to rules that would both lower costs of compliance for mining operators and compliance oversight for State agencies. Our County and State representatives have expressed their support, and we hope to have some positive results.

The Fisher Sand and Gravel operation is once again looking to the Town of Bernalillo for annexation. ES-CA has been meeting with Fisher officials and with Bernalillo officials. Part of the proposal would include Fisher donating land to the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) and constructing a detention basin to help ease the flooding problems in Bernalillo. ES-CA is firmly opposed to any new sand and gravel mining in the Placitas, Algodones, and Bernalillo area. The sticking point on the annexation seems to be the Town’s desire for a performance bond that would ensure the annexation agreement would be fulfilled by Fisher.

ES-CA is supportive of measures that will ease the flooding issues for our friends and neighbors in Bernalillo and Algodones. ES-CA is working hard to insure that any continuing sand and gravel mining at the Fisher site is strictly controlled and timed to finish within a short and reasonable period, along with financial guarantees that the land will be restored. Mayor Jack Torres has been meeting with us, and we are confident that an agreement can be reached that will satisfy all parties.

ES-CA would like to congratulate all newly elected and re-elected officials that represent the Placitas area. We would also like to thank all of the candidates who ran for office and for appearing at the candidates’ forum that we held in September, in conjunction with the Placitas Library. We will again co-sponsor a candidates’ forum in 2016.

For more information, and for membership information, visit the ES-CA website at The next board meeting is scheduled for December 1, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at La Puerta Realty on Rt. 165. The meeting is open to the public.

ISC approves Gila River project

Despite objections from environmentalists, the Interstate Stream Commission voted on November 25 to begin the process of damming and diverting the Gila, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest. Before bulldozers hit the ground, the ISC must complete an environmental impact statement and public process required by the National Environmental Policy Act, a process that the ISC staff says could take five years. Opponents vow to continue fighting the project which they label, a “billion dollar boondoggle.”

ISC votes in favor of damming and diverting the Gila  

—Interstate Stream Commission

The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission voted in a public meeting on November 24, 2014, to support water conservation projects, rural communities and the environment in southwestern New Mexico through the Arizona Water Settlement Act (AWSA). The Commission’s recommendation includes municipal water conservation, capturing and saving flood waters for future use, and effluent reuse in the Luna, Grant, Catron, and Hildago County areas. New Mexico has no financial obligation at this time.

The AWSA allocates to New Mexico an annual average of 14,000 acre-feet of additional water from the Gila Basin and up to $128 million in non-reimbursable federal funding..

“New Mexico will notify authorities in Washington D.C. that we wish bring new water into New Mexico,” said Commission Secretary and State Engineer Scott Verhines. “If we don’t speak up now, New Mexico immediately and permanently loses the opportunity to develop AWSA water from the Gila River. The amount of water could yield enough to supply about 24,000 to 40,000 homes annually, provide irrigation water for farmers and keep water in the river for endangered species. This will be the only opportunity for New Mexico to meet these vital needs for water.”

The ISC has hosted over 200 public meetings on the AWSA and developed an intensive, two-tiered evaluation process in which forty-one proposals were submitted. The Commission approved sixteen proposals for further assessment, integration and/or refinement. Fifteen proposals emerged as viable options and have been analyzed by engineering and science consultants evaluating technical, legal, cultural, and financial feasibility as well as identifying potential environmental effects.

“These proposals have been carefully scrutinized using the best available science and technology,” said Acting Interstate Stream Director Amy Haas. “We have dedicated substantial funding and staff resources to determine if the proposals are viable. The ISC cautions the public that this scrutiny is the first of many continued evaluations as New Mexico moves forward.”

The vote today includes the decision to send notice to the Department of the Interior by December 31, 2014. Once that notice has been delivered, New Mexico will begin a lengthy process to implement the development of new water and federal funding. Today’s vote obligates the federal government to provide New Mexico funding to develop a New Mexico “Unit.”

“New Mexico’s financial options will remain open for years to come,” added Acting Interstate Stream Commission Director Amy Haas. “If New Mexico determines down the road that our options are overly costly or no longer feasible, we have the option to change course. Today’s vote is not a commitment to a short-term obligation; it is a commitment to the long-term health of New Mexico as a whole.

Billion dollar boondoggle

—JoAnne Allen, Adobe Whitewater Club Gila Liason

The vote to dam and divert the Gila River by the NM Interstate Stream Commission was as predictable as no rain in the desert.  To have observed the process for the past year with its secret meetings, illegal contracts, magical thinking, cooked science and political maneuverings produced better odds on a “Yes” vote than any gambler could have dreamed of.

The single example of “shenanigans” reported in the Albuquerque Journal’s Saturday, November 22 editorial is only a minor element of a rich trove of malfeasance, obfuscation, and wasteful spending on captive consultants given implausible assumptions.  The resulting billion-dollar boondoggle that the ISC aspires to pursue threatens to become a permanent blotch on the Governor’s fiscally conservative credentials essential to her national political aspirations.

The billion-dollar-boondoggle dam and diversion project will smell like the Spaceport and Sarah Palin’s Bridge To Nowhere sooner than she would like, sticking to her skirts like teddy bear cholla. It remains to be seen if her minor housecleaning at the State Engineer’s office will be enough to irradiate the ordure.

Sooner or later, she will have to face her voters in southwest New Mexico and explain why their water bills have increased 10 fold and the expensive clay and plastic-lined reservoirs, canals, tunnels, pipelines, and pumps requiring $50 million/year to maintain and operate, sit mostly empty, unused, and deteriorating in the sun. Looks like New Mexico taxpayers and rate payers are going for another boondoggle ride at the hands of slick bankers, money-hungry and corrupted consultants, deceptive staffers, dimly perceiving county officials, and fact-averse decision-makers and their  lawyers.  No smooth talking British accent this time, just good, old fashioned, home-grown New Mexico business as usual.

If you liked the Spaceport, you’ll love the dam. Open your wallets, folks, the boondoggle ride is loading up.

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