Sandoval Signpost


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Horse herd in Placitas; photo taken September, 2013. Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Horse report submitted

—Bill Diven

After $23,000 dollars and months of research and tumult, the problem of free-roaming horses in Placitas is largely back where it began: in the hands of the community.

Sandoval County, however, is taking its first action from the task force it commissioned in asking the state Attorney General’s Office to clarify which government agencies have jurisdiction over what aspects of the problem. The county is currently looking for a state legislator to submit the request since the county can’t make the request on its own, county spokesman Sidney Hill said.

“I think it’s a smart next step. It had a lot of community support,” said Heather Balas, executive director of New Mexico First, which managed the task force and produced its report under contract to the county. County commissioners expressed a need for that clarity before taking any action, she added.

“It’s now in the hands of the county and community members,” Balas told the Signpost.

Sorting out governmental roles was one of 21 recommendations nonprofit, nonpartisan New Mexico First delivered to the Sandoval County Commission last month.

“There’s no description of who should take the lead,” Commissioner Glenn Walters said. “We need to understand who has legal authority and responsibility.

“We could ask [the attorney general] for a specific opinion, not a vague letter of advisement.”

At its peak, as many as 120 horses variously called wild, feral, and stray wandered around much of Placitas damaging landscaping and causing near misses and a few collisions on roads. After work by horse advocates and state roundups prompted by complaints from landowners, that number may now be as low as forty to sixty, one advocate said recently.

“I’m opposed to horses running around,” Commissioner Orlando Lucero said during the report presentation. “People can get hurt.”

Still, he added, he sees solutions down the road preferably from the community coming together rather than government imposing its way.

Mike Neas, who chaired the task force Legal and Government Committee, urged the county to use its legislative lobbyist to work on changing state law as it relates to wildlife and the “public trust doctrine.”

“If these horses are wild, born wild, the state of New Mexico has an obligation to manage them for the people of New Mexico,” he later told the Signpost. “The county spent $23,000 dollars to basically pacify a bunch of people. The fact is, it’s not just a county responsibility; it’s a state responsibility and federal responsibility, too.”

From past legislative sessions, particularly in setting up an animal rescue fund, the welfare of horses in the state appears to be a nonpartisan issue, he added.

Additional recommendations ranged from the simple—a headcount of the roaming horses—to complex multiagency management agreements and perhaps some kind of dedicated sanctuary. The task force launched late in 2013 put facts and issues on the table and brought people together without necessarily resolving strong differences of opinion beyond no one wanting the horses to go to slaughter.

“I think people in the quote ‘enemy camps’ need to get together and work together and come up with a plan,” said Laura Robbins, a member of the twenty-member task force. “It’s just like the rest of the country. There are so many people who want the same thing that are considered enemies. It’s absurd.”

There is an immediate problem, she added, with the horses corralled as strays and auctioned by the New Mexico Livestock Board. They’ve been microchipped, can’t be turned loose, and until new homes or range can be found for them, they are being kept at private expense, she said.

One new group, New Mexico Wild, is moving ahead with a website and nonprofit corporation to address the Placitas horses and wildlife issues in general. The group sees itself as working the middle ground but is holding off until it has corporate status, said Joan Fenicle, another task force member.

“We feel we need to form a corporation and function as an organization rather than individuals because of liability,” she told the Signpost. “We could put ourselves in a position where either extreme side could go after us personally.”

Fenicle called the task-force process worthwhile even if it didn’t come up with firm solutions. It appeared the county wasn’t so much interested in telling Placitas what to do as it was in “taking the pulse of the community,” she added.

Balas told commissioners many people were pleasantly surprised to find out there are solutions that can move the controversy in a positive direction, she added.

“Community members needed an opportunity to talk to each other, not at each other,” she said.

The executive summary of task force recommendations and the complete report can be found on the New Mexico First website—

A shovel brigade cleans part of the 3.5 miles of Las Acequias de Placitas irrigation ditches in an annual spring ritual dating back many generations. Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Acequia and land grant consider alliance

—Bill Diven

More than seventy years after the Placitas land grant and the village water association went their separate ways, the two groups are moving to join forces again.

“We’ve kind of come to the conclusion we have to,” said Bert DeLara, president of Las Acequias de Placitas. “We’re part of the same village. It will be more efficient.”

DeLara and Wayne Sandoval, president of the San Antonio de las Huertas Community Land Grant Board of Trustees, presented the idea of an informal alliance during a recent Las Acequias membership meeting.

The idea sprang from the land grant needing to survey its remaining properties and whether Las Acequias might pay the cost of surveying its land within the grant. The water association may vote on covering that expense as early as its August membership meeting.

“We are owners of the property, and we’ve never asked the (water) board for any money,” Sandoval said during the association’s meeting. The land grant has paid to fight a lawsuit that, had it lost, could have cost the water association some of the land it uses and done other work that benefits the association, he added.

Helping with the survey may be just the first step toward future joint efforts to secure funding and help each other on projects of common interest, Sandoval and DeLara said during the May 30 Las Acequias meeting.

“Between the two of us we can get more money coming in to get things done,” Sandoval said.

From the settling of the San Antonio de las Huertas community land grant in 1765, channeling water for irrigation and domestic use and maintaining the ditches were the responsibility of all residents. A mayordomo oversaw the system, and anyone who didn’t do their part faced being cut off from water for their crops.

Settlers later moved to the valley for protection from Indian raids but returned around 1840 to establish the current Placitas village and its irrigation system. After the U.S. invasion of 1846 and legal wrangling, complicated by a vandalized map, the grant some claimed to be 130,000 acres shrank to about 4,800 acres when a court confirmed it in 1907. Most of the land later passed into the private hands of grant heirs.

Court action in 1882 turned the adjoining 12,800-acre Tejón grant into private property, cutting out the grant heirs, although some historians believe it was part of the Las Huertas grant before someone tore the east end off the original grant map. Written descriptions suggest the eastern boundary was the San Pedro Mountains about 13 miles southeast of Placitas village, according to research by historian Suzanne Sims Forrest of Placitas published in the New Mexico Historical Review in 1996.

While the grant survived, controversy remains, as it does for many existing and lost grants dating to Mexican and Spanish times. The land grant association still administers scattered parcels totaling about seven hundred acres, but has been pressing the federal government for compensation for former common lands now in the national forest or the return of the land itself. It also has tried to acquire two federal parcels, about 560 acres, within the confirmed grant boundaries.

State records show 218 grants issued by the Spanish and Mexican governments including 23 to Native American pueblos from 1689 to 1766.

Through all that, water systems continued to operate although acequia associations, and land grants are now recognized as separate subdivision of state government. Las Acequias was established in 1943 to provide domestic water for Placitas villages and has acted more or less independently ever since, DeLara said. “The land grant used to take care of the whole thing,” DeLara added.

Las Acequias currently has about 180 members, 3.5 miles of ditches and is spring-fed with the inflow recently running around 15 to 18 gallons a minute, an improvement from last year when operators shut down the system overnight to replenish tanks and holding ponds. In peak years, the springs once produced up to 115 gallons a minute, according to DeLara.

Two other Placitas systems—the Las Huertas and Rosa de Costilla ditch associations—are administered separately and rely mostly on flow from Las Huertas Creek.

DeLara said the village system has become aggressive in protecting its water supply and improving the distribution system. About eight years ago it spent a two hundred thousand dollar state appropriation to enclose the domestic water source and pipe it to holding tanks.

Replacing several hundred feet of pipes to homes has reduced leaks, and a project to replace a 1943 line from near the Presbyterian Church, under State Road 165 and down Los Pueblitos Road has state funding and is in the planning stage. About three-dozen meters have been installed, so far, at a cost of about $250 dollars per user, which the homeowner can pay over a year, with a goal of metering all domestic usage.

Beyond tracking usage, the meters have helped identify leaks that in the past would have taken extensive fieldwork to find, DeLara said.

The association also has gone after water users behind in their payments in some cases for years. A few accounts have been turned over to a collection agency, and other users have worked out, or are working out, payment plans. As in Spanish days, users can be cut off from the system if they aren’t supporting it.

Unpaid water bills, once reaching thirty thousand dollars, now are at about $15,000 dollars, according to the association.

Placitas July 4 parade sparkles

The annual Placitas Fourth of July parade will proceed as usual this year on Friday, July 4. Participants are invited to line up in front of Placitas Heights at 10:00 a.m. with floats, horses, bicycles, costumes, cars. There is no preregistration; anyone can be in the parade. The parade starts at 11:00 a.m. and winds through the Village of Placitas. Spectators are welcome to line Highway 165 with chairs and coolers. Refreshments are usually sold in the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church parking lot.

Rio Rancho fourth of July weekend

On July 4, an Independence Day parade will kick off at 10:00 a.m. Registration fee to take part in the Parade is $15 per entry per float. Deadline to register to participate in the parade is June 30 and can be done online at Payment can be made at City Hall or over the phone 891-5015.

As part of the parade, children and their parents are encouraged to ride decorated bicycles. Bike registration will begin at 9:00 a.m. on the day of the parade in the Bank of America parking lot (3101 Southern Boulevard). Prizes will be awarded to the bike that is decorated the best, most patriotic, and most original in three age groups—ages five to seven, eight to ten, and 11 to 15. Bikes will be the last entry in the parade, and helmets must be worn by all children riding a bike

For further information, visit

New benches inside the San Jose de los Jemez mission church at Jemez Historic Site

New benches donated to Jemez Historic Site

—Matthew J. Barbour, Manager, Jemez Historic Site

Among the many structures preserved at Jemez Historic Site is the mission church of San Jose de los Jemez. Built in 1621 by the Franciscan Priest Gerónimo de Zárate Salmerón, the church was built in an attempt to convert the Jemez People to Christianity. Regular service has not been held at the church since the Jemez, along with their fellow Pueblo brethren, revolted against the Spanish on August 10, 1680. However, in recent years, a variety of religious leaders from the local communities have brought their respective flocks together for sunrise service on Easter Sunday and several weddings have even been held among the ancient ruins. Jemez Historic Site would like to encourage more use of the beautiful, historic ruins and with the help of the Boy Scouts of America that has become possible.

Albuquerque Boy Scout Wyatt Bushman came to Jemez Historic Site several months ago looking to work on his Eagle Scout Service Project, a volunteer effort that allows young men to obtain the highest level within the Boy Scouts of America organization. Wyatt went into the project with incredible diligence and efficiency. He took the time to consult with Jemez Historic Site staff and proposed that he would build four wooden benches for use in the church. Before beginning, Wyatt laid out his plans, including the pattern he would use, supplies he would acquire, and a time frame for implementing the project.

Over the course of about six weeks, Wyatt, and his family, set to constructing the benches. Amazingly, he finished four quickly and he continued to work. On May 17, Wyatt showed up at Jemez Historic Site with eight completed benches. These benches are truly a lovely and beautiful addition to these scenic ruins. All eight benches are high quality pressure-treated wood, stained, and embossed with the fleur-de-lis pattern of the Boy Scouts. Little did Wyatt realize, at the time, that a similar fleur-de-lis had once adorned the walls of the church where the benches are now located. The benches are not only a suitable addition to this ancient church, but a generous donation to Jemez Historic Site.

A huge thank you from Jemez Historic Site goes out to Wyatt, the Bushman Family, and the Boy Scouts of America. While this partnership with the Boy Scouts represents a first for Jemez Historic Site Staff, it is due in large part to Ranger John Cutler of Coronado Historic Site who works as Historic Sites liaison for the Boy Scouts of America organization. Thank you to John and everyone else who contributed to the success of this project.

Placitas Sage Cohousing finds a site

—Placitas Sage Cohousing Board

After searching for a year, Placitas Sage Cohousing has found a site for our senior cohousing community. The eight-acre property on Highway 165 and Camino Del Torreon has the appeal of easy access, great views of the Sandia and Jemez Mountains, and a level building site. Near the Village of Placitas, but only about six miles from I-25, it combines the advantages of a quiet country atmosphere with the business and cultural opportunities of the nearby cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Placitas Sage has engaged an experienced cohousing architect, Bryan Bowen. Bryan grew up in Placitas and now lives in Wild Sage, an intergenerational cohousing community in Boulder, Colorado. Our builder is Jim Maduena, a Placitas builder, specializing in green and environmentally sensitive homes. He will build the Common House and twenty “casitas in Placitas,” ranging from seven hundred to 1,200 square feet. Members of the Placitas Sage community will participate in the design of the site, the common house, and the individual homes. A Site Design Workshop is planned for later in the summer; those interested in becoming part of the Placitas Sage Cohousing community will be invited to attend.

Cohousing is a form of collaborative housing designed to emphasize social contact among community members while preserving and respecting individual privacy. Private homes, which contain all the features of conventional homes, are built within a compound that affords easy access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, and a common house. The common house is the center of most cohousing communities. Typically, it includes a large dining room and kitchen, recreational facilities for adults and children, guest rooms, and workshops.

Senior cohousing opens up new alternatives for members to age in place, living as independently as possible for as long as possible. In cohousing, seniors form a camaraderie that fosters dignity, independence, safety, mutual concern, and fun. Here in Placitas, our project will provide an opportunity for seniors to live in smaller, easier to manage homes, with compatible neighbors.

On June 28, at 7:00 p.m., a gathering will be held at the Placitas Community Library for all who would like further information about Placitas Sage Cohousing. Go to or call Joyce at 404-8553 for more information.

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