The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


The Abenicio Salazar building in the historic El Zócalo complex in Bernalillo

The Abenicio Salazar building in the historic El Zócalo complex in Bernalillo


County line—

County purchases El Zócalo to house economic development and job training center

—Jack Thomas
Sandoval County Commission

There's a parable that pretty much sums up the importance of having a job and the responsibilities that we, as society, face: Give a man a fish and he will have food for a day but teach a man to fish and he will have food for a lifetime.

The importance of teaching needed job skills and the correlating value of supporting local businesses cannot be overemphasized. That's where government has a clear responsibility, socially and economically.

The Sandoval County Commission and staff are working to create a comprehensive economic development and training center at the historic El Zócalo complex in Bernalillo. That's one clear way to help residents receive the training needed to land productive jobs and to help local businesses gain support to grow even more job opportunities.

Conveniently located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the El Zócalo center is an ideal site for job training, tourism-industry opportunities, job-related day care, and business incubators for tourism and other industries.

An adobe barn stands behind the Old Convent, both buildings part of El Zócalo.

An adobe barn stands behind the Old Convent, both buildings part of El Zócalo.

In addition, the center will provide a training facility for residents, an economic center for regional businesses and serve as a vital link in shaping the county's economic future. By combining training and business support programs with private sector services, El Zócalo will serve as a base for economic opportunities region-wide.

While county manager Debbie Hays began refining the concept of a regional economic and job-training center three years ago, the county only recently purchased the El Zócalo complex.

The twenty-four-thousand-square-foot El Zócalo center sits on three acres and includes five structures that vary in age, size, and potential use. El Zócalo, Spanish for "the meeting place," dates to the 1870s. Today, the buildings that once served as a Catholic school and convent are ideal for a wide variety of services, including job skills assessments, classrooms and training facilities, tourism facilities, childcare, and small-business development.

The federal government, with widespread encouragement from our congressional delegation, agreed with the county's concept for the economic development and training center. In mid-June, the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration "invested" $1.4 million in Sandoval County to help purchase and refurbish the El Zócalo complex.

That EDA grant recognizes the potential that the El Zócalo project offers to combat low income and high unemployment. The federal grant will be matched with a revenue bond and county services valued at $150,000 to create the $2.33 million economic-development center.

Sandoval County is indeed fortunate to be blessed with a rich history, diverse culture, and a wide array of scenic wonders. At the other end of the spectrum, however, jobs and salary levels are perpetual challenges for the county and state.

The 2000 Census ranks Sandoval County's per capita income of $19,174 at 88 percent of the national average. The county's overall jobless rate of 3.7 percent shows modest improvement but remains higher than the national average. When the areas of Rio Rancho, Corrales, and Placitas are excluded from the Census data, however, the county's unemployment rate soars to 5.9 percent and the per capital income drops to $10,028.

Creating public-private partnerships to help residents obtain productive employment is an obligation and function of government. It also is provides significant and long-lasting savings for taxpayers.

By training workers for productive lifelong jobs now, we can reduce the much higher costs that taxpayers will incur when the unemployed enter our welfare or criminal systems. And by growing new jobs we also grow the revenue base that in turn stabilizes the individual burdens of all taxpayers.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Thomas may be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87048.


RR crossing closure delayed

Bill Diven

Plans to close a railroad crossing where five people have died are being delayed until officials of Sandia Pueblo and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway can meet.

BNSF had announced it would close the private North Farm Crossing about a mile south of Bernalillo. However, Sandia governor Stuwart Paisano protested the lack of consultation with the pueblo and said the closure would burden farmers who use the crossing to get from NM 313 to their fields.

No date had been set for the meeting by the Signpost deadline. BNSF spokesperson Lena Kent said the railway has written to Paisano agreeing to the meeting but still prefers to close the crossing.

Two Bernalillo teenagers died there on March 21 in a collision with Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. A 1996 accident killed two adults and a nine-year-old boy.


Bernalillo mayor Charles Aguilar under fire from the press

Bernalillo mayor Charles Aguilar under fire from the press

Mayor and chief find common ground

Bill Diven

The truce between Bernalillo’s mayor and police chief appears to be holding as both men say they want to concentrate on public business.

Meanwhile, federal and Rio Rancho investigators have recommended the state attorney general be included in an investigation of missing police equipment and evidence.

“We’re just conducting the business of the people, that's it,” mayor Charles Aguilar said in an interview two weeks after his failed attempt to fire police chief Ramon "Mojo" Montijo. “The council reinstated him, we'll go forward from there, and time will tell.”

Bernalillo mayor Charles Aguilar under fire from the press

Chief Montijo celebrates after reinstatement

Aguilar said insubordination, not the chief's unwillingness to discuss the investigation, was the source of the friction. He declined to say how Montijo had been insubordinate.

"It's been professional, the two encounters we've had,” Montijo said of recent meeting with the mayor. "I have no problem working with the man. He's still my boss.”

However, the chief added, he also answers to the Bernalillo Town Council and to the community.

The dispute began June 2 when Aguilar suspended Montijo and recommended the chief be dismissed. After a three-hour closed session on June 9, town councilor Serafin Dominguez moved to terminate the chief, but the motion was not seconded.

Councilor Helen Sandoval's motion to reinstate the chief then passed three to one with Edward Torres and Ronnie Sisneros voting yes and Dominguez no. The meeting drew a packed house estimated at seventy people plus TV news crews from three of Albuquerque's English-language stations and the Univision affiliate.

While the council met in private, debate and rumors swirled loudly among citizens waiting in the council chambers. One man said he supported the office and powers of the mayor, while a woman sitting behind him said she was tired of town leaders acting like royalty.

"The chief has a good résumé, give him a chance,” said one man, to which another added that he had heard a weapon was missing from the department. A civilian employee of the department responded, "He's making false allegations against a police officer.”

Montijo said the investigation began after he ordered an inventory of police equipment and evidence two weeks after becoming chief on April 15. The specific results of the inventory have not been made public.

"I offered an inventory amnesty, and from that point forward, things started appearing and not appearing,” Montijo said. "The investigation is being done by outside agencies. Whoever falls, it's of their own doing.”

During a tour of the police building late in June, Montijo said the heavy chain and padlock on the evidence vault had been placed there by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A federal agent and an investigator from the Rio Rancho Police Department could be seen nearby examining department files.

The former bank vault was controlled by two combination dials, but one had been secured with tape because the combination had been lost. Shortly before the new chief arrived, someone removed the tape and spun the dial, according to Montijo.

Opening the door required punching a hole in the reinforced-concrete exterior wall to unlatch it from inside. The vault is now considered a safety hazard, he added, because dangerous evidence like blood and narcotics were stored improperly.

Montijo said the investigators had just recommended he involve the New Mexico attorney general in the case and that he would be calling her office that day. The Signpost interview was interrupted when one of the agents handed Montijo a receipt for unspecified records taken as evidence.

"They don't tell me what they're finding, and I don't want to know,” Montijo said. "I've been here three months, the investigation has been going on for two months, and it's mushrooming.”


New Placitas subdivision proposed

Former Placitas resident George Shaffer is planning a thirty-nine-lot residential subdivision on 118 acres above Placitas village. Shaffer bought the property in the late 1950s and lived on it until several years ago when he moved to Albuquerque. He says that he has always planned to subdivide this property to finance his retirement and that he has been in the preliminary processes since 1999.

On June 12, Shaffer and his son Steve hosted an informal meeting with residents of surrounding neighborhoods to announce his plans. He had met with several people from Placitas Heights two years ago to discuss the subdivision, and had at that time promised to seek a third party, possibly Sandia Pueblo, to purchase his property for open space. At the June meeting, Shaffer told residents that he had been unable to make such a transaction and that he was going ahead with the public process to create his new subdivision.

The tone of the meeting was cordial for the the most part, but the Placitas Heights people were concerned about the loss of the open space and the perceived threat to their domestic wells. Shaffer pointed out that his ownership of the land predated most houses in Placitas Heights and suggested that they "make me an offer" to purchase property adjoining their lots.

He also said that the hydrological studies done on test wells as required by Sandoval County subdivision regulations have indicated that the new development would only result in a five-foot drop of the surrounding aquifer over one hundred years.

The tone became more tense when Heights resident Bill Dunmire read a prepared statement in which he said his neighborhood was "following promising leads with third parties who had indicated interest in the possibility of purchasing the 118 acres for preservation as undeveloped open space" and described the meeting as "an unethical preemptive strike against a possible solution that would avoid new wells." Furthermore, Dunmire said, "As to the question of groundwater in the vicinity of Mr. Shaffer's property, let me say that the well for our house began to run dry about a month ago . . . and the acequia in the village is running dry.” He also expressed skepticism about hired hydrologists who are only too willing to prove one hundred years of water supply.

Shaffer bristled at the suggestion of something unethical in his actions. He said that county officials had warned him that they would have no control over development if he sold the property to Sandia Pueblo. He pointed out that his land could be subdivided into as many as sixty-two lots. He also said that the subdivision would not significantly affect water supplies, that his wells are drawing from different strata from village supplies, and that he had done nothing that would affect Dunmire's well. "I've got this land and I'm not going to just sit there and die with it," said Shaffer. "I abide by all the county rules."

County rules will take this subdivision through a public process from planning and zoning to the county commission. Shaffer said that he had held this meeting voluntarily, not to negotiate or apologize, but to inform people that they could participate in this process, which will start soon.

The property in question lies within an area close to the mountain identified in the county-funded  hydrogeological study done by Peggy Johnson as  a problem area of complex strata and poor water  availability.


A conversation with Peggy Johnson

Ty Belknap

The Signpost had the opportunity to talk with Peggy Johnson, a hydrogeologist with the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at New Mexico Tech. She completed a water study for Sandoval County in January 2000 called Phase II Hydrogeologic and Water Resource Assessment for the Placitas Development Area, Sandoval County, New Mexico. The report has since been updated with additional data and interpretation. That version is available from the Bureau of Geology as an open file report on CD-ROM for $20 plus shipping and handling: Hydrogeology and Water Resources of the Placitas Area Sandoval County, New Mexico, by P. Johnson, W. J. LeFevre, and A. Campbell (2000). New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources OFR-469.

    SP: Why does the area in Placitas near Sandia Mountain have a low rating for water availability?

PJ: The area southwest of the village, at the base of the Sandia Mountains, is located along the Placitas Fault Zone and is characterized by a variety of rock units. The fault zone itself contains a number of faults—dozens of fault strands covering a broad area. Many of the faults are oriented perpendicular to groundwater flow and form a barrier to the flow from the mountain causing seeps and springs, as well as very localized water availability. Some wells are very good while others are not productive at all. Sites for drilling and impacts on existing wells are unpredictable.

    SP: What would cause Mr. Dunmire's two-hundred-foot well to go dry?

PJ: Drillers in this area will generally stop drilling as soon as they find water. They may have tapped into a preferential pathway where water is replenished on a regular basis by rain and snowmelt. It may be that it is a good producer during spring runoff, but water levels decrease during the rest of the year. During repeated years of drought, water levels in the well might drop dramatically, but when the climate changes, the well production could return to normal. On the other hand, this area has many compartmentalized aquifers which are isolated by impermeable rock. In some cases, these wells can be pumped dry and depleted by a single domestic well. Drilling deeper will not necessarily solve the problem or be successful at all.

Periodic monitoring of the water level is the only to know what's going on with a well in this area. The terrain, geology, and hydrology are so complicated they are "uncharacterizable"—beyond the ability of geologists to completely understand.

    SP: If that's the case, how can a hydrologist establish that there is a hundred-year water supply in this area?

PJ: It is unlikely that there would be enough information to prove this conclusively, but for the purpose of planning a development, pump testing can be a pretty good indication. The results of a pump test on an exploratory well need to prove plenty of water with minimal drawdown on nearby observation wells.


SP: Could George Shaffer's well affect the acequia in the village of Placitas which is already at a low level?

PJ: The springs that feed the acequia in the village are in a totally different aquifer and watershed. Water discharges from the springs along the preferential pathways associated with a fault originating in the Sandia Mountains. Just like the scenario with the well I described earlier, the spring flow peaks with snowmelt in late spring and early summer, then tapers off. Even if the springs were to dry up because of successive drought years, the flow would return when the drought is over. The springs function in their own hydrologic system, which is totally isolated from the area being developed. I don't believe pumping in the area of George Shaffer's development would affect any of the village's springs.

    SP: I understand that you have been consulting with the Water Resources Association of Placitas.

PJ: I've been helping to bring the U. S. Geological Service up to speed on the conditions in Placitas. The USGS is preparing a proposal to WRAP for monitoring wells. I have tried to hammer the idea home to WRAP that the only way to know for sure about water resources is to monitor the wells. Most of the members of WRAP are developers, but they're putting their money where their mouth is. This group is concerned about the future of the community and they are being proactive to protect the resources.

The community as a whole should be involved. People need to work together in setting the priorities on where monitoring needs to occur. It shouldn't just be done where the aquifer is likely to prove to be the best, but it should also concentrate on the impacts of pumping groundwater in problem areas. The community should step forward and give a high priority to springs and riparian areas, like those along Camino Rosa Castillo, to make sure they are protected.


Fireworks banned in Sandoval County

Effective June 19, the Sandoval County Commission has banned the sale and use of most fireworks in unincorporated areas of the county. Fire marshall Clark Speakman asked for the ban because of the danger of brush fires created by a combination of the continued drought and high fuel conditions. Allowable fireworks are limited to small devices that have little visible or audible effect. Cone fountains, flitter sparklers, ground spinners, and toy smoke producers are permitted, but only on pavement or barren ground. The ordinance will be enforced by the sheriff's department. Penalties are up to a $300 fine and/or ninety days in jail.

Sandoval County Sheriff's Department Stats





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