Sandoval Signpost

 

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USFS seeks public comment on trail project

Signpost Staff

The Sandia Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest is seeking public input during the early phases of the Environmental Analysis (EA) process for the Placitas Area Trails Project.

The project area, encompassing approximately 3,500 acres of the Sandia Ranger District is located three miles east of Interstate 25 and adjacent (directly south) of NM-165 in Sandoval County, New Mexico. Within the project area, two special management areas are wholly or partly contained: the Bernalillo Research Natural Area (approximately 1,100 acres) and the Sandia Mountain Wilderness (approximately 625 acres). The total mileage of National Forest System trails is approximately 3.4 miles and roads totaling six miles. Additionally, three designated parking areas/trailheads exist, including the Strip Mine trailhead, the Piedra Lisa trailhead and a trailhead located at the west entrance of FS Road 445 directly adjacent to NM-165.

Day-use of the area has risen steadily over the past decades concurrently with the overall development of the surrounding communities. In some cases, unauthorized activities such as people using mountain bikes in designated wilderness as well as motor vehicles traveling off designated roads. As a result, a number of unauthorized trails and roads, totaling approximately forty miles have developed. While the source of development varies—including the use of old cattle trails, horse paths and more recently unauthorized trail construction—many segments of trails are exhibiting high rates of soil loss/erosion. Further, as the use of the area has increased, numerous informal parking areas and pull-offs have developed along FS Rd 445. In many cases companion feeder trails have developed from each parking spot/area feeder, adding to the growing number of trail mileage.

Within the last few years, a number of conflicts between users and user groups have occurred. In many cases, due to unclear or absent management of the area, there is a high level of misunderstanding about sanctioned use of the area. In some cases, members of the public have resorted to taking matters into their own hands.

This project proposes to undertake related management actions, including:

  • Designation of a system of non-motorized trails within the Placitas Area Trails project area to provide non-motorized dispersed recreation opportunities, while protecting natural, cultural, and wilderness resources.
  • Construction and reconstruction of segments of trails, utilizing sustainable trail design and construction techniques to minimize or eliminate impacts to natural and cultural resources, providing vital connections and loop opportunities, and to minimize potential for user conflicts.
  • Obliterate and rehabilitate trails and roads not part of the trail system.
  • Prohibition of all cross-country travel on non-wilderness portions of the project area (except for foot travel by individuals permitted to do so.)
  • Prohibiting camping and campfires in all non-wilderness portions of the project area.
  • Requiring people to park at designated parking areas and prohibition of informal parking along FS 445 and 445a.
  • Amending the Cibola National Forest Plan to allow for the installation of fencing and signage within the Bernalillo Natural Research Area.

 During internal review, the Forest Service will be investigating effects to wildlife, recreation, tourism (including recreation conflicts and safety), research natural area and wilderness, soil and watershed conditions, and heritage resources.

The USFS held a meeting at the Placitas Community Center on June 17 to help citizens and organizations that are concerned about the environmental effects of Federal decision making to effectively participate in Federal agencies’ environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Input received in response to this solicitation, including names and addresses of those who comment, will be considered part of the public record and will be available for public inspection. Comments should be as detailed as possible.

Trails and Wilderness Manager Kerry Wood explained that the scoping period of the process would continue until July 8. Comments received during the scoping period will help the USFS identify the issues that the draft Environmental Assessment. Wood offered no timeline for the completion of the EA. He said that time and funding were needed for the required archeological survey would affect the time required to complete the EA. The draft EA will include the proposed action and no action alternatives.

After the draft is released, there will be a thirty-day public comment period.

For more information, details, or to be added to the mailing list for this project, contact Kerry Wood at 281-3304, or kwood@fs.fed.us. Mail inquiries may be submitted to Sandia Ranger District c/o Placitas Area Trails Project, 11776 Hwy 337, Tijeras, NM 87059.


Acequias de Placitas locates “leak”

—Ty Belknap

As water flowing from springs into the Acequias de Placitas continued to dwindle during June to the point where the village water system had to be shut down for major portions of the day, a major leak or possible source of misuse was discovered. When water was shut off to the home of one user, operators were suddenly able to leave the water on all day to the rest of the system.

Acequias board president and former Sandoval County Sheriff Burt DeLara said neighbors of this water user reported seeing her truck tanks of water away during the night. He said that this homeowner has a 3,000-gallon water tank on her property and two 450-gallon portable tanks. When DeLara observed her trucking water away, she claimed that she was bringing water in. A meter was installed, which indicated that the household used 2,200-gallons in three days, which is a huge portion of use for the entire village. The house is located in the lower part of the system which generally enjoys the highest pressure and volume of water. Next-door neighbors had lately experienced severe water shortages. The area was isolated and initial testing showed no leaks. DeLara said that charges for estimated excess usage total approximately $25,000 dollars, and water will remain off at the house while TLC Plumbing does more sophisticated testing for leaks—at the homeowner’s expense. He said the membership of Acequias voted in June to cut water off to the offending user, pending the results of the investigation.

DeLara said that no legal action is planned. Furthermore, he said, “We need to use our resources to solve our water problems. We need to fix this problem quickly in a way that benefits everybody. We don’t want to keep anybody cut off.”

Water was previously being shut off to the entire system from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and from 9:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. everyday to allow the storage tanks to recharge. Water is currently flowing into the system from springs at a rate of fifteen gallons per minute, down from sixty to seventy gallons, which is more normal for this season. DeLara said that as days get hotter and the drought persists, the flow will decrease. “If it gets down to ten or twelve gallons, there is no way we can fill our tanks. Sandoval County emergency services have offered to truck water in for us. We can buy water from Rio Rancho for ten dollars per thousand gallons. That will get us through the summer and hopefully the monsoons will stabilize the situation until we get some good snowfall this winter.”

$250,000 in capital outlay approved by the 2013 legislature will be available after July 1. Delara said that Acequia membership will have to decide whether to use these funds to replace pipes as planned or to drill a deep well to provide a more stable supply. A hydrologist has been contracted to help locate a suitable location.

DeLara said, “We’ve been through this before. I remember the drought of the 1950s when people lost their orchards. We don’t have any irrigation water now, so people are going to lose some trees. What water there is in the irrigation pond is being held in case we need it to fight a fire. We just have to survive this until things turn around.”


Bernalillo Town Council notes

Karen Lermuseaux

All Council members were present for the May 28 meeting.

Maria Rinaldi presented the proposed changes to the Affordable Housing Plan as recommended by the New Mexico Finance Authority. One change is to reduce maximum density of houses from 19 units per acre to 14 units per acre. Also, the increased estimate for future need for subsidized senior housing. The changes were approved unanimously by the council. Mayor Torres recognized that “there is a big gap of affordable housing for young families that want to stay in Bernalillo, and this fills that gap.”

Mayor Torres reported that he had met with the Sandia Pueblo personnel, and they seemed willing to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding. The first draft is in the works and will be sent to their attorney. Also, the Dept. of the Interior advised the Town of the application by Sandia Pueblo for Trust status for the Ashley’s property. Bernalillo will have thirty days to respond or ask for an extension.

Maria reported on the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Day Service, organized by the Black Beret Riders. There were several speakers, new bricks were dedicated for the memorial, and the Black Beret report that the repairs to the monument will be made by June 30, and there will be an unveiling of the monument on Veterans Day.

Ida Fierro reports that 175 children have been signed up for Camp Coronado, ranging in age from five to 13 years. The Camp will run from June 3 to August 2, and the hours will be from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Bernalillo Public Schools will provide daily lunches and bus transportation for weekly fieldtrips. Eight counselors have been hired to help with the children.

At the June 10 meeting, Bernalillo Police Chief Julian Gonzales gave a briefing on a training class held last week. The training was for “active shooter” scenario at Bernalillo High School and was sponsored by the Federal Government and Texas State University. There were thirty attendees from local departments including Bernalillo Police, Santa Ana Pueblo, Sandoval County, Rio Rancho, and Sandia Pueblo. The training reviewed past mass shootings and then practices with classroom scenarios involving local agencies that would normally respond to a mass shooting at Bernalillo High. Chief Gonzales stated that everyone took away important information about responding to such an incident. Chief Gonzales also reports that preplanning has already been undertaken for responding to similar incidents at both the elementary and mid schools. Also, there was a training for the Railrunner regarding a terrorism exercise, which involved the National Guard, RUST Medical Center, UNM West Medical Center, and Railrunner staff as well as the Bernalillo Police Department.

Bernalillo citizen Porter Dees questioned the council and mayor about the ordinances that concern abandoned houses/buildings. Mr. Dees stated that he had contacted the city on at least two instances regarding nearby dilapidated buildings and had had no response. Mayor Torres apologized for the lack of response by the city and advised that the city can cite the property owner who then is sent to court. The municipal judge then makes the final decision regarding action taken by the city. Also, if the property has been taken over by a banking institution there seems to be little that the city can do to get compliance. Mr Dees stated that the city of Rio Rancho has been effective in addressing these issues and perhaps Bernalillo should consult with them. Dees will be talking with Torres about the buildings of concern.

Another issue that Porter Dees brought up is the issue of flood insurance. He felt that the $1200 dollar yearly fee was exorbitant and questioned Mayor Torres as to what the city can do to reduce these fees. Mayor Torres explained that the city was already working to address the extremely high fees, but has had no positive response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency who stated there is no paperwork supporting the quality or existence of a levee. Torres stated the town is working with the Corps of Engineers who have completed some measurements and are expected to have a report ready within the next two months that will offer some solutions to the flood plain issues.

I spoke with Fire Chief Carroll about the drought situation. Carroll confirmed that there has been a no burn restriction since May and that residents are encouraged to take their yard waste to the dump. The only fire has been a waste management truck that had to dump its load near the Flying Star. He is happy that residents are taking the drought conditions seriously and using caution. There is no ban on fireworks as the State of NM will not allow the city to do so. Fireworks are restricted to a range of no more than ten-feet high and no more than eight-feet wide. He reports that there have been no vendors applying for licenses within the town limits. Residents can use any of the fireworks purchased at local stores.

Bernalillo Pool opens on July 11 and will be open Thursday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.


 

Organizations and concerned citizens meet with Senator John Sapien and County Commissioner Orlando Lucero to give statements on free-roaming horses in Placitas (Photo credit: Zane Dohner)

Placitas free-roaming horses

A simple solution for Placitas horses that everyone agrees on

—Evan A. Belknap

On June 5, Sandoval County Commissioner Lucero and New Mexico Senator Sapien hosted a “No More Horsing Around” meeting, inviting key government agencies and Pueblos to come together to discuss the free-range horse problem in and around Placitas in hopes of formulating a solution. Lucero called the meeting due to many complaints he had received from the public about the lack of official response to the growing problem, highlighted by recent auto accidents caused by horses.

After Senator Sapien explained the rules—no cursing, shouting, talking, asking questions, hissing, etc.—each organization was given five minutes to present their thoughts, concerns, and ideas. Thus began the following bewildering series of opinions, stances, and acronyms that has, as of June 20, yielded no results whatsoever. Hang in there.

Briefly: both San Felipe and Santa Ana Pueblos reiterated their interest in obtaining, or re-obtaining, the 3,400-acre Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcel north of Placitas (the Buffalo Track). Both tribes offered land management plans to control the horses. The representative from San Felipe said that they have already begun to administer the horse contraceptive PZP in order to control horse population on tribal land. Santa Ana’s plan to extend their wildlife corridor would, “over time,” control horse population. E.J. Lujan of Santa Ana Pueblo stated that they have not been cutting fences, and that he does not enjoy the negative accusatory phone calls about that.

Orin Safir of Eastern Sandoval-Citizens Association (ESCA) and Sandy Johnson of the Las Placitas Association (LPA) both stated that they have refused to take a leadership role on the issue, but were waiting for a plan, and are willing to help facilitate that plan in any way once one exists.

Patience O’Dowd of the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) is hoping to get ownership of the Placitas horses so they can begin to get them out of the roads. She stated that WHOA has found homes for thirty to forty horses.

Coronado Water and Soil Conservation (CWSC) Supervisor Lynn Montgomery showed before and after pictures of Placitas. “This is a soil and water issue,” he said. His pictures showed barren, trampled stretches of land, in comparison to the grasslands of five years ago. “The next big storm,” he said, “hillsides are going down.” He also iterated his concerns for the Placitas acequias, public safety, and social costs—that “our community has been split apart by this issue, when we should be talking about water.”

Tom Gow, of BLM, read a prepared statement because of the lawsuit they are dealing with from WHOA based on wild status of horses on the Buffalo Parcel. He stated, “There are no wild horses in the Placitas area,” meaning that, according to the BLM, the Placitas horses are not subject to protection via the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. He went on to say that the horses are subject to the jurisdiction of the Livestock Board, and that removal of the horses does not require BLM approval.

The New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB) wants to allow organizations to take ownership of the horses as long as all procedures are followed.

United States Forest Service  (USFS) Sandia District Ranger Sid Morgan said that the horses will be treated as “trespass livestock” on USFS land. Any trespass horses will be immediately rounded up and auctioned off. She mentioned that that Las Huertas Watershed is the only designated “red” watershed around, meaning that it is in extremely poor condition, and that the horses could be part of this problem. The US Forest intends to restore it.

Senator Sapien ended the meeting by saying that a final solution will have to include an owner and a system of continuous maintenance.

In a way, WHOA defused the situation by taking on responsibility of the problem by saying that they will relocate forty horses from roadways. LPA, ESCA, Senator Sapien, Commissioner Lucero, Marty Clifton, and others expressed a willingness to help facilitate volunteer efforts and donation drives for hay and transportation for the relocation.

Since the meeting, WHOA has refused to reveal who, what, or where these foster homes are, and has refused to take action until certain conditions are met. WHOA has requested a stipulated agreement from the BLM which would allow them to remove horses from the roads without affecting their legally wild status as contended in WHOA’s lawsuit against the BLM. WHOA has also requested that BLM, NMLB, and New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) change current regulations to allow WHOA to administer the contraceptive PZP to the remaining horses.

Marty Clifton continues to advocate converting the BLM lands in Placitas to a State Park under the Public Parks and Purposes Act to hold the remaining horses while more foster families are found. But as of June 20, the proposal had not received a response from Governor Martinez, who vetoed legislative action that would have funded such a plan.

Commissioner Lucero and County Manager Phil Rios met with an informal group of Placitas residents on June 15. They agreed to cooperate on a plan to remove some of the horses by the end of the month. Lucero expressed concern for the condition of the malnourished horses. He would still like to take WHOA up on the offer to remove forty horses.

Range Specialist Bob Alexander told the CSWCD at the June 15 meeting, “We’re approaching the threshold where the range won’t recover.” CSWCD Supervisor Jon Couch said, “It’s no longer just a matter of overgrazing, erosion, and polluted drinking water, but of violent death on the highway.”

On June 20, CSWCD Supervisors unanimously agreed to go forward with enforcement of their order to remove the free-roaming horses in the Placitas area that was given to the NMLB. An Assistant New Mexico Attorney General (NMAG) advised the NMLB that the order was not valid. [The CSWCD order can be read with this article on the July 2013 Signpost web edition here]

CSWCD Supervisor elect Gary Miles of Placitas Animal Rescue (PAS) and long-time WHOA supporter filed an open meetings violation complaint against the CSWCD with the NMAG regarding the procedure followed in the order to the NMLB.

Couch said, “Since the state Attorney General’s office has shown ignorance of the laws of New Mexico, the District will seek private legal counsel to establish its authority to issue the Order and the N.M. Livestock Board’s obligation to follow it.”

 The New Mexico Department of Transportation NMDOT hosted a meeting on June 17 to air concerns over the horses on N.M. 165 and the accidents involving horses on the highway. WHOA representatives favored reduced speed limits from Mile 4 to Mile 9 on N.M. 165 as well as installing cattle guards. Zane Dohner asked the NMDOT staff if they would support an effort to round up the horses on the highway in the village, to be placed in temporary corrals on the highway right of way. The NMDOT responded that if enough agencies and citizen’s groups were involved, and if someone qualified from New Mexico Game and Fish (NMGF) or the USFS helped, they might cooperate—if their lawyer agreed.

On June 20, Lucero told the Signpost, “Several agencies explained what they could do, but it seems that they don’t want to do anything. Unless something is done, somebody could get hurt real bad... It could result in tragedy and class action lawsuits.”

Lucero wants to see if churches, the elementary school, or the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant will allow horses to be corralled on their property until the NMLB can take possession and find a place for them. “This is not part of the WHOA proposal,” he said. “WHOA refuses to complete the application process that requires them to state where the horses will be taken. The process of corralling the horses will be done by local volunteers. Let’s get together and take care of this.

 
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