County commissioner William Sapien (right) praises commissioner chairman Daymon Ely (left) for four years of good work during Ely's last commission meeting on Dec. 16. Ely represented the district centered on Corrales and chose not to seek a second term. Ely received a gavel, plaque, and silver bowl as parting gifts.
Big spenders prevail at December commission meeting
While some children may have dreamed of toy trains for Christmas, Sandoval county commissioners bought the real thing at their meeting on December 23.
And the holiday shopping didn't stop there, as commissioners voted to invest more than $48 million from handling the Intel bond issue in projects ranging from a digital media center and high-speed digital communication to a new arena in Rio Rancho's new downtown. The commissioners also established a $12 million permanent fund, the interest on which over ten years will repay $8 million in bonds for water, wastewater, infrastructure, and education projects.
For the proposed Bernalillo-Belen commuter railroad, $10 million would pay for a locomotive, two passenger coaches, track improvements, and a Bernalillo station. Another $6 million would go toward bus and shuttle service linked to the Bernalillo train station, and $1.5 million was allocated to each of the five commissioners for use in their districts.
Commission chairman Daymon Ely, whose term ended December 31, said the old-fashioned approach to spending the Intel money would be to divide it five ways. This approach provides some money for individual districts while leveraging the rest to benefit the county, he said.
“We are able to do real things with this money,” Ely said. A vocal supporter of the commuter railroad, he said transit issues affect economic development, air pollution, and quality of life in general.
“It's only going to get worse,” Ely said. “This project has to work.”
The appropriations come from the sale of $55 million in county bonds that will be repaid by revenue the county receives for acting as middleman in the $16 billion Intel bond issue. The county expects to receive at least $81 million and perhaps $95 million over fifteen years, depending on how much Intel spends to upgrade its Rio Rancho computer-chip plant.
Commissioners were not always unanimous in approving the spending, with Commission David Bency voting against the railroad allocation. He was joined by Commissioner William Sapien in opposing the $300,000 contract for planning a digital media center to attract film, entertainment, and multimedia industries to the county.
Sapien suggested the county had more pressing health, safety, and welfare issues, while Bency said he feared the county may get stuck with its locomotives and commuter cars since the rail project still lacks long-term funding.
“I agree with mass transit to a certain point,” Bency said. “The Ely Express can turn into Daymon's Diner if we get these cars back.”
While the commission discussed cars and a locomotive, the formal agreement with the state and Mid-Region Council of Governments only specifies capital improvements.
Corrales Mayor Gary Kanin and Placitas residents Barbara Longeway and Bob Wessely questioned the commissioners' apparent haste to spend the money with little public input and just as Ely and Commissioner Elizabeth Johnson were ending their terms. Longeway described the spending as icing without the cake, and Wessely compared it to his weekly childhood allowance received one day and spent the next.
“Dad's advice was don't let the money burn a hole in your pocket,” Wessely said. “None of us is smart enough to know what will come up over the period this (Intel) bond covers.”
Commissioner Jack Thomas said he backed the contribution to the proposed sixty-five-hundred-seat Rio Rancho arena as a central feature of the new downtown planned for now-vacant land near 28th Avenue and Unser Boulevard. In return, the county would receive 20 percent of net revenue after expenses from arena operations.
Other bond projects approved by the commission on December 2 were:
- $2 million for marketing and development of the county fair, once the fair near Cuba is transferred to county ownership
- $505,000 for the new judicial complex under construction at NM 528 and Idalia in Rio Rancho
- $495,000 for the county detention center
- $1 million for El Zócalo, the county-owned historic property in Bernalillo
- $1.7 million for paving projects
Parcientes of Acequia La Rosa de Castilla: (left to right) Lynn Montgomery,
Ora Correa, Fermin Cordova and Doris Cordova
The Rumaldo Montoya Ranch in 1945
Heavy equipment aided in constructing earthworks to induce meandering and slow storm run-off in the riparian environment of the Blumenthal property along Las Huertas Creek.
Placitas beanfield war
A conflict has been brewing in Placitas for the past several years, similar to the one in John Nichols’s classic The Milagro Beanfield War. Lately the conflict has heated up. On December 5, Lynn Montgomery filed a report with the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office reporting vandalism to his acequia (community irrigation ditch). He showed the investigating deputy damage that included destruction of the point of diversion at springs on Las Huertas Creek, removal of a wheel valve controlling flow from a large pond, and a section of piping bridging an arroyo that had been removed and thrown into the creek.
Under Sheriff Tim Lucero told the Signpost that his office had no suspects and no leads and was not actively working on the case.
Several days later, Montgomery, along with other parcientes (acequia water-right holders), took the Signpost on a tour of the partially repaired acequia, which provides domestic water and irrigates fruit trees on Montgomery’s property and land owned by Ora Correa.
Correa is a descendant of the Trujillo family, who were original settlers of San José de Las Huertas nearly three hundred years ago. (Ditches in the area may have been used for irrigation by Native Americans in the area prior to settlement by the Spanish.)
Montgomery bought his property in the early seventies and worked with Rumaldo Montoya, a well-known rancher and farmer, to restore and maintain the “modern” acequia, which was built around 1886. Correa and Montoya had the same grandparents. Correa said, “The ditch is part of our heritage. My grandfather, who did not have much formal education, engineered and built the system with his brother. They worked hard and we are still working hard to keep it going. We want to preserve it for generations to come.
“Lynn has been a godsend and has been mayordomo for many years. I know that people want to leave the water in the Las Huertas arroyo, but with the drought we’re having, there’s just not enough water, and people need to respect our rights. Realtors need to tell people looking at the property for sale around us about the acequia. I don’t know how the work that’s being done by people to change the flow of the creek will affect our water, but they need to talk to us.”
The parcientes feel that they should be included in the planning process for several ongoing projects to preserve the riparian areas along the creek [the Las Huertas Watershed Project]. They say that the acequia is good for the riparian habitat. They also feel that the flow from the springs is threatened by groundwater pumping and residential developments in the area.
Montgomery pointed out that the acequia enjoys senior water rights and, if a negative impact is established, the state could limit or curtail the junior water rights of new wells. He has protested several water-right transfers, contending that more groundwater pumping would negatively affect the flow from the springs. The Office of the State Engineer denied his protest, but the case is still in the court of appeals.
Montgomery says that acequias are political subdivisions of the state of New Mexico, and have a certain amount of autonomy and sovereignty, as does a county or municipal government. In a press release following the reported vandalism, he stated, “We just don’t get any respect. We have been using this water since 1765 and have established ourselves before the courts and have a court adjudication giving us the right to divert this water. Some folks apparently wish to ignore our existence and feel they can do anything they want to us with impunity. We have experienced similar tampering and vandalism over the last months and even caught a person doing it once.”
Montgomery added, “We hope to educate the public on the rights and values of acequias and what we have to offer society, but the media is not being responsive to our need to do this.”
Correa said that most of the land around her property was a working ranch throughout the first part of the nineteenth century. There were cattle, orchards, vineyards, and gardens that supported the family. Montoya took over in 1925, when his grandfather died. In the nineteen-forties, a drought dried up the springs, and the orchard died off.
In the seventies and eighties, the area started to recuperate from the drought, and the Correa family planted some more trees, but they recently lost ten to fifteen trees because there wasn’t enough water in the ditch to irrigate them during the latest drought. Correa says she knows they’ll never make a living at it again, but they hope to get the orchard going.
Correa shares the property with her daughter Doris and her family. She says her son Paul plans to move to the land when he retires from his job at NASA in a few years.
Correa showed the Signpost several documents and a hand-drawn map dating from the early part of the twentieth century. “People challenged our water rights over the years. When I produce the documents, we always win in court, but it’s expensive,” she said.
The other side of the “beanfield”
The issues surrounding Acequia de las Rosa Castilla are not as clear-cut as those in The Milagro Beanfield War. Susan Blumenthal owns seventeen acres just upstream of Lynn Montgomery, and she is not at all happy about the ditch that bisects the entire length of her property. She says, “That water belongs in the creek where nature intended it to be.”
Not only does Blumenthal see the riparian area along the creek deprived of water but she is also forced to give right-of-way to Montgomery, and the two don’t get along very well. Last September, Blumenthal filed charges of assault and battery against Montgomery. She says he hit her with a shovel. Montgomery denies the charges, countering that she fell while climbing onto the acequia with a hoe. Under Sheriff Lucero said that since there were no witness and no obvious injuries, Blumenthal would have to prosecute the case in Magistrate court.
Blumenthal inherited the seventeen acres from her father, archaeologist Ernst Blumenthal, who bought the land in 1956 for $750. Land in Placitas was nearly worthless at the time because of a devastating drought. He bought the land mainly because it contained the ruins of a seventeen-room Anasazi pueblo. Blumenthal remembers no acequia flowing until Montgomery started working on it in the early seventies, but says that there were a lot of cattle along the creek that caused damage that is still apparent today.
Blumenthal built a house near the pueblo ruins several years ago. She has been working on a riparian restoration project and has spent countless hours piling up rocks and cutting down salt cedar.
She obtained a $10,000 grant from the U. S. Department of Fish and Wildlife for the construction of massive rock baffles and weirs to induce meandering and slow storm runoff, and The Archaeological Conservancy obtained a grant to work on the channel in order to protect the ruins of San José de Las Huertas from erosion.
The trouble is there is no flow to be induced to meander—especially during the ongoing drought. The only time that water flows in the streambed is during a storm. In the wetter times, there was water in the creek and in the ditch, sometimes flowing late into summer months. Now, all the water is diverted into the ditch.
Blumenthal said, “If you compare this to a bean-field war, Lynn is the developer. He’s draining the springs for his own selfish purposes. I could have made a huge profit selling my land, but I have granted an Archaeological Conservancy easement so it will never be developed. This place is on the National Registry of Historic Places.”
She says that she has been told by hydrological consultant Bill Zeedyke that enough water is diverted to irrigate twenty acres of alfalfa, and she questions where it is all going—especially in the winter. Furthermore, she says, the continuation of historic use of the creek is destructive and serves only casual use to irrigate a few fruit trees, and families no longer depend on the ditch for sustenance.
“I consider the restoration of the riparian environment along the creek my life’s mission,” explained Blumenthal. “Without water to grow native vegetation, the streambed is eroded and down-cut by storm runoff. We’re trying to slow the flow so it has a chance to seep into the aquifer.”
Blumenthal says that the acequia water rights were forfeited because the ditch was abandoned for many years. Applicants for the water-rights transfer that was protested by Montgomery used this same point to argue that Montgomery had no rights to be negatively affected by groundwater pumping.
Blumenthal says that she hopes public opinion will sway landowners upstream along the acequia to join in challenging the declaration of water rights in court, but that she did not have the kind of money that would be needed for legal costs to challenge the declared rights.
Change appears unlikely
Local realtor Dave Harper owns the land at the point of diversion. He said that he is not inclined to interfere with the ditch and is not convinced that the acequia water rights could be proven invalid.
Jess Ward, water-rights specialist from the OSE, told the Signpost that the acequia water rights are declared by Lynn Montgomery but not adjudicated. There is a clause in the statutes dealing with the loss of acequia water rights due to abandonment, but there are acceptable reasons, such as drought, for such abandonment. If rights are challenged, the OSE does a study of the very complex issues and makes a recommendation to the courts. He said that if there is no change in the way the acequia is used and no challenge to this use, the OSE has no reason to take any action.
Reid Bandeen of the Las Huertas Restoration Project said that the parcientes need not be concerned about his organization’s projects, stating, “The Las Huertas Watershed Project is engaged in planning various stream and riparian restoration activities along Las Huertas Creek with the necessary qualifier that any such activities be conducted in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations and will in no way interfere with existing water uses along the creek. Rather, one of the Watershed Project's main goals is that such uses will be enhanced, not compromised, by the projects we choose to recommend for implementation. Community input is invited at any stage of our planning process.”
The issues that created the “beanfield war” will not go away as long as there is water to fight over. This is probably not the last word.
Council rejects liquor-license transfer to Ashley’s
Bernalillo town councilors have rejected the transfer of a liquor license that would have allowed the only package sales in the south end of town.
Voting three-to-one on November 22, the council rejected the application by Ever-Ready Oil Company to transfer a liquor license to Ashley's Corner Store, now a Chevron Redi-Mart, at Camino del Pueblo and Avenida Bernalillo. An earlier motion by Councilor Serafín Dominguez to approve the transfer died for lack of a second.
Councilors had tabled the transfer request earlier and then met with Ever-Ready officials to discuss concerns about security, loitering, and shoplifting. Ever-Ready president Charles Ochs said the company planned to improve video monitoring of the store and hire a security company to regularly visit the store.
The company wants to provide a community setting without trouble for patrons, he added. Measures include training staff in liquor and tobacco sales, not selling fortified wine, prohibiting consumption on the property, and placing smaller liquor bottles out of reach of would-be shoplifters, Ochs said.
Bernalillo police chief Fred Radosevich told councilors that of twenty-two shoplifting complaints received since September, sixteen involved alcohol. There were no shoplifting calls from Ashley's during that time, he said.
The council decision is not final pending review by the state Regulation and Licensing Department.
Dog chase ends in gunfight
When Reed Harry went mountain biking on July 15 last year, he probably wasn’t planning to kill anyone. He was one of the good guys—a career paramedic and firefighter in Albuquerque. Men in his profession have seen it all and like to be prepared for anything. That morning, he packed his pistol and cell phone (and probably a good first-aid kit) into his backpack and headed up the bumpy dirt road in Cochiti Canyon.
He told the law enforcement officer that he fired his gun to scare off a pack of dogs that had chased him. The dog owner, wood-carver Scott Massey, took exception to such abuse of his pets and chased Harry up the hill in his pickup. When Massey pointed a gun at him, Harry shot the artist. Massey died on the scene of multiple gunshot wounds. There were no witnesses. Harry used his cell phone to dial 911.
On December 17, a Sandoval County grand jury chose not to charge Harry of a crime. However, the jury did not go so far as to deem the killing justifiable, and the case remains open. District Attorney Lemuel Martinez urges anyone with additional evidence or information to call his office.
In all likelihood, nobody would have gotten hurt if Harry had left his gun at home that morning. On the other hand, you have to wonder about a guy who behaved as Massey did. What was he thinking? There is probably a lot more to this story than the general public will ever know.
Antigun people blame the guns, but wilderness areas—especially those accessible by cars—can be dangerous places. The cops will never get there on time. As Harry and Massey found out, if you carry a gun, you’d better be prepared to use it.
$16 billion dollar story
Hear Daymon Ely speak on "The Sixteen Billion Dollar Story" on Tuesday, January 25, at 1:00 p.m. at the Esther Bone Library in Rio Rancho on Pinetree Road, just north of Southern Boulevard.
Learn about the largest industrial-revenue-bond deal in U.S. history which was approved by the Sandoval County Commission for Intel Corporation. How will Intel use the money, and how will Sandoval County benefit?
Ely, a Corrales resident and immediate past Sandoval County Commission chairman, and councilman Jack Thomas spearheaded the drive for the $16 billion deal.
The talk is sponsored by the local League of Women Voters; it is part of a regular series of West Side unit meetings held on every fourth Tuesday at the Rio Rancho Library. The public is welcome to attend. For further information, call the LWV office at 884-8441 from 9:30 a.m. to noon Mondays through Fridays.
Sandoval County plans wish list
When the Legislature convenes on January 18, Sandoval County will be there lobbying for financial help and changes to state law.
During the 2004 session, state senators and representatives secured appropriations totaling nearly $9 million for capital projects, including buildings, infrastructure, and paving. Governor Bill Richardson then vetoed about $1 million of that.
This year's requests for capital outlay are:
- Detention center, $118,000 to upgrade medical-dental unit
- Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos Food Distribution Center, $875,000 to construct a warehouse and supermarket-style store for need-based food distribution open to all county residents
- Placitas Senior Center, $176,000 for a twelve-hundred-square-foot expansion
- County senior centers, $59,900 for repairs and improvements to centers in Cuba, Peña Blanca, Placitas, Jemez Valley, and Bernalillo
- Numerous road projects totaling $2.3 million, including paving Camino de San Francisco in Placitas
- Recreation projects, $117,800 to improve two Rio Rancho parks and build a pedestrian, bike, and equestrian trail along Camino Don Tomás in Bernalillo
- Bosque sewer expansion, $2.3 million, to connect about 220 homes southwest of Bernalillo now on septic tanks to the town wastewater plant
- Las Acequias de Placitas, $100,000 for the first of three phases to replace distribution pipes
Budget and policy initiatives supported by the county include:
- The 13th Judicial District request for furniture, communications equipment, and moving expenses for the new judicial complex scheduled to open in April at NM 528 and Idalia Road in Rio Rancho
- Legislation to increase funding to rapidly growing school districts, including the Rio Rancho district
- State Agency on Aging request for $226,000 for specialized vehicles and equipment for county senior programs
- Commission on Higher Education $3 million request that includes a full-time small-business-development center at El Zócalo in Bernalillo
- Reimbursement to counties for handling state prisoners.
- Continued development of the Northwest Loop Road connecting I-25 and I-40 via US 550 and Rio Rancho to preserve donated rights-of-way
Bernalillo basketball game turns to brawl
Spartan Shield Staff
Bernalillo High School
On December 2, Bernalillo and Pecos basketball fans witnessed a scene similar to the brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons on November 19.
The Bernalillo Spartans beat the Pecos Panthers seventy-six to sixty-eight in a close yet aggressive game. There were a total of fifty-two fouls, including three technicals, two of which were on Bernalillo's starters Marty Sanchez and Keith Benally. The Spartans almost cleared the bench after Aaron Gonzales was knocked to the ground accounting for the third technical. Luckily Terry Darnell, the varsity head coach, was able to contain his players and calm them down before any fighting occurred.
A week prior to the quarrel in regard to the incident between the Pistons and Pacers, Darnell said that when two players on the court get into a fight, “it's a lot more in control. It's more understandable because two people are battling and there's nothing wrong and sometimes tempers flare. It's really not acceptable, but it's easier to maintain for the officials. Those types of things they can handle.” He added, “What we can't have is people going into the stands and creating riots and things like that. That's where it gets dangerous and out of control.”
Unfortunately, something very similar to the NBA incident happened. After the game, a fight occurred among a few of the fans. Some unsportsmanlike conduct by both Bernalillo and Pecos spectators instigated a fight that had riot potential. A huge crowd gathered around the commotion, making the fight look worse than it really was, but more than 90 percent of the crowd was either trying to leave or trying to settle people down.
Eventually Bernalillo's security and staff members were able to separate the belligerent parties, and they had the gym evacuated immediately after.
Darnell put part of the blame for the scuffle on the referees for the night. He believed that the officials should have had more control during the game. He said that the referees didn't call many of the fouls during the game and allowed a lot of aggressive play to occur. According to Darnell, this bad officiating riled some of the fans. He said, “there were a lot of hard fouls and a lot of things that happened in the game that should've been called early and it would've calmed the fans down a little bit.”
Another cause of the fight was fans sitting in the wrong places. There was a mix of Pecos fans and Bernalillo fans sitting together in the same sections, which allowed them the opportunity to interact with each other in a negative way.
Also, Darnell felt that many of the fans were taking the game too seriously and said, “People don't understand that it's just a game.”
To prevent events like this from happening in the future, Darnell says that he will make sure there is better security in place, including police officers on duty. Also, seating arrangements will be made so that fans won't be mixed together.
To date, the punishments for the spectators participating in the fight are unknown because nobody is completely sure of exactly what happened. Darnell said that fans who get involved in a fight would be kicked out of season events, but in this case he believes it would be unfair to punish people who were merely acting in self-defense.
Darnell said, “Without the fans, there's no reason really for us to play. I think it's real important that we have that fan interaction there, but I just think there has to be an understanding that there's a positive way to do things and a negative way.”