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letters, opinions, editorials

re: seeking community support for Placitas recreation and horse sanctuary legislation

I’m working to get State Senator John Sapien to propose some legislation in this 2013 February New Mexico Legislative session to establish/fund a Placitas recreation and horse Sanctuary under a Senate Capital Outlay request.

This project can be a major benefit for the community in a number of areas. I think we all would like to see the BLM Las Huertas Creek (Buffalo Tract) 3,400 acre parcel management changed into a low impact, limited multipurpose park. The BLM Federally mandated use of the land includes activities that aren’t suitable for a community that is so close to the BLM borders. We would, for instance, like to see shooting, ATVs, motorcycles, natural resources development, gravel mining and highway development avoided in the BLM Las Huertas Creek tract. Under the Federal Recreation Public Purposes Act of 1996 (the RPP Act-see below), all minerals will be reserved to the United States. But as long as the property remains in the hands of the BLM, or for that matter, the BIA, we won’t really have a method to eliminate this kind of use of the land. If the property belongs to the state of New Mexico, we at least have a chance to influence legislation to eliminate such things as mineral development and gravel mining.

The objective of the proposed capital outlay legislation is to have the State of New Mexico provide funds to provide property for a New Mexico State Park in the Placitas area, which could also provide a sanctuary facility for the horses roaming the Placitas neighborhoods. We have a hundred or more undocumented horses roving around Placitas, and the BLM can’t help because they don’t classify the horses as “wild” under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (WFRHBA). WHOA has appealed a Federal Court ruling on a lawsuit filed to force the BLM to recognize the horses as “wild” under the WFRHBA. A change of ownership from the BLM to the State of New Mexico would potentially accelerate the time when the horses would be legal on the 3,400 acre Buffalo tract.

The basis for the proposed legislation is the Federal Recreation Public Purposes Act of 1969 allows the state to purchase up to 6400 acres of BLM land per year at $10 per acre.

The local BLM parcel (Las Huertas Creek) in Placitas is about 3,400 acres, so the purchase cost would be about $34,000. First year additional capital costs to get the recreation and sanctuary in shape, I estimate, would be another $110,000 or so. This proposed transaction has no connection to the Placitas Open Space (POS), other than being a parcel of land adjacent to the POS.

Specifics of the project (as submitted to Senator Sapien) for the Capital Outlay, requests expenditure to purchase approximately 3,400 acres (Las Huertas Creek Tract), also known as the Buffalo Tract) of BLM land in the area of Placitas, eastern Sandoval County pursuant to special pricing provisions ($10 per acre or approximately $34,000) of the Federal Recreation Public Purposes Act, Revised August 1996 for a public recreation and horse sanctuary park to be owned and operated by the New Mexico State Parks division of New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD). Proposed project funding includes approximately $111,000 to design, construct, and repair fencing and recreation trails in the park for multipurpose use by visitors for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, observation, photography, painting, and study of horses, and to provide sanctuary area for thirty to one-hundred horses (depending on the condition of park grasslands), horse management corrals, pens, panels for equine birth control and medication, health management, health management, and special feeding.

The $111,000 of funding is intended to provide first year costs for planning, zoning, design, environmental impact statement, right of way (if required), major fence building and repair, camp, road and trail grading, and water well and solar pumping equipment. If approved by the New Mexico legislature, the NM State Land Office, the NM Parks Department and the BLM, work on the project would proceed after completion of the land purchase, probably in 2014.

Later, a plan will have to be developed with the New Mexico State Parks to provide for annual operating funding, and to complete an operating and development plan to be submitted to the BLM pursuant to the RPP Act.

If we get this to work, it has applications in other areas of New Mexico. Personnel with the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB) have been supportive of the project. According to the NMLB, New Mexico law requires that horses must have legal premises, and legal ownership. By providing the Placitas recreation and horse sanctuary park, the first step in making the horses legal in Placitas will be accomplished. We are working on how to best achieve the management and ownership of the horses.

If Senator Sapien submits the legislation, we will need support from the community during legislative hearings, probably sometime on or after February 11. Contact me at 264-9658 if you want to be included on my email list on this issue.

If you are willing to support this proposal with Senator Sapien, his email address is or call 400-3153.

—Marty Clifton, Placitas

re: Julianne “AJ” Dirksena remembrance

On Christmas Day, Placitas lost one of its “treasures.” Julianne Dirksen, or “AJ” to many of us, passed away after a long bout with leukemia at the age of 81 years. Often AJ could be seen darting around Placitas in her white Subaru going from one friend’s house to another to care for their dogs, cats, and other four-legged critters. She loved all animals, was fascinated by all of Mother Nature’s creatures and maintained a library of books and pictures to help learn more about them. Each week she could be found at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry in Bernalillo packing food boxes for families in need. She was an active member of the Optimist Club, helping with summer programs for kids. On Sundays, she sang in the San Antonio Mission choir. A real bundle of energy, AJ always had a smile on her face and a happy greeting for each person she met.

Julianne Dirksen was born in Springfield, Illinois, and was the adopted daughter of George and Alvina Dirksen. As the niece of prominent Illinois U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, it is not surprising that she would follow in the “public service” footsteps of her uncle. Senator Dirksen didn’t feel the military was a place for women, but being a woman who knew her own mind, AJ enlisted in the Navy WAVE program on the day before her twenty-first birthday. She trained as an Air Traffic Controller serving at several stations on the East Coast and finally was transferred to the NAS Alameda (California) where she could be closer to her aging parents. Following her twenty-year military career, AJ continued as a civilian Naval Air Controller for another fifteen years. In 1990, after retirement, AJ followed her closest friend Fran Stephens and Fran’s husband Len to Placitas. But even in her retirement, AJ could not get “her” Navy out of her system. She proudly displayed her “Ret. Navy” plates on the white Subaru.

AJ, we miss you!

—Bob Gajkowski, Placitas

re: a tombstone for Ranchos de Placitas?

A tombstone has appeared just off Highway 165. But unlike most tombstones that memorialize the death of a person, this tombstone represents the death of a community identity. The death of a community spirit. I refer to that slab of sandstone on Highway 165 and Juniper Road that now marks the entrance to Ranchos de Placitas.

Aside from the obvious design flaws, the inconsistent vertical spacing of the words, the fact that the words were centered on the slab without taking into consideration the planter around the slab that now makes Ranchos de Placitas appear to be sinking into the ground, the generic “Your Community Name Here” appearance of the sign could be for any community. It’s not upscale, it’s not down scale, it’s just generic. Vanilla.

This visual effrontery replaced a unique sign designed by Gene McClain whose quirky art is synonymous with Placitas and that in my most humble opinion, represented the individuality and free spirit of we who live in Ranchos de Placitas. Yes, Gene’s sign was knocked down by an out-of-control car, and yes there were problems, but by no means insurmountable problems with the lighting of Gene’s sign. But to replace Gene’s splendid work of local folk art with the current grave marker-like sign was unnecessary and unforgivable.

But unless a runaway cement truck levels this unsightly slab and puts it out of its misery, I guess we’ll just have to live with it.

—Gary W. Priester, Chagrinned to be living in Ranchos de Placitas

re: the taming of the flue

Dear Friends Back East,

Thanks for your good wishes for 2013. Same to you. I was pleased to learn that each of you avoided the punishing wrath of grapes over this New Year’s holiday. I’m even more pleased that you abandoned your plan to celebrate the occasion by scaling the Chrysler Building. Perhaps you are getting like me, i.e. letting it all go into one year and out another and are content to simply hang up an updated calendar to express your jubilation and merriment. Perhaps we are all approaching a smidgeon of enlightenment this time around? We can only hope.

The absolute wretchedness of New Year’s Eve at my house was offset only by its humiliating and odious nature. My complaint stems from the simple fact that the damper in my fireplace decided to make sport of me in the late afternoon by suddenly developing a mechanical catch in the opening process, thereby fooling me into thinking the flue was completely open and we were fire-ready. Thus, it remained half-closed when I lit my pile of dry snakeweed and two little logs.

As the kindling began a promising blaze, I replaced the screen and made a quick trip to the kitchen to put some Sea Captain’s Choice into Patrick’s feed bowl. But when the tawny beast failed to respond to my call, I returned to the living room and saw the wee lad staring into the fireplace from a safe distance, his eyes as wide and round as his Friskies’ cans. He looked like a large, hairy, over-caffeinated horned owl rendered flightless in a moment of hellish avian peril.

It was only when he became suddenly cloaked by a foul expulsion of grey smoke from the fireplace that I finally noticed the smutty fog now filling the room. The villainous sooty emissions filled my nose, and the plume began to roam through my house like a nosy, stinky, gassy, unwanted realtor. We were then greeted by the piercing scream of the living room smoke alarm, followed in order by companion alarms in other rooms. It was like a high decibel toppling of terrified, shrieking dominoes.

In full panic, I opened the patio door and used the fireplace tongs to fling out each burning log onto the gravel. I used a metal bucket to do the same with the smoldering snakeweed. In the meantime, I had lost total confidence as to which way to move the hot damper lever—forward or backward? Consequently, I simply opened all exterior doors and windows. Very gradually, one-by-one, the alarms ceased inflicting their auditory and emotional injury on Patrick and me.

At this writing, I have finished scrubbing and re-painting affected interior surfaces and re-familiarized myself with the fireplace damper’s temperament and sense of humor as well as methods for checking proper draw in advance of lighting future fires. I lived and learned a little.

Patrick is now sitting next to me and is displaying a knowing sympathetic stare. He seems to be saying, “Boss, don’t let this event put a damper on the New Year.” He knows better than to say that out loud. I hope 2013 is very kind to each of you and you avoid catching the flu.

—Your Friend, Herb

Mountain musing—legislation 2013, looking for a miracle

—Wally Gordon

Last year, Harvard University had 34,403 applicants for 2,076 slots in its freshman class, a ratio of about 17 to one. Last week, Target held a three-day job fair for two hundred jobs in a new Albuquerque store scheduled to open in March. Before the job fair even began, it had 2,600 applicants, a ratio of 13 to one. By the third day, it had seven thousand applicants or 35 for each job. In other words, it is twice as difficult to get a part-time, low-wage, dead-end job at a retail store in Albuquerque as to become a student at the best university in the world. What else is there left to say about our economy?

According to new data released last week, New Mexico has officially lost a larger percentage of its jobs in the past year than any other state in the union, and Albuquerque more than any other large city. We use to have Mississippi to sneer at, but not any longer. When asked what hope she could offer our unemployed, Gov. Susana Martinez told KOAT-TV last week, “They have to stay vigilant in looking for those jobs.”

What jobs? While Target was preparing to hire two hundred, Hewlett Packard was announcing it was moving two hundred jobs out of state. Such distress emerged on the eve of the sixty-day session of the Legislature that opened yesterday. The major topic of discussion was the state’s terrible economy. What was not being discussed by anybody was doing anything serious about it. With the legislative leadership and the governor agreeing on such key facts as the size of expenditures and income in the state’s projected $5.9 billion general fund, and with most appropriations already preempted by present programs or built-in increases, there seems little to debate during the sixty-day session.

The governor’s most controversial proposal, resisted by most Democrats, is to slash corporate income taxes by a third. The Legislative Finance Committee budget’s most controversial proposal, rejected in advance by the governor, is to increase the base pay of state workers by one percent. That’s mostly it for major economic development ideas. Neither side suggests that a plan will make New Mexico into a semblance of what it was five years ago, let alone into a prosperous society. Both sides want to spend a little bit more for education. Both agree on a major expansion of Medicaid—at federal expense. There will be fights over non-budgetary items. The governor, a former prosecutor, wants still another punitive law aimed at restricting the activities of former sex offenders, this one to prevent their using Internet social media sites, a proposal that may violate the U.S. Constitution. Some legislators are sympathetic to an effort by the Drug Policy Alliance to ease marijuana laws, although there does not seem to be any substantial movement for New Mexico to follow Colorado and Washington in legalizing pot. Several bills will attempt to tighten gun control. The one that is supported by both Democratic legislators and the governor, and that therefore has the best chance of passage, would make information about mental patients more readily available so as to deny them gun permits.

There will also, as always in recent years, be a renewed fight over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. The key to this issue is whether the governor will accept the kind of compromise legislators have approved in the past. While disposing of this divisive issue, such a compromise would also deprive Martinez of an election issue to use against Democrats in 2014 when, presumably, she will seek re-election.

The lack of major policy initiatives on the state’s vast array of problems is due to several factors. One, of course, is the partisan and institutional deadlock between the Republican governor and the Democratic Legislature. But that is only the beginning of the problem. The Legislature itself is far from united. Democrats have a tighter rein on the House than in the past couple of years, and the House has become a bit more liberal since some of the governor’s favored candidates were defeated and Democrats gained a net of two seats.

In the Senate meanwhile, an informal alliance of Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats continues to exercise strong influence, though less than total dominance. Republicans picked up three seats in November, slightly strengthening their minority status. Michael Sanchez, the Valencia county Democrat who was Martinez’s top target in November, was a re-elected majority leader and will continue to control the flow of bills to the floor.

But even if the House and Senate were on the same page, institutionally the Legislature is not equipped to design and enact sweeping laws on complex issues like economic development. With 112 independent voices and a wide array of leadership styles and ideologies, the Legislature may sometimes get its act together to approve sweeping initiatives of a strong governor like Bill Richardson, but it is hogtied when trying to launch a big program on its own. It has neither the expertise nor the time to do so. In addition, Martinez’ unprecedented, deep involvement in last year’s bitter election campaign has left a legacy of distrust in the Legislature. With $200 million in new money to devote to tax cuts or spending increases (but only half of that actually available for new initiatives) and up to $500 million for capital expenditures, as well as a swollen reserve fund, the legislators have some room for bargaining with the governor. Much, however, will depend on what Congress does about cutting federal spending, on which New Mexico is disproportionately dependent, but Congress is unlikely to act on that until after the legislative session is over in March.

Meanwhile, any concerted action by this Legislature and this governor to resolve the state’s profound issues of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and ineffective education would be a miracle. Miracle is not a New Mexico word.

Reprinted from the January 16, 2013, The Independent, a newspaper of public interest to the East Mountain area of Albuquerque.

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