An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes relax in the Corrales bosque on their way to winter at the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Preserve near Socorro.

U.S. Forest Service considers land exchange near Placitas

The November 2005 issue of the Signpost reported that the Forest Service is presently considering whether lands specified in a proposal submitted by Sandia Pueblo fall within the appropriate rules and regulations for such an exchange. USFS property specialist John Bruin told the Signpost that the exchange process could take up to three years and will include a period of public comment specified by the National Environmental Policy Act. Bruin said that the USFS is trying to consolidate public lands through exchanges such as this.

The T'uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Area Act of 2003 directs the Secretary of Interior to prepare and offer a land exchange of National Forest lands outside the area and contiguous to the northern boundary of the pueblo’s reservation within sections 10, 11, and 14 of T12N, R4E, N.M.P.M., Sandoval County, excluding wilderness land, for lands owned by the pueblo in the Evergreen Hills subdivision in Sandoval County contiguous to National Forest land, and the La Luz tract in Bernalillo County.

The land included in the proposed trade is near a popular hiking area just south of the S-curves in Placitas. It is bounded by SR 165 and Forest Road 445 and loops around the Bernalillo Watershed Research Area. The loop road does not appear to be affected by the proposal.

On December 21, the Albuquerque Journal quoted Sandia district ranger Jackie Andrew describing the land included in the trade, “It is not timbered land, so it’s high desert like most of the Bernalillo watershed. There are some trails here, one of which is the Del Agua Trail and it’s just a small portion of the Del Agua trail. The pueblo requested we reroute the trail so it’s not in the portion that gets exchanged. We would do that separately from the exchange itself.”

The proposed exchange promises continued public access to the Piedra Lisa trail from Placitas to the Juan Tabo picnic area. It also places a conservation easement on the Piedra Lisa tract, preserving it from future development.

The Journal article also quotes Sandia Governor Stuwart Paisano, “In exchange we are asking the forest service to give us land further east that is not being used by the public. . . The lands may be in jeopardy of being developed and we want to protect the Sandia Mountains. The sooner it is done and we clarify ownership, the better.”

Ranger Andrew said that the exchange could take up to six years to complete. The public process should make clear what effect this exchange will have on public access and future development. There is a great deal of public interest in this exchange because the area is heavily used for recreational purposes. Residents can address their concerns to their county commissioners, state and federal representatives, and Sandia Pueblo.

Bernalillo votes in March on mayor, trustees, sales tax

Bernalillo voters will go to the polls on March 7 to elect a mayor and two town trustees and to decide whether to tax themselves for open space and water rights.

The positions currently are held by Mayor Charles Aguilar and trustees Edward Torres III and Serafín Dominguez, who are eligible to run for reelection. Candidates’ declarations must be filed with the town clerk an January10; new voters have until February 7 to register with the Sandoval County clerk.

The proposed tax of one-eighth percent on most services and goods except food would be dedicated to buying water rights and purchasing land to preserve it for agriculture or open space.

January legislative session: a feeding frenzy?

For such a poor state, New Mexico suddenly seems awash in cash as petrodollars stream into the state treasury.

And with the Legislature convening on January 17, there is no shortage of ideas on how to spend all this so-called new money. Estimates of how much money, most of it the result of high prices for gas and oil produced on state land, started at $300 million and now creep toward $1 billion.

About the only consensus so far is that the windfall won't last and can't be relied on for recurring expenses like salaries and new programs. So while some suggest saving a bit for the future or restoring money recently taken from the interest-bearing Permanent Fund and Tobacco Settlement Fund, others, including Governor Bill Richardson, see an opportunity to address longstanding needs for capital projects like new roads and school buildings.

Legislators interviewed by the Signpost disagreed, however, on whether the thirty-day session, whose main purpose is setting the budget for the 2007 fiscal year, will be an orderly process or a feeding frenzy.

“The governor has overpromised on every front and has probably spent the billion dollars a couple of times,” Senator Kent Cravens said. “When there's not much money, we don't fight too much, but with all this money, it probably will be a brutal session.”

Cravens, a Republican whose District 21 includes Placitas and two Bernalillo precincts, is among those wanting first to replenish the permanent funds and restore agency budgets previously tapped to support new programs. There are signs the Senate can muster the same bipartisan will that increased the taxpayer energy rebate from $90 million to $250 million during the special legislative session in October, he said.

“My hope is that we have enough common sense stand up to the governor like we did in special session, at least in the Senate, and say we need to put some of this money back where it belongs,” Cravens said. Even then, he added, there would be money for statewide and local projects like the Placitas Library, an interest he shares with Representative Kathy McCoy.
“I've earmarked a big chunk for Placitas Library,” said Republican McCoy, whose House District 22 reaches from Edgewood and the East Mountains through southeastern Sandoval County and Placitas. “These folks have been just fabulous.

“They're the kind of people you want to do things for because you know they're going to follow through.”

McCoy said she can't yet quote a dollar amount although she expects to have at least as much as the $1.3 million in capital outlay she received during the 2005 session. While the largest piece of that money went to the Edgewood sewer system, she allocated $165,000 for the Placitas Senior Center, Las Acequias de Placitas, and the paving of Camino de San Francisco, she said.

McCoy's Democratic colleague, Representative James Rodger Madalena of Jemez Pueblo, said he has no major projects in mind and plans to address as many needs as possible among his diverse constituency. His House District 65 stretches about 120 miles from Sandia Pueblo and Bernalillo to the Colorado border, touching four counties, seven pueblos, four Navajo chapters, and the Jicarilla Apache Reservation.

“Each has needs,” Madalena said. “The monies are never enough, you know.”

Senator Steve Komadina, a Corrales Republican, said his top goal is addressing arsenic in drinking water and wastewater problems along the Rio Grande, issues of particular importance to the town of Bernalillo, which is upgrading its wastewater plant under threat of federal fines. Rio Rancho's crowded schools also need help since the town is booming while the school district has maxed out its bonding capacity, he said.

Senators are adamant the capital money be spent on long-term projects like bridges, roads and college and school buildings, he added.

“It's an opportunity to take care of things that will last for fifty years,” Komadina said. “I think this will be a really good session for people of New Mexico.

“I think we will rise above politics.”

All four legislators said they welcome comments and ideas from their constituents on capital spending and any other issues.

Sandoval County prepares wish list for Legislature

When the Legislature convenes January 17, the fourteen legislators representing portions of Sandoval County and its local governments will have shopping lists in hand.

“We try to meet all fourteen legislators and others as often as possible so they are fully aware of what we're going for and, more importantly, why,” said Gayland Bryant, the county's director of public affairs and its registered legislative lobbyist. “Working with the legislators, we try to have everything drafted and ready to drop in the hopper on the first day.

The county lists fifteen capital and road projects for funding, starting with $1.9 million to start up a transit system tied to the new commuter railroad. The county already has $3.3 million of its own committed to the project.

For the town of Bernalillo, water and wastewater remain the top issue, with a request for $6.8 million to upgrade the wastewater plant and to remove naturally occurring arsenic from the water system. The town is under threat of federal fines if it doesn't meet new standards for sewage effluent flowing into the Rio Grande and must meet a new national standard for arsenic in drinking water.

Other county priorities include:
• El Zócalo complex: $1.5 million toward turning the historic Bernalillo complex into a multiuse business-development center.
• I-25 fire station: $1.1 million, plus county funds, to build and furnish a fire station with twenty-four-hour staff. County officials have said one likely location is in Placitas, near I-25 and NM 165.
• Placitas Community Library phase one: $400,000 to design and construct the first phase of the proposed $2 million, ten-thousand-square-foot library and multiuse center.

In addition to its water and wastewater projects, the town lists three other priorities:

• NM 313/Main Street Streetscape: $2.4 million to improve the appearance, safety, and economy of Camino del Pueblo while making it more pedestrian friendly.
• Transportation center: $1.2 million for the downtown commuter rail station and a landscaped walkway to Camino del Pueblo near the town hall.
• Maglev study: $500,000 for what is dubbed an Innovative Non-vehicular Transit Linkage Study, to analyze a possible eight-mile system of magnetic-levitation trains running from Rio Rancho's new city center through the county's judicial and health complex on NM 528 and across the Rio Grande to the Bernalillo rail station.

The county also has endorsed the five priorities of the New Mexico Association of Counties:

• Require the state to pay counties the cost of housing state prisoners: about $25 million
• Increase funding for DWI programs
• Return to local fire departments the $25 million of state fire taxes now diverted to other uses
• Fund county compliance with new state and federal election laws
• Increase salaries for county elected officials

Guest column: 2006 legislative session

I'll start by wishing you all the best for 2006. By the time you receive this, we'll be gearing up for the “short” (thirty days) session of the legislature. This is when we craft the state's budget, arguably the most important work we do.

Gas and oil revenues have generated unprecedented funds for the state coffers. The good news is that New Mexico has critical needs that will likely be addressed; the bad news is that these revenues will not last forever. It is crucial that we do not create expensive programs that will face deep cuts in the future. This will likely be the greatest challenge we face in the upcoming session.

The majority of introduced legislation will revolve around budget issues, but the Governor can put any unrelated bills on his “call” for legislators to consider. New Mexico has always been a strong “property rights” state. For that reason, eminent domain issues will be debated and probably firmed up to avoid the legal problems we recently saw in Connecticut. On this issue, I believe we'll see strong support on both sides of the aisle.

Other issues we expect to see on the call are price gouging, minimum wage, and possibly a vote on whether to change the state treasurer's office from an elected to an appointed position.
As a member of the committee that grappled with the treasurer's possible impeachment, I can only say that I hope it's a process we never have to repeat. Because the treasurer ultimately resigned, the impeachment process was cut short, but our good state suffered much damage, not only in the investment community, but also in government confidence.
The interim treasurer has been “cleaning house,” and we will be considering a number of proposals to change the way the treasurer's office operates.

We'll probably also be dealing with trains, planes, and rocket ships: we clearly have a Governor who plans on going places-and fast!

At the end of the first year of my first term, I am still digesting details of the issues that most impact our state. Probably the most difficult transition for me has been to look at what's important for the state, rather than just my district. Urban and rural interests often collide, so it's a precarious balancing act.

To say that I've been busy this year is an understatement. I sat on five interim committees this year: Water and Natural Resources, Economic and Rural Development, the State Permanent Fund, Election and Voter Reform, and Ethics. Because it's important for legislators to understand the needs of the entire state, some of these committees met in distant locales.

I also traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify in front of a U.S. Senate committee in support of a nationwide law to add a bittering agent to antifreeze. We were able to pass this law in New Mexico, but we are only one of three states to do so. For anyone who has ever lost a pet to antifreeze poisoning, my motivation requires no explanation. The antifreeze industry also supports this action to establish consistency among the states.

Because of my interest in conservation issues, I was invited to a White House conference aptly named Cooperative Conservation. We heard optimistic speeches from top Washington officials—Gail Norton, Mike Johanns, Donald Rumsfeld, and others—who were advocating more cooperation among stakeholders and less polarization and litigation. Many success stories across the country were highlighted. About twenty case studies in New Mexico cited joint efforts in some of the following areas: watershed improvement, range restoration, forest health and safety, cultural resources, and water quality and quantity. Given the stakes, I am hopeful that some of these contentious issues can be resolved with more compromise and less legal fees.

During this interim period, I've also had the opportunity to hear from lots of you. I believe I have one of the most interactive districts in the state. Not a day goes by that I don't get a call for information or help, so I've learned much about your concerns and needs.

I hope that you will continue to keep in touch with me. I especially hope that you'll take the time to come visit me in Santa Fe during the upcoming session. There's nothing like firsthand experience to understand how we work in the Capitol. It's not always pretty, but the knowledge you gain will be worth the effort.

Zocalo Crumbles

Removal of the barber shop and the restrooms exposes adobes on the south wall of the Salazar building at El Zócalo

Remember El Zócalo?

Seen from Terry Lamm’s world view, the simultaneous invasion of Iraq and the Sandoval County’s acquisition of the El Zócalo complex in 2003 represents a serendipitous coincidence. Both events blend positive beginnings with lost civic opportunities—architecturally speaking that is. Terry says that New Mexico craftsmen could be instrumental in reconstruction and preservation efforts in Iraq. New Mexico and Iraq share common architecture and building techniques.

“After a conquest, Ghengis Khan always ordered his troops to protect local craftsmen before every one else,” Terry explains. “The same thing should have been done for Iraqi craftsmen to protect ancient buildings that are an important part of our world heritage.”

He fears that a similar loss may occur at El Zócalo if the county doesn’t put some effort into restoration pretty soon. While the old orchard, several outbuildings, and the add-on barber shop and restrooms have been demolished, reconstruction efforts are still out for bid.

Lamm’s thirty-years of restoration and day-to-day maintenance of historic structures at the complex ended when he sold the place to Sandoval County. His efforts were inspired by the writings of early twentieth century visionary Patrick Geddes (google him or see the murals by Edward Gonzales in the Zócalo entryway), the father of city planning. He renamed the complex El Zócalo because he hoped it would become a public gathering place and source of civic pride. He is concerned with the importance of civic spaces in the creation of public squares, plazas, and architecture that reflect a town’s character and community spirit.

Sandoval County bought the complex with the help of a $1.4 million federal grant. The plan was to use the space for an economic development and training center. Last fall the project was portrayed by several county commissioners as an overpriced boondoggle of questionable value when bids far exceeding the $1.7 million cost of reconstruction were rejected.

If and when a bid is accepted, modern building code enforcement will threaten the unique sloping brick floors, low doorways, and period doors and windows. Those of us who enjoyed Zócalo office space during the “Lamm Era” witnessed an ongoing battle against leaking roofs, plumbing and heating problems, crumbling stucco, peeling paint, flooded parking lots, and skunks under the steps. The idea that our government can finally fix all the problems with lots of money is similar to fixes like the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, the War on Poverty, and problems with the infrastructure which are ongoing processes, not just something to be fixed or killed once and for all. They need to hire somebody to keep the old place from falling apart.

Local craftsman Rick Catanach, who did most of the hands on preservation of El Zocalo says, “I worry about the place every day. When I drive past and see those rain gutters dangling above the south wall I know what a hard rain could do to exposed adobes. Back in the early nineties a similar thing happened to Our Lady of Sorrows Church and forty-four courses of forty-inch-thick wall were washed away. They almost decided to tear the church down before the community got together on a restoration project.”

El Zócalo is the heart of Bernalillo’s Historic District. The old convent is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Quite a few old-timers who attended school in two-story adobe Salazar Building are still around. A lot of us relative newcomers saw Terry Lamm’s vision of a civic center almost come into fruition. A memorable Signpost Christmas party in 2003 was the last public function in a place that had provided an irreplaceable setting for so many community events.

For more information, contact your county commissioner.

County Commission Chairman Bill Sapien

William “Bill” Sapien

Sandoval County Line—the year in review


When I was elected chairman of the Sandoval County Commission, I outlined ambitious goals for 2005. Many of those goals have been met and still others are moving forward to fruition with our team approach that involves residents, elected officials, and county employees.

County taxpayers are receiving great value and services for their tax dollars. As a commission, our prudent fiscal policies and plans are preparing our county for the exceptional growth we confront.

This past year, we have improved our buildings and infrastructure, senior centers, health programs, investment policy, employee compensation and retirement programs, and fire and public safety. We have created long-lasting partnerships that will serve our residents for decades to come.

We have, in brief, reached our goals and expectations without raising county property-tax rates and with a minimum of inconvenience to all who were part of our many plans and programs.

Some of our accomplishments during the past year include the completion of the most technologically advanced judicial complex in New Mexico; an improved facility to house our overcrowded magistrate courts; and the creation of a county fire department.

Other achievements are a broadband network that, when operational, in the very near future, will promote economic and personal growth for county residents.

Our composting plant is operating now and a full recycling program will be ready by March of 2006. We have completed the first phase of our Health Commons and we doubled the size of our detention center in a project that was completed ahead of schedule and within the dollar amount approved by voters.

Other recent capital improvements include a shade structure at the county fairgrounds, a new building for the Bureau of Elections, and numerous improvements to our senior centers. Portions of the county courthouse, too, have been remodeled and other renovations are in the works to provide much needed space for several county departments.

We have developed more complete policies and procedures to assure prudent management of our financial resources.

Our investment advisory committee will provide oversight of our investments and our investment policies. Additionally, our facilities advisory committee is firmly established to address our capital projects in an orderly fashion and help us to calculate future costs of operating county facilities.

For our permanent funds, we are developing an investment policy and disbursement guidelines. This will lead to further partnerships with our communities to fund critically needed local projects far into the future.

Finally, our greatest challenge for the years ahead is transportation and the increasing traffic we all confront, particularly along NM 528 and US 550. We are working in a myriad of ways to ease commuting time, improve traffic safety, and alleviate traffic congestion.

Our county was among the first to join the regional transit authority, with the mission of improving travel throughout our area. We have formally supported rural transportation solutions. We were the first local government to participate in the state's commuter-rail project that will begin serving our residents in the very near future. Meanwhile, work is progressing on creating the county's transit system.

The county commission elects a new chair each January. Even though I will step down as chairman, I will continue working as a commissioner to serve my constituents and our county's surging population.

While 2005 has been a year of great achievements, I am sure 2006 will see even greater progress, with the completion of current projects and the commencement of new endeavors.

For all of this, I acknowledge the dedication and exceptional work of our elected officials, county manager, division directors, and each and every employee.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Sapien can be sent to him at Sandoval County Administrative offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.







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