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Jemez Historic Site Photo credit: —Matthew J. Barbour

Jemez Historic Site awarded Small Historic Preservation Grant

—Matthew J. Barbour, Manager, Jemez Historic Site

In December, Jemez Historic Site was awarded a Small Historic Preservation Grant from the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division to help fund in its 2014 Elders in Residence Program. This new program seeks to connect Jemez Tribal Members with the ancestral Jemez Village of Giusewa, located at Jemez Historic Site in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. The project, as proposed, is expected to kick off between June 4 and July 14. It will include six tribal members coming to the site, each for a single week of time.

Jemez Historic Site protects and interprets the archaeological remains of Giusewa Pueblo and San José de los Jemez Mission. Recently, on October 16, 2012, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. The site contains a small museum and interpretative trail that explores the history of the Jemez People and the impacts of the arrival of the Franciscan Missionaries in the seventeenth century.

The primary objective of the Elders in Residence Program is to offer a Native American voice in the interpretation and preservation of Jemez Historic Site, while fostering a variety of public education opportunities which are available to all site visitors. During each elder’s visit, he or she will provide tours to the general public, offering a Jemez voice in the interpretation of the ruins. They will be encouraged to share stories and personal feelings about the site, their culture, and the region in general, which will then be recorded for posterity by Jemez Historic Site Staff. These tours and lectures will be advertised to the general public through announcements in local newspapers and national magazines.

It will also serve as an opportunity to educate tribal members and Jemez Historic Site staff. When not presenting, the elders in residence will have the chance to look in and provide feedback on the general management of Jemez Historic Site. This has the potential to facilitate an honest dialogue regarding the ongoing preservation, maintenance, and interpretation of this nationally recognized treasure.

Funding provided by the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division Small Historic Preservation Grant will be used to provide the Jemez Tribal Members, who participate in the program, with an honorarium for their time and service to Jemez Historic Site.


Someone wielding a black marker altered the date on the road construction sign on Highway 165 near I-25 from a completion date of 2013 to 2018—a date that many frustrated locals feel is more likely.


Bernalillo

State of the Town meeting

—Bill Diven

For such a small town, a lot of big issues keep Bernalillo’s leaders awake. Consider:

  • Bernalillo’s water wells pump on the west side of the Rio Grande, with only a single pipe connecting to homes, businesses, and fire hydrants on the east.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) one-size-fits-all environmental rules for storm runoff into the river snared the town and most of metro Albuquerque into a single murky and complicated permitting process.
  • The Bernalillo Police Department (BPS) chief retired at the end of last year and finding “a good match for the town” to replace him won’t be easy.
  • U. S. Highway 550 will remain a traffic choke point even after the sluggish overhaul at Interstate 25 is finished, whenever that might be.
  • The July deluge that flooded homes and breached an acequia provided an unneeded reminder of the dispute over how much of the town actually sits on vulnerable floodplain.
  • Expanding tribal enterprises within the town limits have removed business property from the tax rolls.

All this is not to say there isn’t good news, as Mayor Jack Torres and town councilors outlined in their State of Town presentations.

The town lists two dozen new businesses licensed in 2013 with national names signing up for 2014; after years of disarray, it is now current on annual audits and reconciles the town checkbook every month; about twenty local governments and agencies joined forces to deal with the federal Environmental Protection Agency; and a job notice for a successor to BPD Chief Julian Gonzales was to be posted by the end of January.

The mayor also cited the annual outpouring from residents on both sides of the Rio Grande who provided school supplies and coats for many dozens of the town’s children.

“It really shows the type of community we live in,” Torres told the handful of residents attending the State of the Town evening meeting on January 15.

And that community is growing. Quiet, comfy, and with only about two thousand residents in 1980, the 2010 Census counted 8,320 Bernalillo residents. Over these last ten years, the population grew nearly 26 percent, twice the rate for the state as a whole.

Not bad for the once-pastoral village of farmers, sheep herders, and winemakers that dates its founding to 1695 and sits astride the Spanish royal road from Mexico to Santa Fe that later became, if briefly, U.S. Route 66. The road, now called Camino del Pueblo, is benefitting from a continuing streetscaping project that is adding lighting, landscaping, improves accessibility, and builds protected crosswalks for pedestrians.

The romantic image of earlier times may be a little misleading, though, according to Torres. “Bernalillo was always a county seat and never was a little sheepherders sort of quaint village,” he later told the Signpost. “It’s always been a center of activity for the region.”

It’s now more than four hundred years later, though, and the town’s 21st-century challenges reach if not all the way to Washington, D.C., at least to the EPA office in Dallas where the federal license—Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems—quickly shortened to “MS4.”

The town has already dipped into its budget and expended hundreds of hours of staff time in search of its MS4 permit and final regulations for the quality of storm runoff reaching the Rio Grande. In that quest, Bernalillo, Albuquerque, the Mid-Region Council of Governments, and other governments and agencies have banded together to obtain one regional MS4 permit.

“The effort is to join forces so we can share the pain,” Torres said during the town meeting. “Educating the public and businesses not to let contaminants wash away is one thing; monitoring the river will be more complicated and carry an unknown price tag,” he added.

The town is also working with the feds and local agencies to reduce the number of properties needing flood insurance and to deal with the river levees the feds have decided must be replaced. Separately, it has joined with the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority to control floodwaters washing down from the Sandia Mountains and the open lands below.

Torres said his worst phone call as mayor came at 3:00 a.m., on July 26, when he learned that the town, especially the Mountain View neighborhood, was flooding, and that the Bernalillo acequia failed to reduce damage.

Going forward, Torres said he’s hoping to enlist professional help in developing a new strategic plan to help guide town debates and decisions.

“You have to have some shared vision, some shared plan, so (town) staff understands the expectations,” he said in an interview with the Signpost.

That future will be one full of issues and likely conflicts, as Torres and town councilors outlined during their State of the Town presentations:

U.S. 550 Corridor

Still unresolved are the ongoing headaches at U.S. 550, the four-lane Bernalillo-into-Colorado highway providing the primary connection from west Bernalillo and northern Rio Rancho to I-25, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe.

The $19 million overhaul of the I-25 interchange and the widening from there to Camino del Pueblo was to be done in November. The last forecast the town received is for completion sometime in February.

“I’ll be happily stunned, but don’t believe that’s going to happen,” Torres said adding that the New Mexico Department of Transportation should not base contract awards solely on the lowest bid. “You get what you pay for,” he said.

Even when the project is done, U.S. 550 will still be four lanes from Camino del Pueblo to west of the Rio Grande, including the river bridge. An NMDOT consultant is already working on a corridor study for improvements on that stretch, with public meetings to be held when the results are released later this year.

When and where the state will find the money for that work—forty to fifty million dollars is the amount being bandied about—and how it would affect the town’s vital commercial strip remain unknowns for now.

Economic Development

During the State of the Town meeting, Councilor Ronnie Sisneros presented a brightening picture of economic development with the addition last year of businesses like farm-ranch-home retailer Tractor Supply, Kactus Brewery, Lupe’s Antojitos Mexican Cuisine, and the about-to-open Back-Sass BBQ. 2014 looks promising, he added, with a Valero gas station, store, and truck stop under construction at U.S. 550 and Camino Don Tomas, Chili’s and other prominent brand names work on coming to town.

The town also is getting numerous inquiries but no commitments yet for vacant spaces along Avenida Bernalillo. “We have a lot of potential for business in Bernalillo,” Sisneros said.

The town is currently taking two approaches to helping its four hundred existing businesses and any newcomers. One is to create a business directory, which it hopes the merchants will then adopt and continue using as a marketing tool, since the town lacks the resources to do much more than generate the list. The other is to encourage shopping in Bernalillo to support not only local merchants and local jobs but to generate sales taxes that help fund the town government.

For every one hundred dollars spent at a locally owned business, $73 dollars stay in the community and recirculates, according to Sisneros. Shopping at the Walmart on State Road 528 helps town tax revenue, however, much of the profit leaves the state, he added.

One problem cited by counselors is educating shoppers on when they’re helping Bernalillo and when they’re not. The new Chili’s planned for the west side of NM 528 will be in a corner of Bernalillo while nearly everything else on that side of the highway and at the corner of NM 528 and U.S. 550 is in Rio Rancho.

Also, the former Ashley’s gas station and convenience store at the south end of Bernalillo is now owned by Sandia Pueblo while the Warrior gas station on the south side of U.S. 550 west of the river is owned by Santa Ana Pueblo. With those properties converted to tribal lands, they generate neither sales or property tax revenues for the town and school district nor gasoline taxes for the state.

Housing

The town, through the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority, is rehabbing 24 aging, and poorly insulated, public housing units and building 74 new ones at a cost of nearly $22 million dollars. The work includes a solar-power array. Groundbreaking for what is to be called Village in the Bosque is planned for early spring.

Construction is progressing on the 36-unit Coronado Town Home Apartments on Camino Don Tomas.

Streets

Councilor Santiago Montoya described the current U.S. 550 project as not a solution to traffic conditions on the corridor, but a start toward one. He lauded a related project, the opening of Spartan Alley parallel and north of U.S. 550, and the extension of Rail Runner Avenue across it as improving access to Bernalillo High School, which is moving toward a major overhaul of its campus.

The $345,000 dollar landscaping of the southern entrance to town from I-25 began on January 21, and the last phase of streetscaping Camino del Pueblo in the center of town is about to start, leaving the north and south ends still to do.

“This is historic Route 66,” Montoya said. “We want to flash it up as much as we can.”

Work on South Hill Road, in conjunction with ESCAFCA, includes flood control measures and new stop signs on Sheriffs Posse Road. All these things are helping to quell speeding and discourage through traffic.

Water

The town has successfully renovated two water tanks in its eastern foothills, providing 1.5 million gallons of storage for domestic use and fire flow, said Councilor Dale Prairie. Next up is rehabbing Well No. 2 near I-25 and State Road 165 to provide water sources on both sides of the Rio Grande.

A second water line across the river is needed to provide redundancy should one line fail, Prairie said.

The town already has taken care of one trouble spot, replacing decades-old water lines in a four-block area, adding both fire hydrants and isolator valves that allow work to be done in one location without shutting down and entire neighborhood.

Budget

Something not visible on the street, but still noted as a significant victory within Town Hall, happened late last year when the state certified the town’s annual audit. The town was four years behind, Councilor Marian Jaramillo said, and now reconciles revenue and expenditures every month.

Beyond the value and transparency of a proper audit, the state government now requires a current audit before state funds for local projects can be released, she said.

The town’s water and wastewater budget, supported independently as enterprise funds, has boosted rate collections above ninety percent after being closer to seventy percent, and has cut the number of customer delinquent notices from 1,300 to about 350.

As part of the budget, the enterprise fund now sets aside money each month to make debt payments. “So now we’re not struggling when the payments are due,” said Jaramillo.


March 4 election

—Bill Diven

While no one stepped up to challenge Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres for reelection, three people are vying for two at-large seats on the town council in the March 4 election.

Elections also are being held in Rio Rancho and Corrales, with both selecting new mayors that day.

Torres is completing his first four-year term, and Councilor Dale Prairie, a painting contractor, is seeking a second consecutive term. Councilor Santiago Montoya opted not to seek reelection.

The other candidates for the two seats are John Estrada, the town’s former fire chief, and Ernestina Dominguez, a past Corrales village clerk.

Absentee ballots can be requested from Town Clerk Ida Fierro and must be returned by mail or in person before the polls close on March 4. Early in-person voting begins on February 12 in the Bernalillo Town Council Chambers at Town Hall.

Polls are open 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Election Day and will be set up in the council chambers and at the clubhouse in the Alegria neighborhood, 901 Cottonwood Circle, on the town’s west side.


County Commission report

Signpost Staff

Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya and Treasury Comptroller Larry Polanis presented a quarterly financial report on January 10. Montoya assured the commissioners—possibly in light of the ongoing investment crisis in Bernalillo County—that the county investment policy was safe. (Bernalillo County is considering cutting long-term bond losses by cashing out with a loss of up to twenty million dollars.) Sandoval County faced a similar crisis ten years ago, but made adjustments to its portfolio to make it safer. Bonds fared poorly in 2013, resulting in paper losses if they were sold before maturity, but they said that there is enough liquidity in the portfolio to cover expenses while holding bonds until they mature.

On the bright side, Montoya said that 55.5 percent of 2013 property taxes had already been paid, providing $64 million dollars, the bulk of revenue required for the budget. Polanis told the commission that an effort to boost tax collections had recouped $2.9 million dollars out of $3.6 million dollars owed by long-term delinquent property owners. The Treasurer’s outreach program allows delinquent tax payers to set up a payment plan before their case is turned over to the state, which brings in taxation, revenue, and interest while allowing property owners to retain ownership their property.

Immediately following the quarterly report, the county commission held its regularly scheduled meeting, beginning with the presentation of the 2013 Deputy of the Year award.

Commissioner Darryl Madelena was elected for a fourth term as Commission Chairman. The process proceeded along good-natured party lines. Republican Rio Rancho Republican Chapman nominated fellow Republican Rio Rancho Republican Walters for the seat. All three Democrats supported Madelena, who has developed a reputation for bipartisanship. His vote often breaks a tie.

Although no funding is currently available, the Commission accepted a detailed report outlining strategies boosting economic development. The document, titled Sandoval County Economic Development Assessment and Strategy, is the result of months of research and deliberations by a taskforce of stakeholders from around the county. It outlines the county’s current economic picture and lays out a strategy for improving that picture over the next decade.

Moving forward, county staff will use the strategy to make recommendations to the commission for carrying out individual economic development programs as funding becomes available. To see the entire strategy document visit: sandovalcountynm.gov/uploads/Downloads/news/SVC_EcDevAssess.pdf.

Commissioner Don Chapman said, “Sandoval County is on the precipice of a historic time when this idea will forge regional partnerships with a regional scope to get us through these tough times.” Chairman Madelena thanked Chapman for his hard work on this project.


Board members and interested parties attend Coronado Soil And Water District’s meeting following the unexpected resignation of three of its key officers.

Coronado Soil And Water Conservation District copes with loss of officers

—Ty Belknap

On January 16, the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District (CSWCD) was surprised by the unexpected resignation of three of the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District’s Board of Supervisors, including all of its officers. The officers had all served as unpaid volunteers for six to eight years.

Former Chairman Will Ouellette told the Signpost that the District had coped for years with the lack of cooperation from the Town of Bernalillo and Sandoval County. Lack of cooperation from the NM Department of Transportation (DOT) during the ongoing I-25/ US 550 reconstruction further compromised the District’s ability to access Piedra Liza Dam. They finally resigned after an attorney from the Dam Owners Association advised them that they could be held personally liable if a failure of Piedra Liza Dam caused injury or property damage. “If CSWCD folds up, the Town and County would have to take over responsibility for the Dam, or it might have to be breached and abandoned,” he said. Ouellette said that if the dam is not properly maintained, there could be a catastrophic failure resulting in a wall of water descending on the Town.

At an emergency meeting held on January 20, remaining supervisors Lynn Montgomery and Jon Couch elected each other Chairman and Secretary/Treasurer respectively. Consultant Jim Wanstall from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture advised them that his research indicated that two of the three remaining supervisors constituted a quorum. Supervisor Gary Miles did not attend. On January 22, Miles addressed an open email to “Mr. Illegal Interim Chair Lynn Montgomery.” Miles did not respond to a Signpost request for clarification.

In addition to the dam, CSWCD is involved in community education programs like Firewise, and they provide support for the chipper day disposal of brush removed from residences to create a defensible space. As the local government entity, they are charged by the State with the job of identifying the conservation needs of the District. Ouellette said that CSWCD also has a nominal role in approving subdivisions, but is largely ignored by the county.

Miles was elected unopposed to the CSWCD last summer and has been at odds with the other supervisors over the Board’s call for the removal of free-roaming horses from the Placitas area.

The appointment of supervisors to vacant positions is administrative, pending the next election. The district board sends a list of selected candidates to the NM Soil and Water Conservation Commission, which decides the appointments. Anyone who would like to be considered for a position on the Board may send a request and resume to Lynn Montgomery, interim Chair Board of Supervisors, Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District, PO Box 69, Bernalillo, NM 87004 or sunfarm@toast.net.

CSWCD (Montgomery and Couch) issued the following press release on January 21:

Frustration at dealing with the NM Department of Transportation, the Town of Bernalillo, and Sandoval County over the Piedra Liza Dam—the floodwater control dam that protects the Town of Bernalillo—prompted the resignation of all the officers of the Coronado SWCD en masse at its regular January board meeting. Chairman Will Ouellette, Vice Chairman Jim Pike, and Secretary-Treasurer Ted Montoya all ended their board reports with the announcement that each was tendering his resignation from the Board of Supervisors. This leaves only three Supervisors, Lynn Montgomery, Jon Couch, and Gary Miles to continue the Coronado SWCD’s projects, which are vigorously opposed by Mr. Miles, until the NM Soil and Water Conservation Commission appoints two additional Supervisors.

Coronado SWCD has received no response to repeated complaints that NMDOT has created a dangerous situation with the new medians and traffic lanes, which prevent access from the dam to the highway for dump trucks to maintain the Piedra Liza reservoir. The only exit from the dam is uphill toward Placitas and is too steep for loaded dump trucks to make after stopping at the highway without damage to transmissions. If the truck needs to go toward Bernalillo it has to travel uphill at a very low rate of speed and U-turn by the recycling center, causing a traffic hazard. The District lost the opportunity to sell excess dirt to two contractors from the reservoir because they feared they would damage their vehicles. Coronado SWCD uses the income from the sale of dirt to finance maintenance on the dam, as well as to remove the sediment that accumulates. One solution would be to add fill and a paved lane from the dam gate to the frontage road interchange. Then vehicles could go uphill or downhill safely as needed. The NMDOT project engineer indicated to Mr. Montoya that it was too costly for such occasional use. The engineer wants the District to use a gate off the frontage road, which accesses an unimproved two-track through private land, through an arroyo, and up an even steeper grade that is impossible for dump trucks.

The Coronado Board of Supervisors called an emergency meeting on January 21 to elect interim officers and deal with a pressing deadline. Mr. Miles objected to the meeting and was not present. The two members of the Board that were present elected Lynn Montgomery interim Chairman and Jon Couch interim Secretary-Treasurer until the Commission appoints new Supervisors and the Board can elect new officers.

The Coronado SWCD is the local government entity charged by the State with identifying the conservation needs of the District and then developing a plan of action to fill those needs. It owns the dam and is charged with maintaining it, along with co-sponsors the Town of Bernalillo and Sandoval County, under a contract with the Federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. Supervisors are local unpaid volunteers.

 
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