The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Hanna and Michelle Mellor, and Titus Ortiz hold bowls filled with water from Del Agua Creek for a blessing by Dr. Ken Cuthbertson

(foreground, left to right) Hanna and Michelle Mellor, and Titus Ortiz hold bowls filled with water from Del Agua Creek for a blessing by Dr. Ken Cuthbertson during the Ritual of Healing Waters at the Summer Solstice Earth Vespers ceremony in the Sandia Wilderness. Austin and Bobby Messenger, and Gage Davis participate in the background.

Notice of availability of the Environmental Assessment for the Mid-America Pipeline Company Western Expansion Project.

Click here to read.


Summer solstice celebrated at Del Agua Cottonwoods

Charles Little and Leland Bowen

The well-known cottonwood grove on Del Agua Creek in the Sandia Wilderness was the setting on June 19 for an annual celebration of the summer solstice, the change of seasons when the longest days of the year occur.

At the event organized by the Las Placitas Earth Care Committee, thirty adults and children, from age seven to folks well into their seventies, climbed over forbidding boulders and wended their way through thickets of mountain mahogany to reach (after a thirty-minute hike with an elevation gain of six hundred feet) the circle of ancient cottonwoods, considered by many to be one of the most sacred places in the area, with nearby petroglyphs dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

The observance included talks on the Native American origin legend of the Sandias, the long history of sacred groves around the world, a "ritual of healing waters," and "prayers from the trees," plus special music for the occasion by Placitas composer John Bullock and the singing of "Sandia Holy Day," commissioned by the Earth Care Committee, by famed folksinger-composer John Pitney.

In the Sandia Legend, recounted by committee member Kent Reid, the Sandias are the "South World Mountain," a holy place where the parent of all gods and goddesses—who is called Oku'wapin—dwells and watches forever over the valley and the plains. In a brief history of sacred groves, Charles Little told how the old Celtic word for sanctuary is identical in origin and meaning to the Latin word nemus, a grove or woodland glade. Throughout Europe and the Far East, he said, such groves were the precursors of classical temples, sacred places of sanctuary.

The highlights of the ceremony included the Ritual of the Healing Waters, led by Dr. Ken Cuthbertson, a historian of religion, who asked the children present to collect water from Del Agua creek in pottery bowls, which were then offered to each member of the assembly for a ritual cleansing in which participants dipped their fingers in the water and drew them down on their faces in a way similar to rituals by Native Americans. Reverend Jane Harmes, pastor of Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, led a prayer circle in which participants recounted from their childhood their transformative experiences in nature .

The summer-solstice observance at Del Agua was part of the Earth Care Committee's program of Earth Vespers, community-wide services to mark the change of seasons at the equinoxes and solstices. The committee's winter-solstice candlelight poetry reading—now in its eighth year, with some one hundred people attending—is perhaps the best known. At the vernal equinox this year the theme was Celtic spirituality; the autumnal equinox will be a harvest celebration.

As an outreach program of Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, the interfaith Earth Vespers services are unique in the region, if not in the whole country. These services, as well as other activities of the Earth Care Committee, are of a piece with a national, church-based movement aimed at awakening a sense of responsibility for the natural environment in people of faith, by whatever name that faith might take. As Jane Harmes has put it, "We want our Earth Vespers program to be part of the cultural fabric of the whole Placitas community. Everyone is welcome to attend these celebrations of God's Green Earth."

For further information about Las Placitas Earth Care Committee, contact Leland Bowen at 867-2731, or e-mail


MAPL pipeline environmental assessment just out; public comment sought

Citizens for Safe Pipelines plans information meeting July 6

Bill Diven

It's not a beach novel, but for some Placitas residents the top of their summer reading list is the 381-page government document Environmental Assessment for the Mid-America Pipeline Company, LLC (MAPL) Western Expansion Project.

Known as an EA, for short, the assessment covers proposed construction of 202 miles of liquid-gas pipeline divided among twelve locations from Wyoming to Hobbs, including the Placitas Open Space. Two federal agencies—the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs—will use the document and resulting public comment to decide if and how the project will proceed.

Construction could begin as early as October and be done by December 2006 if the agencies, in consultation with tribal governments, determine the project has no significant environmental impact. The agencies also could deny the project, attach additional conditions or go beyond an EA and order a full environmental impact statement.

At Signpost deadline, as Placitas residents were beginning to digest the just-released EA, Citizens for Safe Pipelines announced it would hold an information meeting at the Placitas Community Center on Wednesday, July 6, at 7:00 p.m.

“We just want to underline that we need a lot of comment, and quality comment,” said Bert Miller, president of the citizens group. “ That's the best way we and the community can react to this thing.”

Placitas by far produced the largest turnout, about fifty people, when the BLM held public meetings on the project last year.

The EA, produced by an independent contractor, can be read at the Placitas, Bernalillo and main Albuquerque libraries or found online, with a comment form, at Comments must be delivered or postmarked by July 22 and directed to BLM project manager Jerry Crockford, Bureau of Land Management Farmington District, 1235 La Plata Highway, Suite A, Farmington, NM 87401.

Comments also can be e-mailed to Crockford at

Mid-America, in response to increased natural-gas production, proposes to add capacity to its existing pipeline by building twelve parallel segments to boost pressure. The existing line already carries natural-gas liquids, a by-product of gas production.

Alternatives looked at and rejected in the EA include laying a new and larger pipeline from Wyoming to Hobbs, installing larger pumps, which would increase pressure beyond guidelines, and building twelve additional pumping stations, with attendant increases in noise and surface damage.

The local segment begins at a pumping station near San Ysidro and runs through Zia and Santa Ana pueblos, under the Rio Grande and I-25, and beside Las Huertas Creek. The line follows the creek through 1.1 miles of the open space before rejoining the existing pipe, which continues around the Sandia Mountains to the Estancia Valley and beyond. The new twenty-five-foot right-of-way would take about 3.3 acres of the open space and disturb perhaps twice that much during construction.

The EA, however, downplays many potential environmental effects, as most of the new right-of-way falls within an existing pipeline corridor.

“It's good practice to maintain ecological disturbance in a zone rather than spread it out all over the place,” said Bill Patterson, who lives adjacent to the open space and the pipeline. “However, this thing passes through some very sensitive areas. And we should study not just the consequences of building the thing but the consequences of operating it, including accidental spills.”

Patterson, as he did at the BLM public meeting in Placitas, continues to call for a full EIS to study the project in greater detail.

The Mid-America land manager working on the EA had not responded to a request for comment made shortly before the Signpost deadline.


Free water testing at Community Center

Jennifer Nelson
Environmental Planner, URS Corporation

The New Mexico Environment Department Ground Water Quality Bureau, in coordination with the Las Placitas Association, will offer free testing of water from private domestic wells Saturday, July 9.

The free testing for pH, conductivity, organic vapors, nitrate, sulfate, fluoride, and iron will be held from 9:00 a.m. to noon at the Placitas Community Center.

Samples must be at least one quart in volume, freshly drawn from a cold water tap, and brought in a clean, covered glass or plastic container that did not previously contain milk, pickles, juice, or other substances with a strong odor. If possible, samples should be collected before passing through any water-treatment system, such as a water softener, reverse osmosis, or an activated carbon filter.

For further information, contact Jennifer Nelson, LPA/Las Huertas Watershed Project, at 459-3186 or Jerzy Kulis, NMED, Ground Water Bureau, at (505) 827-2828.

For additional workshops, please see


AG questions MTBE exemption in 2005 energy bill

Attorney General Patricia Madrid has joined with attorneys general from eleven states in a letter sent to Congressional leaders raising serious concerns about a health hazard provision in the proposed Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Attorney General Madrid said, “The Energy Bill recently passed by the House contains a provision that grants immunity to methyl tertiary butyl ether manufacturers and oil companies that use the product. We know that MTBE is water-soluble, migrates quickly through groundwater, and poses serious potential health hazards. MTBE has been found in thirty-six states, including New Mexico, in both surface and groundwater. MTBE is absorbed rapidly in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of humans. The substance is known to cause cancer in animals and poses a substantial risk to humans. This bill shields those who manufacture and use this dangerous product, when safer alternatives are available. This bill is not in the public interest. Any company that risks the health of the public should be liable for the consequences. The provision contained in this bill simply creates a special exemption for manufacturers of a substance that pollutes our groundwater and causes health problems for our citizens.”

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was passed by the House, contains a so-called Fuels Safe Harbor provision. This provision will prevent lawsuits filed after September 5, 2003, against MTBE manufacturers and oil companies.

MTBE is an EPA-approved oxygenate additive to gasoline. It is one of several oxygenates available, and others are reportedly much safer. In a number of lawsuits filed in recent years, allegations have been made that the oil industry concealed the problems that MTBE could cause to groundwater and drinking water. 

“Exempting these companies from liability and leaving the states, local taxpayers, and water consumers to pay for the contamination clean-up will be the result of the Fuels Safe Harbor provision if it is passed into law. This doesn’t serve the interests of New Mexicans,” Madrid said.


Recycling made easy

Robin Brandin
Placitas Recycling Center

The Placitas Recycling Center is constantly looking for new markets that enable it to expand the materials accepted for recycling. A new buyer was recently found for recycled plastics. Taking maximum advantage of recycling opportunities, however, means being careful about what is placed in each of the containers at the center. The new buyer, for example, will only accept #1 and #2 plastics.

Not everyone knows that the Placitas Recycling Center is operated by a community-based nonprofit organization, not by a government entity, and is completely staffed by volunteers. The volunteers depend on help from the community to continue providing this service that is so important to the health of the environment.

Following are a few tips that will make your recycling experience go more smoothly and help the volunteers at the center manage the materials better:

  • Unlike recycling centers in some other communities, the Placitas Recycling Center has no ability to separate materials and depends on users to bring in the materials already segregated. Please take the time to sort your materials correctly.
  • One of the biggest challenges the center faces, especially in the summer, is keeping vermin out. You can help by rinsing out cans and plastic bottles. And please, no pizza containers or food-stained cardboard boxes!
  • Please break down and flatten cardboard boxes.
  • Advertisement slicks that come in newspapers do not need to be removed, but please separate out any kraft paper inserts, both brown and white. Those can be recycled with the cardboard.
  • There are two types of containers for paper on a trailer at the center. The large brown cardboard boxes are for mixed paper, which includes almost anything except phone books, egg cartons, paper towels, napkins, tissues, waxed paper, and stickers. The large black collection bins are only for white paper and light-colored office paper.
  • The only metal the center can accept is aluminum, including cans, containers, and foil, but not aerosol cans. Again, please rinse off any food.
  • Only plastic that is marked as #1 or #2 is recyclable, but now the center can accept all colors, not just clear items. No plastic bags. Please remove the tops from plastic bottles.
  • The center only accepts rechargeable batteries, no lead or acid batteries.
  • Other items that can be recycled at the center include ink-jet and laser-jet cartridges, and packing peanuts double-bagged and tied off securely. Shredded packing paper can be placed in the office paper bins.
  • The center is still not able to accept glass.

Fliers with a more detailed list of the materials that are and are not accepted are available at the Placitas Recycling Center and online at Additional volunteers are always needed and are invited to sign up at the center. The Placitas Recycling Center is on Highway 165, just east of Interstate 25, and is open every Saturday from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.


Future of wind power turns on use of composite windmill blades 

James Sweeney

The idea of capturing energy from wind is not at all new. But with the growing use of turbine blades made of advanced materials, wind energy—once prohibitively expensive—is becoming more economical than ever before.

If you want proof, check the prices. Even as fossil fuel costs have risen dramatically, the cost of emission-free wind energy has declined nearly 80 percent over the past decade, settling in recently at just over four cents per kilowatt hour.

According to the American Composites Manufacturers Association, much of the credit for the lower cost of wind energy is due to the use of fiber-reinforced polymer (plastic) for the all-important turbine blade components that capture the force of the wind.

The greater stiffness and strength of blades made of composites is important because of the speed at which the blades often rotate. Although they may appear to be moving slowly, it is not uncommon for the tips of the blades to be rotating at a hundred miles per hour, creating enormous force, considering that a 130-foot blade can weigh more than eleven tons!

And blades made of composites also make life easier for other key components in a windmill. Because they are lighter than traditional materials like metal or wood, they transfer less stress to the rotor, bearings, and mechanical components of the windmill, stretching out the service life of these parts.

In recognition of the fact that the world’s supply of coal and oil will not last forever, many nations are quickly ramping up their wind-energy production. Interestingly, these are some of the same countries that first used windmills roughly seven hundred years ago. Denmark, Spain and Germany, for example, have posted wind power growth rates of 25 to 35 percent in recent years.

Globally, wind-industry growth is forecast to be in the double digits over the next decade. Here in the U.S., a recently passed production tax credit to encourage construction of “wind farms” is expected to spur a five-fold increase in wind energy production in 2005 alone. 

As the world’s energy needs expand, it is likely that wind power will continue to grow in importance. And as the search for ever more efficient turbine blades goes on, it is certain that materials made of composites will be in the forefront.




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