Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Placitas Recycling Association President Paul Barbeau awaits more recyclables as volunteer Dawn Tschabrun directs traffic. On this Saturday, Tschabrun tallied more than 200 vehicles in three hours using the click counter dangling from her lanyard.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Placitas Recycling Center volunteer Bob Grubesic comes to the aid of Sharon and Arthur George as they unload recyclables on a recent Saturday morning.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Growth of recycling puts Placitas recycling center at risk

~Signpost Staff

Twenty-six years after volunteers stepped up to save the earth, or at least the county landfill, the nonprofit Placitas Recycling Center (PRA) faces an uncertain future as their success generates for-profit competition.

For now, the center’s board of directors can only wait to see how much one—perhaps someday more—commercial trash hauler will eat into both waste stream and cash flow.

The board will be monitoring the number of weekly recyclers, the tonnage of materials, and the resulting revenue as 2018 unfolds, W. Paul Barbeau, president of the Placitas Recycling Association (PRA) board, told the Signpost. Operating expenses include multiple insurance policies and truck, trailer, and website costs.

“We really don’t have enough data to make a solid decision,” Barbeau said. “It just comes down to what happens… The consumer is in effect voting by what they do.”

The nonprofit Corrales Recycling Center, founded in 1987, closed last year when revenue plummeted after Road Runner Waste Services Inc., under a village franchise, began providing weekly curbside pickup to every home. Recyclables are collected from separate bins every other week.

In November, Road Runner, based in Algodones, began rolling out a similar recycling program in Placitas as an optional $2.80 add-on to monthly bills. The phase-in for current customers is to be completed by the end of January.

Barbeau is quick to praise Road Runner for its “strong community ethos” and as a friend and supporter of the PRA. As part of that, the company donates construction-scale roll-off bins, a portable toilet, and other services to the recycling center located 0.5 miles east of Interstate 25 on State Road 165, he said.

The company has said it will continue that support, Barbeau added.

On a recent Saturday, the recycling center was busier than usual with a steady stream of cars and pickups after the 8:00 a.m. opening. Volunteer Dawn Tschabrun knew that from directing traffic and clicking each vehicle into a hand counter.

“That’s 203 so far, which is a busy day,” she said shortly before the 11:00 a.m. closing. The center averages about 175 vehicles over the three hours, Barbeau said.

The center diverts about twenty tons of material that otherwise would be buried in the Sandoval County landfill.

The New Mexico Recycling program, last year and in 2012, named the Placitas program its Recycler of the Year. Nearly 140 volunteers, 14 of them members of the board, actively support the center, which is open Saturday mornings year-round except the weekends before Christmas, New Years, and Easter, after Thanksgiving, and during serious rain and snow storms or high winds.

In addition to Road Runner, Placitas Rubbish Removal and national giant Waste Management also serve the community. California-based Universal Waste Systems Inc. (UWS) is scheduled to begin covering the rest of rural Sandoval County on January 1 under an exclusive eight-year franchise awarded by the County Commission in August.

The franchise excluded Placitas after residents here protested in favor of their existing haulers. UWS offers recycling and the county franchise does not preclude it becoming a competitor in the Placitas market.

Barbeau said the board foresaw the possibility of curbside recycling coming to Placitas in 2013 when Friedman Recycling, armed with a revenue-sharing contract with the city of Albuquerque, opened a large “single-stream” facility where mixed recyclables are sorted for sale. From 2011, when the company and the city first joined forces, into 2015, more than 91,000 tons of material were diverted from the Albuquerque landfill.

In Sandoval County, the 178-acre county landfill in northeast Rio Rancho doesn’t handle recyclables but does accept green waste, selling the resulting compost and mulch.

The stated mission of the PRA is to reduce the volume of waste being buried at the county landfill to extend its life. Meanwhile the county is planning for a replacement regional landfill on a 500-acre site west of Rio Rancho to open around 2030 or within a year of closing the current landfill.

County Commission Chair Don Chapman, during the occasionally contentious process of choosing UWS rather than Road Runner for the county franchise, said he wondered why the county was in the landfill business at all. Maybe it should be privatized, he said.

Last month, UWS New Mexico Manager Rheganne Vaughn, during her monthly update to commissioners on progress toward launching its coverage, said if the county does decide to privatize, her company would be interested in a public-private partnership. Under the county franchise, UWS will offer recycling.

Additional information about materials accepted for recycling in Placitas can be found on the websites of the PRA at or Road Runner at Neither accepts glass.

With the Sandoval County Commission chambers already full, more than two hundred people interested in the proposed Oil and Gas Ordinance settled for watching on a big-screen TV in the building lobby. Some were able to enter the meeting later.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven 

Amendments push action on Oil and Gas Ordinance into 2018

~Bill Diven

A proposed county zoning ordinance for permitting oil and gas drilling continues to advance with the addition of public-hearing requirements for wells planned in some in rural communities.

That, and a second amendment, came during a seven-hour Sandoval County Commission meeting on November 16. Amending the draft ordinance requires a new round of public notice delaying final action until at least early January.

The hot-button proposal packed the 112-seat commission chamber with industry representatives, tribal leaders and members, and county residents. With the chamber filled to fire-code capacity, more than two hundred people were relegated to the lobby of the county administration building where a big-screen TV had been set up.

A squad of sheriff’s deputies monitored the entrance to the third-floor chambers and the stairs and elevator on the ground floor.

Commissioner James Holden-Rhodes of Placitas attempted to table the ordinance until New Mexico Tech can finish its assessment of oil and gas resources relative to potential sources of ground water in the county. His motion drew raucous applause but only one other vote, that from Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald of Cuba, the sole Democrat on the five-member body.

The $62,000 project began in July with the final report not expected until May. The county has contracted NM Tech as a consultant on developing the zoning ordinance that would apply only to surface issues on private lands outside municipalities.

Geology underlying the county was one recurring theme during the meeting. Speakers focused on the difference between the northwest, which includes part of the San Juan Basin with its history of oil and gas production, and the southeast, which includes part of metro Albuquerque where 800,000 residents rely in large part on ground water.

While the geology of the northwest is relatively simple, the southeast also includes the Rio Grande Rift, one of the few rift valleys in the world visible on land. Here the earth’s surface is slowly pulling apart fracturing subsurface layers from Colorado into Mexico.

“Not taking into account the geology is a big problem,” said professional geologist William Brown of Placitas. The faulting along the rift increases the potential for drilling into a petroleum-bearing layer on one side of a fault line affecting a water-bearing layer directly opposite on the other side, he said.

“Placitas is the area that probably has the greatest potential for contamination,” Brown told commissioners. “There’s a huge number of faults in the Placitas area. It’s so complex that you can’t go up there and do horizontal fracking.”

Brown recommended dividing the county into zones with more stringent permit requirements including public hearings for sensitive areas.

An amendment by Commissioner David Heil of Rio Rancho accomplished some of that. As written, the proposed ordinance makes oil and gas development a permissive use requiring only approval by the county planning director once certain requirements are met.

Heil’s amendment, which passed 4-1, would make such development a conditional use in areas already designated in the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance as community districts and overlay zones. Those 11 areas already have extra and varying zoning protections and include most of Placitas plus Algodones, Rio Rancho Estates, La Cueva, and the Jemez Valley corridor including San Ysidro.

Under conditional use, a drilling applicant would need to meet the same requirements for a permit, but instead of the zoning director making the decision, approval would be up to the Planning and Zoning Commission after a public hearing. Commissioner Jay Block voted no after saying people in all areas of the county should be treated equally.

Jim Manatt, president of Thrust Energy of Roswell, one of two companies leasing 55,000 acres west of Rio Rancho for energy development, also criticized the separate treatment. “My opinion is this transgresses the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law to all, and a host of lower laws and court findings,” he said.

Commissioners also approved a second Heil amendment requiring the county attorney to review the zoning director’s permissive-use decisions before a drilling permit is issued. “In my mind it dealt with the issue of not having a single person approve the application,” Heil said.

During the meeting, pueblo governors, representatives of the Navajo Nation, and various organizations, as well as numerous tribal members, criticized the lack of consultation with tribal governments in developing the ordinance. Some took offense at the governors of sovereign nations being limited to speaking during the public-comment period.

“We have to base this on honest, open respectful communication,” said Gov. Robert Coríz of Santo Domingo Pueblo. “I have not had consultation… When people of color stand up for rights, justice, respect, what happens? We’re given one minute, we’re given three minutes, when we’ve been here a long time.”

Other speakers invoked both a state law requiring government-to-government consultation with tribes and the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. While the state law appears only to apply to state agencies, not county governments, the declaration calls for good-faith cooperation and consultation on legislative matters that may affect indigenous peoples.

The U.S., as a member of the Organization of American States, joined 34 other nations in approving the declaration in June of 2016.

Alicia Ortega, executive director of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, said: “We will stand up for our past, present, and future. Our pueblos have been here long before you came and we will be here long after you are gone. And we’ll be damned if we allow gas and oil to come in, pollute our lands, contaminate our water, and destroy our sacred sites. We will not allow history to repeat itself… Understand that we come from culturally driven communities, not capitalistic-driven colonialism. Ignore us and expect resistance.”

Commissioners and the county planning staff have cited state and federal laws regulating oil and gas development as protecting the environment and Native American interests. Those laws limit the power of the county to prepare a broader ordinance, they said.

On December 14 commissioners, at their one meeting for the month, are expected to vote on publishing the ordinance. That triggers a 15-day public-notice period making the January 4 meeting the earliest commissioners could take action on the ordinance itself.

Video of the December meeting of the Sandoval County Commission is available on the Sandoval County website. Go to and click on Meeting Videos, then select a video from the archives. Commission meetings are also streamed live.

A contract crew working for Enterprise Products lays the foundation course of a commercial rip-rap product that will eventually extend from the arroyo 19 feet up the hillside in the foreground to protect two pipelines carrying natural gas liquids from erosion. The view is to the northerly toward Windmill Trail.

Operator armors Placitas pipelines against flooding

~Signpost Staff

When the rains return and runoff flows, one segment of petroleum pipeline through Placitas will be freshly armored against the scouring force of water.

In mid-November Enterprise Products, operator of the Mid-America Pipeline (MAPL), began a three-week project to contour and cover one bank of a side channel feeding Las Huertas Creek.  The work in the arroyo near the west end of Cedar Creek Road extends 173 feet toward Las Huertas Creek and rises 19 feet up the west bank.

Two pipelines, one eight inches in diameter, the other ten inches, are buried in the bank and carry natural gas liquids under high pressure toward Texas. In this portion of the pipeline corridor, the two lines leave the watercourse to bypass a rough part of the creekbed.

“This is important to Enterprise,” Four Corners Maintenance Coordinator Dustin Hanscom told the Signpost. “We’re trying to protect our assets and the public.”

Erosion is a major issue for both Enterprise and Kinder Morgan whose pipelines run along and under Las Huertas Creek for about two miles between the Placitas Open Space and a little east of Camino de las Huertas. Flooding in the main channel occasionally exposes pipe, resulting in the companies laying cable-connected concrete matting over trouble spots and bracing one section of bank with a wire cage of heavy rocks.

Before it could begin work, Enterprise needed clearance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over the Rio Grande and tributaries like Las Huertas Creek and its side channels. The company also notified the Sandoval County Fire Department, residents living near the work, and Kinder Morgan since its carbon dioxide line is not far away.

Then the 811 line-spotting service was called in to mark the two pipelines before an excavator, working from the arroyo bottom, began carving the bank into a uniform contour.

Enterprise also has a third pipeline in the corridor—a 12-inch gas liquids line on the opposite side of Las Huertas Creek that is not involved in the current work.

An engineering report prepared for the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority in 2011 recommended against using flood control structures like the rock cage, which is rigid and rolls over from undercutting. Instead the engineers preferred riprap, large rocks that that can settle if undercut and still do their job.

Enterprise is building the stair-stepped wall using eighty-pound bags of Quikrete Rip Rap, a cement-like product designed for erosion control. The bottom two-bag course is anchored into sandstone base with jackhammered rebar with additional courses rising and stair stepping into the hillside from there.

Each bag contains a sand-cement mixture contained by polyester fabric in a biodegradable paper sack. Soaking the bags effectively turns them into large bricks that the Enterprise contract crew will finish by grouting between the bags.

Hanscom said the pipelines are buried at least five feet deep and the one nearest the arroyo is at least five feet from the bank. Neither has been damaged or exposed and the work is a proactive effort to prevent erosion in a high-profile segment of the MAPL system, he said.

Cerebral Cavernous Malformations workshop to shed light in Peña Blanca

~Joyce Gonzales, New Mexico Angioma Alliance Genealogist

New Mexico has the highest concentration of Cerebral Cavernous Malformations (CCM) in the world and the highest concentration of people in New Mexico with CCM are either from the Peña Blanca area or have ancestors from the Peña Blanca area.

On December 16, at 10:00 a.m., there will be a workshop at the Peña Blanca Community Center, sponsored by the Baca Family Historical Project, to discuss and test for CCM.

We have proven through genealogy that Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca, who received the Peña Blanca land grant, had CCM. He also had 23 children with three different wives.

Since CCM1 is a dominant gene, each child of an affected parent has a fifty-percent chance of inheriting the illness.

We now know that descendants of the Cabeza de Baca, C'de Baca, and Baca families are at higher risk of having this illness today; however, that can include most Hispanics today with a four-hundred year history in New Mexico.

Most people have never heard of this illness. This workshop may be very informative for everyone and their families. There is no cost for this workshop and all are welcome to attend.

For more information, visit or call 505-473-1622.

Top of Page

Ad Rates  Back Issues  Contact Us  Front Page  Up Front  Animal News   Around Town  Sandoval Arts   Business Classifieds  Calendar   Community Bits  Community Center  Eco-Beat  Featured Artist  Gauntlet Health  Community Links  Night Sky  My Wife and Times  Public Safety  Real  People  Stereogram  Time Off  Youth