An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


County Development to begin Placitas plan

—TY BELKNAP
Sandoval County Development Division will begin a long-range development planning process for the Placitas area in July or August. Planning is scheduled to be completed in December. The plan will deal with population growth, water issues, preservation of Placitas Village, acequia issues, infrastructure improvement, open space, transportation, subdivision, and proposed commercial amenities.

Community meetings will be scheduled and advertised when long-range planner Moises Gonzales returns from sabbatical in late June. Gonzales has been continuing his education at Harvard University.

Development Division Director Michael Springfield told the Signpost that the new planning process is being done because all planning issues in the area are met with contention. “We need new guidelines for the permitting process so we can advise people how to develop or not develop their property. It is being done to give residents a sense of stability and give us some relief from the lawsuits and appeals.”

In April, Springfield withdrew a request for approval of a resolution to place a moratorium on land subdivisions and zone map amendments in the eastern portion of the Placitas area. Springfield told the Signpost that his division originally sought the moratorium because of controversy over development of the area.

In May, the County Planning and Zoning Commission postponed a decision on a master-planned, mixed-use 103-acre development in Placitas until its December meeting, when the new plan is completed. Water availability is an issue and would ultimately govern density and build-out of the site.

The development faces intense opposition by Placitas residents, who overflowed the Commission chambers at the May meeting. They presented a petition containing close to four hundred signatures and approximately forty-five letters in opposition to the rezoning plan. Six heads of homeowners’ associations and communities in the immediate area, and then a number of individuals, expressed their views concerning the unsuitability of commercial and/or high-density residential development at that particular location and the under-utilization of present commercially-zoned property in the Village of Placitas and especially in Homestead Village.

Placitas residents Bill Patterson and Denise Cherrington have filed several lawsuits and appeals over the last two years. As a result, the courts have ordered the county to revisit a subdivision plat approval and to hear an appeal that was not handled properly.

Cherrington says, “They don’t need moratoriums or more regulations. They just need to enforce the ones they already have.”

The initial phase of the planning process will focus on the Placitas area east of the S-curves at mile marker three on NM 165 and extend to all private property north to the BLM lands and south and east to the National Forest. Land grant areas are exempt and the Diamond Tail subdivision will not be affected because it is already a master-planned community.

Springfield said that major changes could result from the planning process. After a plan is agreed upon, new zoning regulations will govern future land-use issues, including subdivisions and commercial development. He said that a recent similar process in Jemez Springs resulted in the limiting of large new subdivisions and the expansion of commercial zones.

Springfield also said that he hopes that residents with a variety of ideas (not just those with anti-development agendas) will attend the public meetings. “Some people might like to see more commercial amenities—especially with the rising cost of fuel and crowded highways.”

He hopes that a consensus can be reached, but said that water supply issues would heavily influence the final decisions. All pertinent water studies, including the recent USGS well-level measurements, would be considered by Interra Hydrology consultants.

A planning process for the Placitas area west of the S-curves is being delayed until the Town of Bernalillo and county officials complete discussions as part of the Joint Planning and Platting Jurisdiction. Springfield said that Bernalillo Town Administrator Stephen Jerge and Planning and Zoning director Kelly Moe have told him that they want to be part of the process. The town is considering the annexation of property near I-25, contingent with current town limits. Springfield said that he doesn’t know why the town is interested in Placitas-area zoning. Jerge did not return a Signpost telephone call seeking clarification.


San Antonio Creek

San Antonio Creek flows through 89,000 acres atop a dormant volcano to make up the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Valles Caldera National Preserve

a recreational gem in the Jemez Mountains

—SIGNPOST STAFF
For the first two years after the federal government purchased the eighty-nine-thousand-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in the year 2000, it was essentially closed to the general public. Every year since then, the preserve has been increasing recreational opportunities. Preserve Manager Dennis Trujillo says that the board of directors is seeking ways to increase revenues that will meet the federally-mandated goal of creating a self-sustaining preserve by 2015.

Elk hunting and fishing continue to be the biggest money-makers, but the preserve also offers turkey hunting, equestrian opportunities, hiking, van tours, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, facility rentals, and many special events.

This summer, Valles Caldera is open seven days a week for spontaneous visitor activities. Just show up for no-fee hiking on Coyote Call and Balle Grande trails (along Highway 4)—$5 per person unguided hikes, $5 per person guided one-hour geology walks from the staging area, $5 per person guided ranch history van tours at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

There are also many visitor activities that require advance reservations, including wildlife viewing van tours, unguided hiking on three scenic trails, horseback riding (bring your own horse), mountain biking, and fishing clinics. There are also many date-specific interpreted programs dealing with archeology, history, botany, mycology (mushrooms), arts, orienteering, and astronomy.

Hunting and fishing opportunities are available through a lottery system. According to Preserve Manager Trujillo, the lottery is part of the overall plan that focuses on offering an exclusive and high-quality experience. Lottery winners are assigned a specific part of the forest for elk and turkey hunts. Fishermen get exclusive access to specific sections of the San Antonio Creek. In the near future, the preserve plans to open the East Fork of the Jemez River to anglers on an advance reservation basis. Specific parts of the river will not be assigned and anglers will be permitted to hike for miles, all the way to the headwaters.

Valles Caldera National Preserve is attracting visitors from all over the world. With gas prices climbing over $4 per gallon, this summer might be a good time to skip the trip to Yellowstone and explore the natural wonders right here in Sandoval County.

For more information, call (505) 661-3333 or visit www.vallescaldera.gov. For reservations, call (505) 382-5537.


Bernalillo passes flood control ordinance

—SIGNPOST STAFF
On June 9, the Bernalillo Town Council adopted a federally-mandated flood control ordinance. The legislature of the State of New Mexico has delegated the responsibility of local governmental units to adopt regulations designed to minimize flood losses.

The ordinance states that flood hazard areas of the Town of Bernalillo are subject to periodic inundation, which results in loss of life and property, health and safety hazards, disruption of commerce and governmental services, and extraordinary public expenditures for flood protection and relief, all of which adversely affect the public health, safety, and general welfare. These flood losses are created by the cumulative effect of obstructions in floodplains which cause an increase in flood heights and velocities, and by the occupancy of flood hazard areas by uses vulnerable to floods and hazardous to other lands because they are inadequately elevated, flood-proofed, or otherwise protected from flood damage.

The purpose of this ordinance is to promote the public health, safety, and general welfare, and to minimize public and private losses due to flood conditions in specific areas by provisions designed to:

1) Protect human life and health;

2) Minimize expenditure of public money for costly flood control projects;

3) Minimize the need for rescue and relief efforts associated with flooding and generally undertaken at the expense of the general public;

4) Minimize prolonged business interruptions;

5) Minimize damage to public facilities and utilities such as water and gas mains, electric, telephone and sewer lines, streets, and bridges located in floodplains;

6) Help maintain a stable tax base by providing for the sound use and development of flood-prone areas in such a manner as to minimize future flood blight areas; and

7) Ensure that potential buyers are notified that property is in a flood area.

Mayor Chávez stated that this affects all property owners within the map provided by FEMA. Because it affects the rates for flood insurance, Councilor Jaramillo said that she could see the premiums of homeowners in the Town of Bernalillo costing more.

Town Manager Stephen Jerge stated that Kelly Moe will be the official administrator for flood management. Moe will need to attend classes to be certified for the position.

George Perez, Town Attorney, stated that past administrations have had similar ordinances. The federal government dictates to the state rules that reduce the risk in case of flooding. The town does not have the authority to determine what is or what is not a floodplain—FEMA does that. Flood insurance is required if you are within the floodplain. Perez stated that passing this ordinance given to the town by the federal government will put the town in compliance with federal requirements.

Flood control will be under the management of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority if it is approved by voters in the November election.


Debbie Hays

Debbie Hays outside of her Corrales home

Longtime Sandoval County Manager Hays changes paths

—KEIKO OHNUMA
She may be retiring, but Debbie Hays is not giving up. No way. After seventeen years as Sandoval County Manager, it’s hard to imagine Hays walking away from projects that have taken nearly two decades to begin to bear fruit.

Once you witness her passion for certain ideas and visions, it becomes clear how this energy has communicated itself to the whole county administration during the two decades that Sandoval leapt from a rural outpost to an engine of growth for the entire state.

When Hays, a former Albuquerque urban planner, went back to work in 1991 after thirteen years of being a stay-at-home mom, Sandoval County had a $13 million budget—it is now $97 million—and the population was 63,000, a little more than half what it is today in New Mexico’s fastest-growing county.

Through all those years of rapid development, Hays has sat in the hot seat, the equivalent of a county CEO, the person who executes policy and oversees operations. As such, she answers to a board—the elected County Commission—and ends up taking heat from all sides when things go wrong, the most recent example being Sandoval’s ill-fated attempt to install wireless broadband countywide.

How has Hays managed to survive seventeen years in a job most people lose in two or three, maintaining that trademark smile through acrimonious controversies from the arrival of Intel Corporation to the stalled Northwest Loop Road?

“I really don’t sweat the small stuff,” she says, flashing the smile. It comes from having five kids—that teaches you to be flexible. When she was hired by the commission, Hays’s husband was just starting law school and her children ranged in age from thirteen years to eighteen months.

Seriously, though, “my philosophy of life is you really have to take things one at a time,” she said. “I’m not a worrier. I don’t internalize. I don’t hold grudges or feel you have to get even.

“I feel the best government comes from having a diversity of opinion. I think it’s important to work collaboratively, and there’s not a lot of room for ego—that perhaps has served me well.”

Indeed, collaboration has been Hays’s calling card, and complex partnerships involving multiple stakeholders mark the accomplishments of which she is most proud. Among these, she lists the Sandoval County Courthouse complex—La Plazuela—which eventually will encompass not only the Health Commons and judicial complex, but a senior living community and public transportation hub.

The county was able to acquire the fifty-six-acre parcel through an unusual agreement between a private landowner, the Bureau of Land Management, and the congressional delegation for a paltry $1.5 million; the land was assessed recently at nearly $40 million.

It’s not that putting up buildings matters to her, Hays noted. “What is important is [that] it’s representative of the success of government partnerships.” The deal made it possible for the county to offer interconnected services in the westward-growing heart of the urban community.

Another example is the Bernalillo Soccer Complex at Santa Ana, the result of funding agreements involving five governing boards. The bond to finance construction of the first phase was just paid off, Hays said, adding, “I will be satisfied when there are lots of multiethnic children in bronze in front—it needs to be finished right.”

Her favorite project, though, is the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, which she shepherded into creation in nine short months, starting with a proposal to then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and signed by Bill Clinton as his last Executive Order in January 2001.

Tent Rocks was an ideal candidate for National Monument status, Hays said, because it is a unique geological formation that already was being managed in partnership between Cochiti pueblo, the BLM, and the county—a win-win situation and “a wonderful example of those entities that don’t usually work well together, to be in partnership.

“That’s how government should work,” she added. “It shouldn’t take years.”

The chance to see such projects through to completion is one reason Hays prefers working behind the scenes to the glamour of elected office. Indeed, she is known equally for her tenacity on large-scale visions and her mastery of minutiae—the exact dates, dollars, and documents that she is vexed these days at not having at her fingertips.

Three things loom over Debbie Hays’s final months in office that she is loath to let lapse, issues that have haunted her for years and grow only more pressing: transportation, water, and education.

Get her talking about the prospective Northwest Loop Road, and you will unleash a storm of caveats about government doing too little, too late.

“I understand that there’s never going to be enough money to go around, but you have to do some planning,” Hays said of the underfunded goal of linking Highway 550 to I-40 as an Albuquerque bypass. “Unless we look at problems as a region, we’re not going to solve our transportation problems.”

Both I-40 and Coors were maxed out as soon as they were built, she noted, and traffic is one of the main reasons people are unhappy with government. “It’s symptomatic of the whole region,” she said. “We wait until it’s a crisis, and then it costs ten times as much as it should.”

Which brings her, finally, to what may be her least-favorite legacy—Sandoval broadband. Its focus was always education, Hays noted, something that was not widely understood when the project was challenged in its early stages. The idea was to have multiple tie-ins to schools, so children in outlying rural areas of the county would not be left behind.

Today, the Internet is a form of infrastructure, “just like Route 66 was a connector for the last century,” Hays said. “And if we sit back and wait, it will be like the Navajo Nation that still doesn’t have electricity” for a third of its population.

Hays adds that the broadband project is back on track, though maybe not on the timeline that people would like. “It takes time to make changes, and to change people’s approach and attitudes,” she said. It is only through continuity—thanks to many of her staff that have been with her for more than a decade—that so many large projects have been able to move forward in recent years.

Things like that don’t happen overnight, Hays noted, certainly not in the two years most politicians have in office. And none of her pet projects will be finished in the time that remains to her: six months.

“I’m probably too young to totally retire,” Hays admits, though she believes other opportunities will present themselves. One thing she and her husband, attorney Brad Hays, have always wanted to do is a mission trip, either to Africa or Mexico, with their church, Destiny Center. She also remains committed to the issue of safe drinking water.

But politics?

“It’s the thing I like least about my job,” Hays admits. She has not been inclined to run for office since her days in student government at Highland High School. “Who in their right mind would be?” she laughs.

First thing on her agenda is to clear away the cotton that rains down on their two-story adobe house on Corrales Road that also serves as her husband’s law office. “Take care of the house and garden; spend time with my grandchildren,” she enumerates with a look of relief. Get more exercise; take better care of herself—the list grows from there.

Without her $130,000 yearly salary, Hays estimates that she’ll have less money, but more time to do work around the house—or so she thinks.

“I guess I would like to be involved with some projects underway now that I still feel passionate about,” she concedes.

For they, too, are her grandchildren.


Joshua Madalena

Joshua Madalena

County Line

—JOSHUA MADALENA, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION
Even as much of our nation’s mid-section was being deluged by record rainfall and flooding of historic proportions, the Sandoval County Commission and fire crews were preparing for another kind of devastating natural disaster: wildfires.

County Fire Chief Jon Tibbetts and his exceptional staff of paid and volunteer firefighters know full well that with warmer and drier weather, all of us need to be extra careful near our homes or when enjoying the varied outdoor and scenic attractions that Sandoval County offers residents and visitors alike.

Unattended campfires, a discarded cigarette, and the American pastime of fireworks around the July 4th holiday can touch off a devastating blaze in our tinderbox-dry areas. Even a hot automobile motor or muffler can ignite dry grasses, sparking a blaze that threatens our forests and communities alike.

The County Commission took early action to enact a no-burn law that limits open burning and fireworks in the County’s unincorporated areas. The law took effect on June 5. It prohibits campfires, burning of vegetation or rubbish, and use of any smoke-producing substance or material that creates a fire hazard, unless a permit is obtained beforehand. To apply for a permit or check on burning conditions, contact County Fire Marshal James Maxon at 867-0245.

Some municipalities in Sandoval County have enacted or are considering similar bans. Tribal governments within Sandoval County also are taking steps to protect their sovereign pueblo and tribal lands. Jemez Pueblo, for instance, has restricted use of legal fireworks to the hours of 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on the evening of July 4th.

The County ordinance is being enforced by the staff of both the Sheriff’s Office and the Fire Marshal. Violations are punishable by fines of up to $300 and jail time of up to ninety days, or both.

The County law limits the use of “safe and sane” fireworks to areas that are paved or barren of vegetation, or that have a readily accessible water supply available for home owners or the general public. The use of fireworks, however, is not allowed in the wild lands of the County’s unincorporated areas.

The Commission’s action banned both the sale and use of the more dangerous types of fireworks in the County’s unincorporated areas. Specifically prohibited under the ordinance are the sales or use of stick-type or bottle rockets, helicopters and aerial spinners, missile-type rockets, ground audible devices, firecrackers, and display fireworks.

Fire levels are so elevated across our County and throughout New Mexico that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management may impose similar bans on fires or close access in many areas of New Mexico. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, too, is being especially vigilant across the four-county area of the Rio Grande bosque. Chief Tibbetts, his staff, and volunteers in the County’s nine fire districts, meanwhile, are bracing for what could be a very long fire season.

Yet, it is the responsibility of all of us to exercise caution in order to protect lives and property, as well as the scenic wonders that make Sandoval County unique.

Call 911 if you see a fire that appears to be out of control or know someone who may be violating the County’s no-burn ordinance. For information on how to become a valuable member of one of the County’s volunteer fire departments, visit the Fire Department’s website at www.sandovalfire.org.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Madalena can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM.


Bernalillo Farmers’ Market opens in July

—ANN RUSTEBAKKE
The management team for the Bernalillo Farmers’ Market has announced that the first market day is scheduled this year for Friday, July 11. The Market will be held at the same site it has occupied for the past two years: on the west side of Camino del Pueblo, just south of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Bernalillo and a half block south of the intersection of Highways 550 and 313. The Market site has parking for customers inside the gates, but customers can also park on the street, if they wish. Vendors begin selling at 4:00 p.m. and continue until 7:00 p.m., or until they sell out.

Products that will be available include an assortment of fruits and vegetables—all of which must be produced by the vendors themselves (resale of commercially-produced items is not permitted)—as well as baked goods, jams and jellies, honey, eggs, goat cheese, and usually a few items that can be consumed on the spot. Often hand-crafted wooden items and decorative wreaths and ristras appear, though this is more likely to happen later in the season. In past years, there have also been decorative gourds, plant items (especially natives), cut flowers, cards, cider and barbecues sauces, fruit wood for grilling, and decorative yard items. There will also be an opportunity for persons who wish to register to vote to do so.

In short, if you make a regular habit of stopping at the market, you will find something different most weeks. Of course, part of the reason for this is that not all the items that are grown are ready at the same time. The Market also offers an opportunity for customers to “interview” the sellers and become acquainted with items they may not be familiar with, as well as tips for growing and preparation of various foods.

The Market Team has announced that persons who want to sell at the Market should contact Ann at 867-2485 or Bonnie at 867-9054. Applications for former vendors were mailed out at the end of May. New vendors are encouraged to attend and enjoy the events. The Market will again accept WIC 2008 vouchers that are issued for fresh food items. The Market will continue to operate on Fridays through the summer and fall months until October 24.

The Bernalillo Farmers’ Market is affiliated with the statewide New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association, which operates under the auspices of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. Sandoval County also has markets located at San Felipe Pueblo and Corrales and there are several more in the Albuquerque area. A complete listing of markets may be obtained by calling the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association in Santa Fe at (505) 983-4010.

See you at the Market!

 

 

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