Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Land Commissioner signs lease for wind farm on State Trust Land

—Karin Stangl

On May 27, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Ray Powell signed a lease agreement with Triangle Gallegos, LP, a wind energy company based in Union County, New Mexico, and Hereford, Texas, for a wind farm project to be located on about 19,000 acres of State Trust Land and 31,000 acres of private land 35 miles west of Clayton in Union County.

Transmission service will be provided by Lucky Corridor, LLC.

Triangle Gallegos, LP, a joint venture between Triangle Cattle Co., Ltd. and Gallegos Wind Farm, LLC, won the bid and agrees to lease payment terms that are estimated to generate $47 million dollars of revenue for State Trust Land beneficiaries over the 45-year project life. Beneficiaries of the land being leased are public schools, the University of New Mexico (UNM), New Mexico State University (NMSU), the New Mexico Military Institute, and the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute.

The overall proposed project ultimately could generate about five hundred megawatts of electricity via 285 wind turbines—enough electricity to supply up to two hundred thousand homes. The development would reduce CO2 emissions by 1.3 million tons and save over 550 million gallons of water annually, compared to coal-driven electricity. The project would be built in two phases starting in 2015, creating four hundred total construction jobs and about twenty new, well-paying permanent jobs.

“A new and growing source of income for the State Land Office is renewable energy leasing, which has become the largest growth area for our Commercial Resources Division. And, as a result of my Administration’s commitment to advancing renewable energy, the State Land Office now hosts the largest distributive and commercial solar arrays in the state and soon State Trust lands will host the largest wind farm,” said New Mexico State Land Commissioner Ray Powell. “This new project will build upon this success. With the wind and solar projects in the pipeline, the Land Office will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in future years for support of our public schools, universities, and hospitals throughout the state.”

“We are grateful to the State Land Office, whose vision and commitment to the sustainable development of state land encourages businesses like ours to explore investing here,” said Triangle Gallegos, LP’s CEO Glen Black.

Why did oil spills go undetected for so long?

—Casey O'Malley/Writers on the Range

Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is special in a lot of ways. It not only showcases spectacular geology but was also the first national monument to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, rather than the National Park Service. Moreover, it is the largest national monument in the country, clocking in at an impressive 1.8 million acres. Add to this mix the five active oil wells within the monument, and it's clear that BLM managers face a difficult monitoring problem. So difficult, in fact, that several oil spills remained unreported by an oil company and undetected by the BLM—probably for decades. 

On March 23, a group hiking in Grand Staircase National Monument was amazed to discover a thick layer of oil covering nearly four miles of a wash. They reported to local BLM officials that they saw "pooled oil and sludge on rocks" in Little Valley Wash. The next day, BLM law enforcement officials hiked out and confirmed the spill; by March 26, a group of petroleum engineers, geologists, and the monument's assistant manager had also hiked to the spill and conferred with representatives of the company holding the lease. A small pinhole in a pipeline, recently patched but never reported, appears to have leaked regularly; no one really knows for how long.

The BLM's official report on the Little Valley Wash spill notes that the "vast majority of the oil spill may be as much as three decades old" and more recently, that "a small pipeline appears to have leaked from time to time."  The small pinhole leak discovered in a pipeline appears to have been too small to affect the system's overall pressure, which means the pressure-monitoring systems, designed to shut off during a major leak, were never triggered.

Meanwhile, though the BLM has started planning new surface-use rules, it has ordered no further cleanup and issued no sanctions or fines.

Over 63,000 oil wells have been drilled on BLM land in the United States. After four weeks of looking closely at a tiny area containing five wells in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, the oily remains of five spills were uncovered. That math isn't comforting.

Casey O'Malley is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a syndicated opinion service of High Country News ( She lives in Salt Lake City, where she is a freelance writer and a high school teacher.

Simplified and expanded recycling

—W. Paul Barbeau, President, Placitas Recycling Association

The Placitas Recycling Association (PRA) is pleased to announce that we have both simplified our recycling process and expanded the list of materials that we can accept.

The following changes have been implemented:

• Paper products (newspapers, junk mail, and office waste paper) no longer have to be separated and are now all collected in a dedicated trailer. In addition to simplifying the paper recycling process, we have also started accepting phone books/catalogs/etc., which can also be combined with the other paper products.

• Plastic products (all number one and two plastics, regardless of color) no longer have to be separated are now also collected in a dedicated trailer.

• In addition to simplifying the recycling of paper and plastic products, we now accept clean tin cans, which are collected in a dedicated trailer.

Aluminum and cardboard (including craft paper and brown paper bags) continue to be collected as before. We still cannot accept glass or numbers three through seven plastics, but we will continue to monitor the market for these products.

The community recycled over 107 tons of materials through the PRA last year, and we anticipate recycling even more with the simplifications and expansions that we have made.

Thank you Placitas for recycling and for volunteering at the yard. Your support is what keeps the PRA going and keeps tons of material out of the landfills.

Siberian Elm leaves

Paging through the past

Invasion of the world’s worst tree

—Susana Vincent

If you’ve noticed some sprightly, leafy saplings thrusting skyward at an astonishing rate around your property since last summer’s copious rains and abundant winter snow: beware. If you’re even thinking about watering them in anticipation of nice shade trees like you had back home: beware. Beware if you have a septic tank or a wall or a roof or a vehicle; beware if your allergies are worsening each year; beware if you enjoy long views; beware if you’re concerned about wildfire.

The army of trees clogging the arroyos around the Village of Placitas and marching unimpeded along the highway is an official nuisance tree called the Siberian Elm. For those who remember the bosque fire of 2003, which burned nearly four hundred acres straddling the Rio Grande, the Siberian Elm is part of the deadly triumvirate of alien trees that fueled those flames. According to the USDA, “The spread of salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima), Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), and Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) has contributed to the continued degradation of riparian ecosystems. These exotic species are highly invasive and will continue to spread, not only along riparian habitats, but also into abandoned croplands and other sites. All of these species strongly modify their environment by displacing native plant species, using great amounts of ground water, increasing the risk of fire, blocking stream channels, etc. They also reduce the abundance and diversity of wildlife species.”

From the Rio Grande to the Upper Sonoran/Piñon-Juniper Zone of the Sandias, the Siberian Elm is pursuing its invasion on a frightening scale, sucking up water, inviting wildfires, crowding out native plants and wildlife forage, and destroying property. It hosts the stinky Elm Leaf Beetle, which likes to overwinter in houses. It makes stinky firewood. Even its shade is unpleasant, dropping gloppy stuff on the heads or hoods of those beneath. (I can’t tell you what the gloppy stuff is, but any lifelong Albuquerque resident will attest to its existence.) My own car has been glopped, my septic tank invaded, my wall broken; the beetles have shared my bed. I have nightmares about a juniper down the road, encircled by elms, getting its life sucked out like a fly’s by a spider. So pay attention.

The Siberian Elm, not to be confused with its smaller, benign cousin, the Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) survives both extreme drought and extreme cold. It’s so tough that if you cut it down it sprouts from the roots like heads on the monstrous Hydra of Greek myth, and even small seedlings cut your hands when you try to pull them. It is a greedy, thirsty tree, its roots working their way into septic tanks and wells, and it easily overwhelms native and garden plants. Its branches are brittle and easily broken by wind and winter storms, endangering buildings, cars and humans. The deadfall is highly flammable.

What’s more, the Siberian Elm reproduces prodigiously. Its seed pods, white and coin-like, are borne by wind and tires and feet and are capable of sprouting between patio bricks and chinks in foundations; they are a nuisance in themselves, clogging drains and forming dunes against doors and windows. This year they’ve sprouted in dense colonies, especially on disturbed ground near roadways and construction sites, but individuals sprout wherever the wind blows. The seedlings are sneaks, tending to hide within other plants and grow undetected for a month or two until they’re five feet tall and practically indestructible.

Elms are both male and female; unlike the one-seeded juniper, they all produce pollen. While many locals blame junipers for their allergies, the Siberian Elm is the greater culprit; nearly everyone is allergic to the pollen.

There’s no easy way to get rid of these trees; rumor has it that they can survive a nuclear blast. You can carefully burn the seeds. You have to poison rampant seedlings. If you cut down a large tree (that is, before it falls—the species is notoriously short-lived) you must drill holes in the stump, fill them with appropriate chemicals and monitor them vigilantly. The most effective ways to, uh, neutralize a Siberian Elm are girdling—removing a section of bark in a complete circle around the trunk; and frilling—axing downward, making shallow cuts to just below the bark, and applying a chemical labeled “frill application.” Frilling takes advantage of the tree’s circulatory system (phloem) to send the chemical to the roots. You’ll still have to cut the tree down before it falls on someone, but at least you won’t have to worry about regrowth.

Resistant to Dutch Elm Disease which de-treed Main Streets all over America, the Siberian Elm was imported from, yep, Siberia, as a replacement. It was brought to Albuquerque in the 1860s by Mayor Clyde Tingley to create an “oasis in the high desert.” A hundred years later, the tree had earned the nickname “Tingley’s Folly,” the seed pods “Tingley’s Snow.” Now the tree is a serious federal, state, county and community problem, and control measures are urgently needed. It’s been illegal to plant Siberian Elms in Albuquerque since the city’s pollen ordinance of 1996. Tijeras has organized battalions of volunteers to fight the invasion. New Mexico is addressing the infestations on federal, tribal, and state holdings. You can contact local agricultural extension services, the state and the USDA for information. A petition to the County Commission to designate our area “a noxious weed control district” is the logical first step in getting assistance.

The Siberian Elm is dangerous around structures, especially schools and roads; it is hazardous to respiratory health and water systems; it tempts wildfires, hosts nuisance insects, and alters entire life zones. It’s designated a noxious weed and exotic invader in at least twenty-five states and continues to spread aggressively. It’s described by horticultural writer Dr. Michael Dirr as “one of, if not the, world’s worst trees.” So, once again—beware. If you allow it to grow on your property, you’d better buy more homeowners’ insurance.

This article was reprinted from the August 2007 Signpost.

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