The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Matt Mathis, left, and Roger Simmons
Matt Mathis, left, and Roger Simmons, technicians with the Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management, sample the water in a stock tank being used to grow algae at New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center, at Artesia. Researchers are working to determine the best methods to grow and harvest the algae, which can be used to produce oil for biodiesel fuel.

Scientists research ways algae can fuel biodiesel production

The New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center, at Artesia, is the current location for research on using oil extracted from one of nature’s simplest organisms—single-cell green algae—as a feedstock for biodiesel production. The research is led by the Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management, based in Carlsbad.

Algae is now considered to be one of the most critical components in alleviating the need for foreign oil. This does not, however, eliminate the likelihood of other oil-based feedstocks from being investigated. CEHMM is also collaborating with the Artesia Science Center on a project focused on the potential of growing a cold-season canola crop to generate oil for biodiesel production.

The tremendous reserves of brackish water, mild climate, and abundant sunshine in New Mexico make good conditions for algae farmers.

The next step in the algae research is to establish a larger, quarter-acre demonstration pond, expected to be completed in March, at the Artesia center. The new pond will enable a broader focus on growing and harvesting the algae, as well as oil-extraction processes. A much larger demonstration project, to commence in 2008, will cover about a hundred acres eventually.

As the project expands, NMSU is expected to remain a critical partner, researching other species of algae, as well as harvesting and oil-extraction techniques.

Prescribed burning to continue

Weather permitting, the Sandia Ranger District will continue with its fuel-reduction program, implementing a series of prescribed burns.

The buildup of fuels and the growth of neighborhoods in forested areas have increased the potential for catastrophic wildland fire during the fire season. Utilizing fire in a managed environment allows fire managers to reduce the risk of such fires within the wildland-urban interface, as well as restore forest and watershed health and wildlife habitat.

This is a great time to continue working on your defensible space and fire prevention. As we see this much snow around us it is hard to think fire season is coming, but it is. You should continue protecting your family, make sure you have an evacuation plan, work on your property, and fireproof your home.

The Sandia Ranger District is working in cooperation with Bernalillo County Fire Departments and New Mexico State Forestry. Anyone interested in the Forest Service’s Prescribed Burn Program, wildfire, defensible space, and general fire information may call 281-3304 or e-mail

Volunteers fix fencing

Volunteers fix fencing during a Las Placitas Association project

LPA plans Placitas Open Space cleanup

The Las Placitas Association invites you to bring your energy, enthusiasm, heavy gloves, and warm clothes and join us in removing an antiquated barbed-wire fence that runs through the middle of the Placitas Open Space, obstructing both people and wildlife. We'll meet at the Placitas Merc at 9:30 a.m. on February 24 and carpool to the work site.

Members of the Albuquerque Open Space Division will be on hand to help with the work and advise us on the ongoing work of implementing the Placitas Open Space Master Plan. In addition, Alex Kurota, of the UNM Office of Contract Archeology, will point out some evidence of Anasazi people who lived along Las Huertas Creek many years ago.

This event is sponsored by Las Placitas Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving open space, restoring ailing watersheds, and enhancing the quality of life in Placitas. LPA will provide tools, drinks, and snacks for this event. Lunch is also available if you RSVP. Log onto and use the Contact Us link to send an e-mail on how many will be in your group. Computer-less? Leave a message with Lolly Jones, at 771-8020.

Learn more about LPA hikes, special events, and mission by visiting Please watch the events calendar at for weather-related updates.

Big coal remains big and the weather gets wacky in the New Year

In early January, eastern Colorado and much of New Mexico continued to dig out after a brutal pounding by winter storms. Snowfall broke records, stranded travelers and killed some 15,000 cows. But Arizona faces the opposite problem: Winter has thus far dodged the state, leaving snowpack levels at just 38 percent of average.

The severe weather could get even more intense if global warming continues. Last year was the warmest on record, and there’s a 60 percent chance that next year could be even hotter, say British climatologists. Blame goes to elevated levels of greenhouse gases and a resurgent El Niño.

Coal—one of the world’s leading sources of greenhouse gases —keeps chugging along, though. Last year, U.S. coal mines set a new record for production, with Western producers pulling 30 million tons more coal out of the ground than in 2005.

A new coal mine might dig into Kane County, Utah, near the boundary of Bryce Canyon National Park. Alton Coal Development hopes to lease 3,851 acres of public land from the federal Bureau of Land Management. The public now has a chance to weigh in for energy jobs or park tourism.

Northwestern New Mexico activists prefer clean air to energy jobs, and literally stood in the way of a proposed power plant to make their point. In January, Navajo District Judge Genevieve Woody ruled that the protesters may keep pro-testing. However, they have to stop illegally blocking a road to the plant site, so workers can continue studying the plant’s potential impact on the environment.

This article originally appeared in High Country News (, which covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.

Recycling center not taking phone books, needs volunteers

The Placitas Recycling Center is not accepting old phone books this year. It has also suspended acceptance of laser and toner cartridges, but will continue accepting ink-jet cartridges and cell phones for recycling.

The recycling center accepts aluminum, No. 1 and No. 2 plastic (as identified on the item), polystyrene peanuts, corrugated cardboard, newspaper, white office paper, and mixed paper.

The Placitas Recycling Center opened again on January 13 after being closed for three Saturdays in a row during the holidays and the big snowstorm. A record number of people visited the center that day to drop off three weeks of accumulated materials. “We even had to close ten minutes early because all our containers were full,” exclaimed Len Stephens, PRA president. “I know some people were frustrated that we were closed so much, but the center simply wasn’t safe with all that snow, and we don’t want either our volunteers or our customers to get hurt.” The PRA is especially grateful to the volunteers who braved the snowy conditions on both January 13 and the 20 to enable the center to be open.

The weather has been uncertain from day to day this winter, so it is not always possible to predict when the center will be closed. The PRA is investigating the possibility of posting a same-day notice on its Web site, at

The association continues to need additional board members and volunteers. Board members are asked to operate the center four Saturdays a year and volunteers generally work one or two Saturdays a year, or as often as they wish. Anyone interested in becoming a board member or volunteer can sign up at, at the recycling center, on Saturdays from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., or by calling Fran Stephens at 867-3077.


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