Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

About 100 people turned out on November 11 to commemorate Veterans Day at the Sandoval County Vietnam War Memorial in Bernalillo. While the event recognized all veterans, the emphasis was on the Vietnam era including a reading of the list of Sandoval County servicemen killed in that war. Here five members of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee salute during the posting of the colors in a ceremony that included a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps. From left to right are Henry Miller, Rick Montoya, George Perez, Juan Escarcida and Rick Pluma. The memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day 2006.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Local officials hopeful, yet wary, as Legislature nears

—Bill Diven

Sandoval County and Bernalillo officials have joined a lot of children in drafting Christmas lists, although they’ll be sending theirs to Santa Fe, not the North Pole.

It’s an annual rite preceding sessions of the Legislature. Local governments identify needs and projects, meet with area legislators, and send emissaries and lobbyists to Santa Fe to shepherd the wish lists and monitor legislation for unpleasant surprises.

“Basically we’re looking out for anything that regards revenue,” Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres said.

For the town, that means any action on taxes, taxing authority, state revenues, or policies that might cost the town money or hamper its ability to issue municipal bonds.

Bernalillo is also asking for $291,000 dollars for a playground and skate park at Athena Pond Park, part of which provides flood-control ponding. It also is seeking $1.2 million dollars for a secondary ten-inch water line connecting east and west Bernalillo to provide redundancy in the town system.

The 2015 Legislature convenes at noon on January 20 and ends at noon on March 21. As a sixty-day session, it’s wide open to all manner of legislation, not just financial matters, as in thirty-day session this year.

In August it appeared the Legislature might be in a generous mood with a forecasted $285 million dollars in “new money” available for spending. But the skid in oil prices and related state revenue mean the next forecast may be fifty to one hundred million dollars lower.

Topping Sandoval County’s money list is two million dollars for the first phase of a public-safety building, initially to house the fire department. On Election Day, voters rejected the bigger seven million dollar facility intended to get the sheriff’s office out of the judicial complex, creating space for the courts and consolidating emergency services.

Three road projects in Rio Rancho and the broadband initiative to improve computer access in rural areas round out the list that totals $7.2 million dollars overall.

The top road project, $2.5 million dollars to extend Westside Boulevard through a proposed one hundred-acre residential and office development, drew criticism of Commissioner Don Chapman during November 13 work session on the priorities.

“The issue I have is we should be looking at all the competing projects,” Chapman said, adding that he questioned whether any bank in the current market would finance a build-it-and-they-will-come development. “The last thing we want to do is build a road that goes to nowhere.”

The county has a longer list of policy priorities, ranging from monitoring bills affecting county revenue and services to amending state law so counties can establish franchise agreements and fees with utilities. The county is also directing its hired lobbyist to support the priorities of Bernalillo, Rio Rancho, Cuba, and the tribal governments.

State cites Placitas quarry for air-quality violations

—Signpost Staff

New owners of the Lafarge gravel mine inherited old issues last month as the state filed a formal notice of air-quality permit violations and a citizens’ group moved to join Sandoval County’s zoning lawsuit against the company.

Six of the seven alleged permit violations cited by the New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau notice relate to failure to maintain records, according to the November 12 violation notice. The absent records relate to how the quarry, now owned by Vulcan Materials Co., controls dust from roads and operations and tracks crusher production, hours of operation, and truck traffic.

The seventh violation involves an estimated eighty-foot gap in the perimeter fence where a visible trail suggests public access to what is supposed to be a secure site. The violations carry potential fines yet to be determined.

The mine is in western Placitas off the Interstate 25 frontage road about 1.5 miles north of State Route 165 and adjoins several Placitas neighborhoods. Vulcan’s acquisition of Lafarge includes the Santa Ana Sand and Gravel quarry about two miles farther north on the frontage road.

The recordkeeping issues arose after complaints by neighbors about dust and noise prompted an NMED inspection of the Placitas facility on April 1. Some of those neighbors are members of the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association, which has set up a separately funded Land Use Protection Trust (LPT) to act on local issues.

On November 10, the LPT filed in District Court to intervene in the zoning lawsuit the county filed against Lafarge in April. The LPT contends it has an interest in the zoning case and that if Vulcan moves ahead without constraint, the quarry will continue to degrade residents’ health, lifestyles, and property values.

An additional concern, according to LPT, is that without being a party to lawsuit, residents will be left out of any mediation or settlement discussions.

It will be up to the District Court judge handling the case to decide whether LPT can join the lawsuit. A hearing on that question has not been scheduled.

The county’s lawsuit alleges Lafarge violated terms of a 1988 zoning agreement that regulated operations of the mine and limited its expansion. The company asserts it is in compliance because a 2008 letter from the county overrides the requirements of the 1988 agreement.

Court records show little actual movement to resolve the lawsuit beyond wrangling over Lafarge filing to excuse judges from hearing the case. As of late November, it was back in the hands of District Judge Louis McDonald.

In September, Vulcan announced its purchase of 11 of Lafarge’s New Mexico facilities. Those include five ready-mix plants, three asphalt plants, and three aggregate quarries, the two in and near Placitas and one on Chappell Road NE in Albuquerque. Vulcan bills itself as the largest producer of constructions aggregates—sand, gravel, and crushed stone—in the country.

In a news release, the company said that while separate acquisitions in four other states complement existing operations, the Lafarge purchase provides access to new markets in New Mexico.

LPT and the citizens association also have been working to strengthen state and local regulation and enforcement over sand and gravel mining. Currently the county is limited to fining zoning violators three hundred dollars with additional penalties requiring a lawsuit.

Brenda Tafoya

A fond farewell

—Matthew J. Barbour, Manager, Jemez Historic Site

On November 7, New Mexico Historic Sites said a fond farewell to one of their own. Brenda Tafoya has resigned as cashier/ receptionist at Jemez Historic Site. This concludes a twenty-year term of service that began in 1994.

Throughout the years, Brenda Tafoya has been the public face of Jemez Historic Site. Working at the front desk, she greeted visitors and answered all incoming phone calls. Yet, her contribution to the site went well beyond the public purview. She handled much of the financial reporting and coordinated with vendors for special events.

In recent years, Ms. Tafoya has spearheaded Jemez Historic Site’s art purchasing initiative. The goal of this program is to eventually buy artwork from every Jemez Pueblo artist. These pieces are to be displayed, preserved, and housed at Jemez Historic Site as part of the rotating exhibit. For future generations, they will serve as a testament to the diversity and ingenuity of the Jemez People at the turn of the twenty first century. Already many of the pieces, purchased by Ms. Tafoya, are on temporary display inside our visitor center.

Brenda Tafoya, who has recently received accreditation in the medical field, moves on to take a position in that industry. At Jemez Historic Site, she leaves behind an impressive legacy of customer service and dedication to the history of her people. New Mexico Historic Site staff wishes her luck in all future endeavors. She will be missed. Should the road traveled ever prove uninviting, Ms. Tafoya will always have a home at Jemez Historic Site to come back to.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for Placitas Elementary School’s (PES) new soccer field was held on November 25. Principal James Telles thanked the BPS school board’s allocation of funding for the Astro Turf, which comes with a "great warranty" and does not require the irrigation that formerly put a strain on PES drinking water.
Photo credit: —Rachel Hall

Tumbleweeds take over the non-landscaping of the new I-25 interchange project.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Fight against weeds and litter far from over

—Bill Diven

Bernalillo’s war on weeds faces a new challenge even as it takes its first property owner to court.

At last report, the noxious invaders were winning as large tumbleweeds sprouted around the new $17-million-dollar overhaul of the Interstate 25 North Bernalillo interchange.

“Right along the sidewalk, there’s tumbleweed after tumbleweed after tumbleweed,” Placitas arborist and landscaper Michael Crofoot told Bernalillo town councilors at their November 10 meeting. “You need to get them out before they turn brown. With the winds they’ll tumble, scattering thousands of seeds.”

Crofoot blames the topsoil spread during the interchange project and said the problem is evident on both sides of I-25 along U.S. Highway 550 on the west and State Route 165 on the east. It’s too late to apply herbicides, so the only way to remove the tumbleweeds is by hoeing, he added.

Town officials told Crofoot his email detailing the situation had been sent to the town Public Works Department and forwarded to the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

A NMDOT manager told the Signpost that one of the department’s crews has been assigned to handle weed spraying and removal around the interchange. That work is expected to take place in late November or the first week of December.

Meanwhile, the first citation the town has issued under its weed and litter ordinances has reached court but is yet to be resolved. Several other citations are pending.

“Ninety-nine people can be great and one can ruin the neighborhood if they don’t want to cooperate,” Torres said. “We’re actually getting to the point that we’re citing people and going to court. We hope the word will get around.”

Separately, councilors heard a complaint from a Sawmill neighborhood resident, saying she finds sidewalks blocked by cars and weeds, forcing her to walk her dogs in the street where she encounters broken glass. It’s not only unsafe, it’s unsightly, she said.

Public Works Director Andy Edmondson said he’d just driven through the area and the problem is narrow streets with no curbs. That allows drivers to crowd or park on the sidewalk, but parking farther away squeezes the already slim traffic lane.

“So we’re kind of shifting the hazard from one area to another,” he said. “We don’t want to take create a bigger problem to take care of a small problem,” Torres said. Enforcing town ordinances can be a slow process, he added.

Town officials said that they’re working on multiple issues in the area, including recent repairs to sidewalks and dealing with driveway gates that open onto the sidewalks.

Sandoval County Sheriff's Capt. Mike Traxler supervises as Young Marines Lance Cpl. Nathan Ray Saenz (foreground) and Pfc. Emanuel Negreiros fire at targets in the department's use-of-force simulator.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

There’s more than the Corps to young marines

—Bill Diven

In the not-too-distant future some members of the U.S. Marines Corps may trace their roots as teens and preteens to the Enchanted Hills Young Marines of Rio Rancho.

The Washington, D.C. based Young Marines does not bill itself as a recruiting arm of the Marine Corps. Instead, its stated goal for members age eight through high school is character, leadership, and physical development, coupled with a drug-free lifestyle.

“Our whole purpose is to make them better citizens,” said former Marine Sgt. Anthony Derieux, the Enchanted Hills unit commander. “It just happens to be structured like the Marine Corps.”

Founded in 1958, the group boasts about three hundred chapters, ten thousand members, and three thousand adult volunteers, many of whom are active, reserve, or former Marines. Five programs are established or starting up in New Mexico.

Training sessions cover survival swimming, public speaking, Corps history, field skills including cooking, camp setup, and sanitation, close-order drill, marksmanship, and physical fitness. There’s also three hours each quarter on drug-demand reduction and fifty hours of community service required annually. Boot camp totals 26 hours plus an overnight campout.

Fundraising and donations support the program, sponsored by the Marine Corps League Detachment 1316 of Rio Rancho, and the all-volunteer staff includes parents, former Marines, and friends.

“We’re all there because we love to do it,” said Derieux, whose background in a Marine infantry company included combat tours of Iraq in 2003 and 2004. Volunteering for Young Marines gave him the chance to put the uniform back on and serve again, he added.

David Werth said he and his wife signed up their son, Pfc. Julius Black, at the beginning of the school year, after seeing Young Marines material during fourth-grade registration. Werth said joining the Air Force out of high school gave him a personal discipline he might not otherwise have.

Two boys from the program spoke to the Signpost after attending a firearms-safety class led by Detective Chris Kohler of the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. They had just taken a turn through the department’s use-of-force simulator used to train deputies. But instead of shooting at armed felons moving on the wall-size screen, the boys and their colleagues fired air blasts from CO2 pistols at ever-shrinking bull’s eyes.

Derieux said firearms safety is important since most of the kids have not been exposed to hunting or a firing range. “We want to make sure if they come across a weapon, they know how to react so they’re not curious,” he continued. “We want to show them the proper way to deal with it without harming themselves or someone else.”

The Enchanted Hills program formed in September 2013 and meets during the school year in a portable classroom at Enchanted Hills Elementary in northeastern Rio Rancho. During the summer the unit meets on weekends

A fundraiser for the group now underway is participating in the nonprofit Wreaths Across America, which adds Christmas wreaths to military graves at $15 dollars each. The Young Marines receive a portion of that and will join other groups in placing the wreaths at the Santa Fe National Cemetery on December 13.
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