The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Congregation members carry a santo through the village of Placitas for the dedication ceremony of the historic San Antonio Mission’s new wing.

Congregation members carry a santo through the village of Placitas for the dedication ceremony of the historic San Antonio Mission’s new wing.

Active TB case leads to local testing

Ty Belknap

On Friday, June 17, the state health department provided an all-day clinic at Placitas Elementary School for the purpose of screening residents who may have been exposed to tuberculosis. A longtime Placitas resident recently died suddenly with an active case of TB; however, the actual cause of death has not yet been determined. The health department pays for all testing and treatment, as well as chest x-rays, if they are deemed necessary.

According to the health department, none of the 115 residents who were tested had positive results—several children were put on antibiotic therapy and some people will be tested again in three months, just to be safe.

Dr. Alan Firestone told the Signpost that only persons who have had significant contact over time with someone who is coughing with an active case of TB need be concerned about exposure and that last winter’s widespread cases of bronchitis were almost certainly not TB. He said that the alarm need not be spread by the media because the state health department does a very good job of identifying, testing, and treating those who may have been exposed.

Gary Simpson, medical director, infectious diseases, for the New Mexico Department of Health, said that someone would have to have been exposed to an active case of TB for eight hours a day, seven days a week for six months to have even a 50 percent chance of infection. People with normal immune systems who have been exposed will usually fight off the disease while remaining asymptomatic. Bacteria remains in a semi-dormant state for the rest of that person’s life. Simpson said that a person who has been exposed stands a 10 percent chance of becoming sick later on, usually when the immune system has been depressed by old age, alcoholism, or disease. A full course of antibiotics will destroy the TB bacteria.

Simpson explained that an active case of TB must be aggressively treated to prevent a person’s condition from deteriorating into what was once called “consumption.” “Val Kilmer did a good job portraying the consumptive Doc Holiday in a movie about Wyatt Earp,” he said. “TB victims experience weight loss, fever, night sweats, and an extremely productive cough.

From the 1800s to 1940, the TB sanatorium movement was second only to the Santa Fe Railroad as a major driver of the New Mexico economy. In 1912, one-third to one-quarter of Albuquerque residents had TB, having come to the state for treatment.

Most of the state’s hospitals originated during the sanatorium movement. Public health services in New Mexico also evolved during this time and continue to face the challenge of exotic deseases such as plague, TB, and hantavirus. Public health services are one aspect of life in New Mexico that does not lag behind other states.

“We provide an extremely well-organized effort to address people we know have been exposed, starting with the inner circle of family and close friends and moving in concentric circles determined by a level of contact until we find a circle with no evidence of exposure,” said Simpson.

Simpson called it “remarkable” that all persons identified as possibly exposed were screened. He credited local alternative health care practitioner Mark Stewart for much of the success. Stewart played a key role in notifying people and encouraging them to be be screened.

 When something like this occurs, it works best when we can forge a partnership with the community to protect each other.” said Simpson.“Not only did we take care of business, but but I think we demonstrated to this community that we are available and trustworthy. They know now that they can access the health department for a whole range of free services including immunizations, Hepititis C screening, and family planning.

For further information, call the Sandoval County Health Department at 892-0990.


Lafarge’s sand and gravel mine's property boundaries and mining boundary in Placitas.

Lafarge’s sand and gravel mine's property boundaries and mining boundary in Placitas.

Gravel mines stir up dust, controversy

Margo DeMello

What makes a good neighbor? Perhaps it's someone who waves when driving by, watches your house when you're out of town, or picks up his dog's waste when out walking.

Most people would probably not define “good neighbor” as a gravel mine gradually encroaching upon one's home. Yet interestingly, many Placitas residents do see Lafarge, the company that operates the gravel pits and mines in and around Placitas, as a good neighbor. Many, on the other hand, do not. And still others don't know anything about Lafarge or their plans in the community, which itself contributes to a sense of dread among many local residents who are not sure of the company's plans or the scope of their operations.

Lafarge is the largest supplier of construction materials in North America (with over $300 million in net profits last year), and operates about a dozen mining operations in New Mexico alone which produce cement, concrete, asphalt, and aggregate (stone, sand, and gravel). Lafarge's products are used for commercial construction, road and highway construction, and home and garden use. In fact, home owners in Placitas represent a rapidly growing customer base for many of Lafarge's products, especially landscape rock and gravel.

And therein lies the irony: most homeowners move to Placitas because they are attracted to the natural beauty of the rocky piñon- and juniper-covered hills, and want to replicate that look on their own property, often buying rock, gravel, sand, and crusher fines to create a natural xeriscape. Yet the demand for rock products creates the need that Lafarge fills, and the rocky landscape that attracted so many of us here is also, not coincidentally, the perfect environment from which to mine these same rocks.

Which leads us back to Lafarge.

Locally, Lafarge operates the Placitas Sand and Gravel operation on eight hundred privately leased acres that are closely surrounded by the La Mesa, Sundance Mesa, Anasazi Trails, and Anasazi Meadows subdivisions. It also operates the Santa Ana pit and the Santa Ana asphalt plant, both on and abutting the Santa Ana Reservation and BLM land. It is these Placitas-area operations that have been the source of considerable controversy in Placitas.

The Placitas sand-and-gravel operation was originally permitted in 1972, long before the current subdivisions existed, and it was a perfect location for such a plant. Lafarge invested a great deal of money into the location, with an eye towards mining it for many years to pay off the initial investment. Digging began in 1973 but didn't really pick up until 1988, when La Mesa and Sundance Mesa were both in their infancy and long before Anasazi Trails or Meadows were developed. Clearly, then, the mine was here first, with the homes and subdivisions following. What's unclear is how much or how little folks moving to Placitas knew about the mine in their midst.

In New Mexico, companies like Lafarge don't have to record their mining plans with the county or state, and Lafarge is leery of making their plans easily available to the public, to keep the competition in the dark. Some residents have seen Lafarge's presentations to their local home-owners' associations in the past couple of years, and are thus aware of the operations. Others, such as new land purchasers in Anasazi Trails, are told by the developers to check with Lafarge directly to find out the impact of the mine on their property and views.

Many other residents, however, having received no disclosures when purchasing their land or homes, are unaware of the company's plans or the boundaries of operation, and have been watching with trepidation as the heavy equipment creeps slowly up Arroyo Agua Sarca towards Camino Barranca.

The good news for Sundance Mesa residents is that the mining of the north side of the land has been completed, and a small part of that land has been reclaimed (i.e., backfilled with dirt from the mine, smoothed over, and re-seeded), although Lafarge has not released it. And while the operation is now moving southeast, towards Anasazi to the south and La Mesa to the east, the mining will probably not extend downward through the arroyo itself as many residents fear (even though Lafarge controls the entire arroyo up to and beyond Camino Barranca). The bad news (depending on one's perspective) is that the mine will eventually eat away most of the hills to the south and west of the arroyo and will reach quite close to the borders of Anasazi Trails and the new Anasazi Meadows.

Lafarge's spokespeople indicate that they have every intention of mining the entire property that they control, although they have demonstrated flexibility with representatives of some of the homeowners' associations, moving the mining boundary away from some Sundance Mesa backyards and providing an easement for the Camino Manzano entrance to the subdivision, and they are currently discussing buffer zones and other issues with an Anasazi Trails committee headed by Susan Dodge.

One of the biggest questions that many people have about the operation is how long it will last. The current lease extends until 2015, and while Lafarge's representatives initially told me that they have no plans to renew the lease, they also indicated that they are responsive to the market above all, and that if the market changes, their plans may very well change as well. M.L. Tucker, Lafarge's regional manager for public and government affairs, later pointed out that if an area is currently being mined, then there is a strong likelihood that there are additional resources in the vicinity to mine, meaning that a current lease will either be extended or a new operation will be opened in the area.

Because of the fears of many that Lafarge will elect to stay after 2015, representatives of six home-owners' associations sent a letter in May to Mount Adams, the new owner of the land. In the letter, they asked for a meeting with Mount Adams to discuss the company's plans for the future and indicated that Placitas residents are eagerly awaiting the time when the mining will end. As of this writing, Mount Adams has not responded.

Besides the noise and the dust generated by the mines, and the negative impact on many home owners' views (and likely their property values), perhaps the largest controversy surrounding the mine's activities has been the gravel trucks. As has been reported previously in the Signpost, many residents feel that the trucks cause extra traffic, especially during the morning commute, that they do not share the road well with others. And many have complained of broken windshields due to falling gravel.

Lafarge does not own or control the gravel trucks, and their position is that they cannot control the behavior of the drivers; they also take the position that the traffic on Highway 165 is caused by Placitas's growth and a faulty signal, rather than the truck activity. Nevertheless, Lafarge's representatives have had discussions with Commissioner Bill Sapien and representatives of the highway department and the sheriff's office, and have asked the drivers using the Santa Ana pit (but not the Placitas mine) to voluntarily use the Algodones exit to I 25 rather than the Placitas exit. Lafarge has also offered to help residents whose windshields have been broken (if they have the date and time the injury occurred, as well as identifying information from the truck) recover damages from the truck companies (notwithstanding those ominous stickers on the trucks that warn that the truck companies are not liable for damages).

For the most part, the residents I spoke to felt that Lafarge has been responsive to their concerns about dust, berms to block the views to the pit, buffer zones, traffic (one resident has asked for a deceleration lane on the frontage road to reduce traffic and hazards; Lafarge has offered to supply the materials, but the construction will have to be paid for by residents), and noise (they've recently installed strobe lights to replace the backup beepers the trucks use at night). In addition, Ken Ford, New Mexico operations manager for aggregate, has said that he will speak directly to any home owners with concerns, although he prefers that they go first through their home-owners' association.

One local group with a less than positive relationship with Lafarge, however, is Las Placitas Association, which filed an appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals five years ago to keep Lafarge from expanding their Santa Ana operation eastward onto 275 additional acres of BLM land. Las Placitas's argument was that expanding a heavy industrial operation onto land which lies very close to the Albuquerque Open Space and Sundance Mesa radically conflicts with the residential and recreational nature of the area. (LaFarge did confirm to me the existence of this land, but were not able to comment on any community opposition.) The appeal was denied, even though in this case, the homes and Open Space to the south were here prior to the mine's expansion. Judy Hendry, past president of LPA, feels strongly that the mine, as close as it is to Las Huertas Creek, directly impacts the watershed, and endangers as well as a number of archaeological sites located throughout the Open Space. Judy reported to me that the fight with the BLM over Lafarge's expansion drained LPA’s coffers and demoralized hundreds of members and residents who fought to no avail to exercise some control over the use of the land surrounding the community.

Ultimately, the question may not be, is Lafarge a good neighbor? but instead, how much, if any, control do residents have over who their neighbors are and what they do?

In the case of the Placitas mine, with the exception of the gravel trucks, most of the folks I spoke to felt that Lafarge has worked hard to alleviate the neighbors' concerns (although they still look forward to the day that the mine is gone). But in the case of the Santa Ana extension, those residents who fought to preserve the land surrounding the community found that Lafarge (and the BLM) was much less responsive to their concerns. And indeed, many residents worry that the Santa Ana extension will not represent the last of Lafarge's operations in the area. There are thirty-two hundred acres of BLM land north of Placitas, and the BLM reserves the right to lease some of the land for future gravel mining. And while Tom Gow, of the BLM, recently met with the La Mesa Homeowners' Association to discuss the creation of a new resource management plan (which could give residents some control over the use of the lands surrounding Placitas), the estimated one-half to one million dollars needed to fund the RMP was far too much for the homeowners to pay, leaving the door open to future development of all kinds. Interested residents and future residents may want to visit the U.S. Geological Survey office in Albuquerque to find out where aggregates are located; those locations, especially if they are on BLM land, are possible locations for future operations.

Finally, what will happen to the land once Lafarge has stripped away all of the gravel? Unlike extractive industries like coal mining, gravel mining doesn't use dangerous chemicals in order to extract the product, so it's not as environmentally harmful as, say, strip mining. But after all the rock is extracted, and once the land is reclaimed, it will nevertheless never again look like it once did: the piñons, rocks, and junipers will be gone, as will the rolling hills that they sat on and the magnificent views that attracted so many of us to the area, to be replaced by native grasses, and perhaps, by higher-density development than Placitas is used to.

As Ms. Tucker pointed out, people look at the land that surrounds them and assume that whatever it looks like today is how it's going to look in the future. She added, the only way you can really have some control is to own all the land, otherwise someone else is going to do what they want with it.


Members of the new Sandoval County Fire Department took their oaths of office

Members of the new Sandoval County Fire Department took their oaths of office during the June 2 county commissioner meeting. Among the 16 staff and officers were (left to right) paramedic-firefighters Shannon Hoden and Jessica Miller, both wearing the department's new uniform, and EMT-I-firefigher Ryan Louchard.

County fire department created

Bill Diven

On the surface, residents will see few changes as the Sandoval County Fire Department comes into existence on July 1.

Local volunteers still may be first on the scene when smeone calls for help. And the ambulance may still say Town of Bernalillo on it even if the medics sport new uniforms and draw paychecks from the county.

Beneath the surface, however, a new organization has taken hold during the last year to create a fulltime firefighting and emergency-medical service.  Even before the official start date, three SCFD members were covering a second rescue shift workings weekends out of Bernalillo.

“It's been a long time coming; it's been a long road,” commissioner Jack Thomas said.  “I think the people of Sandoval County are safer today than they were a month ago.”

County manager Debbie Hays said preliminary work on a the department dates back five or six years but gained speed when ambulance services in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque said they could no longer respond to calls in the county.  Still there was no money until the legislature approved a local-option sales tax for emergency medical services.

The SCFD begins operations with 12 responders crosstrained in firefighting and emergency medicine plus chief Jon Tibbetts and three deputy chiefs.  All were sworn in during the June 2 county commission meeting, and three more hires are pending.

Initially the department will lease the town of Bernalillo ambulances and the two-bay station on Camino del Pueblo, Tibbetts said. With the budget year now beginning, he'll order new SCFD decals for the former town ambulances, he added.

“You'll have two crews to respond versus the one,” Tibbetts said.  “Last year there were about 300 calls we couldn't cover.”

Tibbetts also will be ordering three fire-EMS vehicles although delivery may take nine months. Then the department goes looking for a home or homes.

Current thinking, according to Hays, is to locate SCFD administration at La Plazuela de Sandoval, the county court and health complex being developed at NM528 and Idalia in Rio Rancho.  A leading choice for the first new station to house a fire pumper and tanker and an EMS unit is on the I-25 frontage near NM165 in Placitas.

Hays said the county has discussed possible sites with both Sandia Pueblo and a development company, both of whom have property in the area. About $5 million already is in the bank from a bond issue approved earlier this year, but Hays declined to predict when the station might be built.

“We have not gone to preliminary design because we have not finalized the land,” she told the Signpost. “We want to make this happen as quickly as possible is about the best description I can give you.”

The SCFD will operate with the volunteer departments who draw much of their budget from a quarter-percent fire tax renewed by county voters last year. Voters also approved a quarter-percent EMS tax with, unlike the fire tax, can be spent on personnel.


NM 165 paving to wrap up soon

Some time this month, paving crews will return to NM 165 to finish the job almost completed last year.

When the project wrapped up last summer, NM 165 was repaved, striped, and adorned with new traffic signs for about three miles from just east of I-25 to the S-curve. Time, weather, and money ran out before the finishing layer of asphalt could be applied, leaving the New Mexico Department of Transportation to patch its new pavement occasionally.

But a new fiscal year began July 1.

“We're just waiting for the budget to load,” said Phil Gallegos, NMDOT Albuquerque public information office.

A start date had not been set by Signpost deadline, but the renewed work should take a week or less if the weather cooperates, according Gallegos. If temperatures are warm enough, the work might be done at night, he added.

Regardless, motorists will encounter work zones with traffic reduced to one lane and controlled by flaggers and a pilot vehicle.


County’s proposed purchase will include property for Placitas Library

Bill Diven

Sixteen acres adjoining the main Placitas fire station could become public property and home to the Placitas Community Library if a pending land deal goes through.

The land, part of a larger parcel on the market for development, is being offered to Sandoval County for $20,000 an acre, county manager Debbie Hays told county commissioners at their June 2 meeting. A major arroyo separates it from the rest of the tract, she added.

“It's a beautiful piece of property and very workable,” Hays said. By late June, the county had signed a letter of intent to buy the parcel from the Grevey-Lieberman Trust and authorized a market analysis rather than a formal appraisal.

The analysis should be enough to show the county will pay less than market value for the land, according to Hays.

“That's a price we will not see again and are not seeing now,” she said. The trust previously donated the land now used by the Placitas Fire Brigade main station on NM 165, she added.

Commission chairman William Sapien already secured four acres for the library using $80,000 from his district's $1.5 million share of Intel funds, money received last year for handling the $16 billion Intel bond issue. Hays said the county would borrow $240,000 from its Intel fund to buy the remaining twelve acres, then repay the fund from a multi-project bond issue now being prepared.

“It seems like a prudent opportunity for investing in the future of the county,” Hays said.

For the moment, the only proposed use for the land is the library, which received $50,000 for planning from the 2005 state Legislature. The lawmakers, however, made the money contingent on the library’s having a site.

The money was released when Placitas developer Tom Ashe agreed to buy the land if necessary and hold it for the library until other arrangements could be made, according to library president Sue Strascia. Legislators have said they will work for construction funding in coming sessions, she added.

“We have just had so much support,” Strascia said. “No one has turned us away. They all feel this is a very important thing for us to do.”

The library currently is located in a former home on the northwest corner of NM 165 and Tierra Madre. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, with a flag flying out front when the building is open.


Senate bill protects acequia users

—Signpost Staff

Senate Bill 102, designed to protect the rights of acequia users, has been passed by the legislature and signed by the governor and takes effect on July 1.

The bill lays down the law about interfering with or damaging a community acequia (irrigation ditch) and prescribes penalties for interfering with an acequia easement where there has been continuous use of that acequia for irrigation for a period of five years. Acequia users must be granted access to the easement to perform reasonable maintenance and improvements to the ditch.

A person convicted of cutting, breaking, plugging, or interfering with access to an established acequia easement can be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned for up to ninety days, or both.

A criminal complaint may be made by the district attorney or the mayordomo (acequia manager, or “ditch boss”) to the magistrate court in the county where the violation occurred. In addition to criminal prosecution, a civil complaint can be filed seeking up to $5,000 in damages. A restraining order can also be ordered by the district court.

A mayordomo who fails to prosecute a violation of which he is aware can be fined up to $50 and locked up in the county jail for up to thirty days.


The County Line
Who does what in county government

William Sapien
Sandoval County Commission

Rapid growth in our vibrant county is making it more difficult to recognize one other on sight. We shouldn't, however, lose the first-name, neighborly attitude that has attracted visitors for centuries.

Sandoval County includes 3,714 square miles of diverse geography and people. It has grown from a primarily rural and sparsely populated area just a few years ago to more than a hundred thousand people today. Along with that growth, county government has evolved to more effectively serve residents. Yet we can only fully meet needs of residents by working together.

Here's a thumbnail sketch of the various offices within county government and people to contact for services. All functions can be accessed by dialing one phone number, 867-7500.

As one of the five-member Board of County Commissioners, my District 1 represents northeastern Sandoval County and includes the communities of Bernalillo, Placitas, La Madera, Algodones, and the pueblos of Sandia and San Felipe. District 2 Commissioner Don Leonard represents Corrales and southeastern Rio Rancho. Dave Bency, District 3, represents northern Rio Rancho, and Jack Thomas's District 4 includes western Rio Rancho. Commissioner Joshua Madalena's District 5 includes the communities of Jemez Springs, Peña Blanca, Cochiti Lake, and Cuba, the Navajo Chapters of Torreon, Ojo Encino, and Counselors, and the pueblos of Santa Ana, Zia, Jemez, Santo Domingo, and Cochiti.

Sandoval County derives its authority from the state constitution. The commission establishes local laws, acts as final authority for county budget, and serves as the Election Canvassing Board and Board of Finance. The commission also creates fire districts, levies certain taxes, and develops joint programs and agreements with other governments to more effectively serve county residents.

Other elected county officials include:

County assessor Rudy Casaus lists and maintains records of real and business property located in the county and assesses values of taxable property.

County treasurer Lorraine Dominguez serves as tax collector for Sandoval County, the state, local school districts, and numerous other tax agencies. Lorraine's office does not set assessed valuation or tax rates but rather collects taxes and then disburses the funds to other agencies.

County clerk Sally Padilla maintains and provides copies of legal documents involving Sandoval County and oversees the county's Bureau of Elections.

Probate judge Mary Kwapich presides over cases of informal probate as needed to settle estates. Mary also conducts marriage ceremonies

County sheriff John Paul Trujillo provides law enforcement and serves legal documents issued by district and magistrate courts. John Paul's office has concurrent jurisdiction with local city and village law enforcement officers and transports prisoners in and out of Sandoval County.

The county commission appoints the county manager, currently Debbie Hays, to carry out policy and to serve as chief administrative officer and assure budgetary and administrative procedures are met. Services and programs under Debbie's purview include the county attorney, community services, detention, county fire department, finance, personnel, county development, public information, and public works.

Sandoval County has a long history of neighbors working to help neighbors. The almost four hundred employees who work for county government reflect that tradition by diligently providing quality service.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Sapien can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo 87004.






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