Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front
 

Oil mover drops Bernalillo project

—Bill Diven

Crude oil continues to flow in abundance from the San Juan Basin, but it won’t be going to market from Bernalillo anytime soon, if at all.

Instead, NuDevco Midstream Development LLC of Houston, and a related company, withdrew their application to amend the zoning at the idled American Gypsum Centex wallboard plant. The companies launched a truck-to-train transload operation there on May 1, but were soon shut down by town officials claiming a zoning violation.

“It is the end of our efforts to set up a crude oil transload facility in Bernalillo,” Steven McCain, vice president and general counsel of Associate Energy Services LP, said in an email to the Signpost. “We abandoned the American Gypsum permit modification in our name but without prejudice to American Gypsum being able to seek whatever modifications they wish in their own permit.”

McCain declined to say where the oil is now going, citing the “brisk” competition among transloaders for both product and shipping sites. By Signpost deadline, American Gypsum had not responded to a request for comment on what may be next for the property.

NuDevco and AES earlier said they anticipated growing the operation to at least 24 truckloads a day supporting as many as 34 high-wage terminal and driver jobs.

It was residents of El Llanito just across the tracks from the former Centex plant who alerted town officials to something brewing on the property. First the BNSF Railway moved empty 34,000-gallon tank cars onto tracks at the plant, and soon, crude oil was being pumped into them from 18-wheel tank trucks arriving off U.S. Highway 550 from the Farmington region.

Those residents expressed fears of a catastrophic fire or pollution of their shallow wells in the event of an oil spill. Explosive and fatal train derailments over the last year, however, have involved only the unusually volatile crude oil from the Bakken Field in North Dakota, none of which passes through New Mexico.

The company later apologized to Mayor Jack Torres for not realizing he and other town officials were overlooked when an economic development group set up what was supposed to be an advance meeting of all concerned parties.

The wallboard plant, opened by Centex in 1990 and now owned by American Gypsum, employed about seventy when it shut down in 2010, as the recession gutted new-home construction nationwide. Special-use zoning for the property limited it to producing wallboard also known as sheetrock.

Meanwhile oil production booming from hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, is stressing public infrastructure in the San Juan and Permian basins in opposite corners of the state. The state Legislature is funding a study on building a long-sought rail connection to Farmington from the BNSF east of Gallup, and new transload facilities are open and planned on rail lines in the Southeast.

Then suddenly far from the oil patch, Bernalillo and residents of rural Lamy in Santa Fe County were drawn into the fray. Lamy, fifty track miles northeast of Bernalillo, hosts an Amtrak stop and a junction with the shortline Santa Fe Southern, which last year announced plans for a transload facility there.

“Right now it’s Bernalillo and Lamy. We haven’t received any other inquiries,” New Mexico Municipal League Executive Director Bill Fulginiti said. “There are not a lot of [rail] spurs around New Mexico. It’s got some value.”

The NMML is working on a policy urging the state to take on designating and regulating routes for transporting hazardous materials, he continued. Crude oil, however, is not on the list of hazardous materials, Fulginiti said.

The state also is playing catch-up as the oil industry booms.

“The state of New Mexico is reviewing how to address transloading activity as assistance to local governments,” New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department spokesman Jim Winchester told the Signpost. “The state does not have jurisdiction on transportation of crude oil. This is a new development that follows from San Juan Basin exploration and production without adequate conventional infrastructure to support access to refining and markets.”

Railroad regulation also is in the federal domain, he said.

The EMNRD already had planned an Energy Policy Listening Session when Torres wrangled an invitation to lay out the issues in Bernalillo. Both he and Lamy residents have questioned the risks and rewards of oil transloading in their communities.

“I think our grand prize is $15 dollars for a business license and a lot of liability,” Torres said at a recent town council meeting. “I’m trying to find a way to protect us down the road. If it’s not NuDevco, it could be somebody else.”


Crane Dance, fine art photograph, by Jack Ellis—
one of the many fine art photographs in Coronado Historic Site’s current show.

Friends of Coronado Historic Site hang “Kritters of Kuaua”

—Charron McFadden, Friends of Coronado Historic Site

From now through December, Friends of Coronado Historic Site photographers Jack Ellis, Barron Haley, and Tom Hora will be represented in the Site’s newest show in the Visitor Center Video/Exhibit Room.

The photos display examples of animals including birds, reptiles, and insects that are found today or were evident during the occupation of Kuaua Pueblo in the 1500s. The animals would have been used for practical purposes, such as food or clothing, but would also have been evident as symbols in the myths, art, and rituals of the villagers. The exhibit includes a reference binder describing the animals and their habitats. Of special importance, when the exhibit ends, is that the photographs will become part of the Site’s collection of outreach materials that are used by rangers and docents when visiting schools and other organizations. The photographs were printed and matted by photographer Robert Laetare of the Artistic Image, in Albuquerque.

Coronado Historic Site is located at 485 Kuaua Road, in Bernalillo, 1.5 miles west of the I-25 exit 242, off Highway 550. The cost of the exhibit is included in the entrance fee to the Site. New Mexico seniors are admitted free on Wednesdays, and all New Mexico residents are admitted free on Sunday. Children 16 and under are always free. For further information, contact the Visitor Center at 867-5351 or visit home.comcast.net/~friendsofcsm.


Completion of I-25 interchange down to details

Signpost Staff

By the time you read this, the rebuilding of the Interstate 25-U.S. Highway 550 interchange in Bernalillo will be done, almost, at last.

The top layer of specialty asphalt went down in the middle of June as did lane striping, and a nearly three-day closure of the overpass to put an epoxy sealant on the bridge deck was scheduled for the third weekend of the month.

The final signage, tweaked after motorists complained of confusion in making turns across the overpass, was to be installed during the last week of the month. Still, for a project that was supposed to be done last November and barely covered a mile of highway plus freeway ramps and a new local-access road, two details remain. First the bridge sealant has to cure before the permanent striping can be applied, and the state and contractor still have to argue over how much the contractor owes for finishing the project so late.

The final striping on the overpass is expected to happen sometime during July, with the work being done at night, New Mexico Department of Transportation spokesman Phil Gallegos said. The state and FNF Construction Inc. have yet to begin bargaining over how much of the delay was beyond FNF’s control and how much was not.

Damages listed in the contract are reported to be around eight thousand dollars a day. The Bernalillo project scheduled for 240 calendar days is more than seven months past that deadline.

The $17 million dollar project, intended mostly to eliminate bottlenecks for commuters from and to Rio Rancho, widened a section of U.S. 550 and the overpass to six lanes from four. Dual entrance lanes take traffic from U.S. 550 and State Road 165 from Placitas onto southbound I-25.

Northbound traffic exiting for Rio Rancho now has three lanes crossing the middle of the overpass to Bernalillo in what is known as a single-point urban interchange. The expanse of the overpass and the new layout of lanes baffled some drivers but also led to complaints, especially for eastbound drivers trying to go north on I-25, that it wasn’t clear which lane led where.

Still, no major crashes have been reported other than a semi carrying twenty tons of French fries flipping over, but that was blamed on excessive speed turning from U.S. 550 to I-25.

Placitas residents also complained that the acceleration lane shown on NM 165 in an early plan was not built. Project managers reviewed the complaints but determined it was safer to slow Placitas traffic and make drivers yield because of the mix of cars and heavy trucks using the highway.


Dennis Fortier waves at campaign volunteers Loretta Apodaca and Jake Lovato as he leaves Placitas Elementary School after voting in the June 3 primary. Apodaca is campaigning for her brother-in-law, who won his party's nomination, while Lovato's brother didn't fare as well. Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Election primary results

—Bill Diven

State Rep. James Roger Madalena and County Commissioner Don Chapman already are being congratulated on being returned to office even though the general election isn’t until November. Both men defeated challengers from within their own parties in the June primary and face no major-party opposition in the general election. Filing day for minor-party and write-in candidates was June 26 after the Signpost deadline.

Term-limited District 1 County Commissioner Orlando Lucero of Bernalillo took on Madalena of Jemez Pueblo in the Democratic primary but lost 1,069-1,283. With 32 years of service in District 65, Madalena will be number two in seniority in the House.

Chapman, running for a second term in commission District 3 in northern Rio Rancho, defeated fellow Republican Michael MacDonald 604-401.

In other contested Sandoval County primary races:

Incumbent Republican Sheriff Doug Wood will face Deputy Sheriff Jesse James Casaus of Placitas in the general election. Casaus defeated former Sheriff John Paul Trujillo by more than one thousand votes in the Democratic primary with Steve Reynolds finishing third.

Republican County Assessor Tom Garcia outpolled two opponents—Leroy Lovato and Pete David Salazar—and now goes against Democrat Antonio Montoya in the general.

In Bernalillo-based Magistrate Court Division I, Democratic incumbent Judge Richard Zanotti appears headed for reelection after defeating Daniel Tallon in the Democratic primary. No Republican filed for the office.

In Cuba-based Magistrate Court Division II, Bill Mast faces no Republican opposition after winning the four-way contest that included Benito Aragón, Joseph Ramirez, and Timothy Herrera.

Incumbent Division III Judge Delilah Montaño-Baca ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and is without a Republican opponent in November.

Other local races set for the general election involved single candidates running without intraparty opponents in the primary:

House District 22—Incumbent Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, vs. John Wallace, D-Placitas.

County Commission District 1—James Dominguez, D-Bernalillo, vs. Gary Miles, R-Placitas.

Probate Judge—Incumbent Judge Charles Aguilar, D-Bernalillo, vs. Lawrence D. McClain, R-Rio Rancho.

Complete statewide election results can be found on the New Mexico Secretary of State website at electionresults.sos.state.nm.us/.


Stegomastodon fossil found at Elephant Butte

—Erica Asmus-Otero

Officials in Sierra County anticipate more visitors to Elephant Butte Lake State Park and the surrounding area in the next few weeks following the discovery of an approximately three-million-year old Stegomastodon fossil at the park.

A group of campers recently discovered the Stegomastodon after spotting what looked like an exposed tusk in the sand. The group started to dig and discovered an intact tusk and skull. They immediately contacted the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, who sent paleontologists to recover and analyze the findings.

Media were invited on June 12 to visit the site, but asked to not disclose the location in an effort to preserve the site. Even after the fossil was removed, park officials will continue to keep the location under wraps.

It is illegal on state and federal lands to conduct fossil digs and to remove fossils. However, because Elephant Butte has received national attention following the Stegomastodon find, officials hope visitors will want to learn more about the parks’ history and take advantage of its many recreational opportunities.

“We are thrilled about the discovery of the Stegomastodon fossil,” said Sierra County Chairwoman, Kim Skinner. “We look forward to the day when the public can view the Stegomastodon at an exhibit located at Elephant Butte Lake State Park.”

“Bits and pieces of what we’ve been told are remains of Stegomastodons and fossils have been found as recently as ten years ago, but nothing as complete or intact as this,” said New Mexico State Parks spokesperson Beth Wojahn. “NM State Parks is thrilled to have this big of a discovery—and what a fitting place for an ancient elephant to be found than at Elephant Butte. We want to thank the campers who called the proper authorities and didn’t compromise the integrity of the dig.”

Wojahn said that NM State Parks would love to build an exhibit at the park where fossil discoveries like these can be displayed.

The Stegomastodon fossil was taken to the NM Museum of Natural History and Science where paleontologists will analyze it. Results of the analysis are expected to take up to six months to receive.

According to the University of Nebraska State Museum, the Stegomastodon was a nine-foot tall, 13,000-pound prehistoric elephant that went into extinction approximately three million years ago. 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park—located in Sierra County—is New Mexico’s largest body of water, encompassing forty thousand acres. The Dam Site Recreational area, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, has been designated a Historic District. The City of Elephant Butte is located five miles north of Truth or Consequences, home to Spaceport America.


Bernalillo beginning work on street upgrades

Signpost Staff

Bernalillo residents are about to see three street projects aimed at them, not the commuters slugging their way back and forth across the Rio Grande on U.S. Highway 550. Also, one job has the added benefit of reducing the flood threat in a neighborhood swamped by storm runoff last summer.

Work is expected to begin this month on two projects covering the intersections of Camino Don Tomas at U.S. 550 and Camino del Pueblo at Avenida Bernalillo. The Bernalillo Town Council last month awarded the $1.1 million dollar contract to RMCI Inc. of Albuquerque, the lowest of four bidders.

“We’re pleased it’s RMCI. They have a good history with the town,” Maria Rinaldi, community development director and interim town manager, told the Signpost. The company has done previous work on Camino Don Tomas and with the Camino del Pueblo streetscaping coming in on time and within budget, she added.

The work is scheduled to take 150 calendar days.

Both projects involve new traffic signals with pedestrian control buttons and crosswalk countdown timers, infrared detectors so fire trucks on emergency runs can control the signals, and disability-friendly sidewalks and curb ramps. The project at U.S. 550 also reconfigures the intersection with new and upgraded turn lanes.

“These improvements are for local circulation,” Rinaldi said. “These are town projects, while dealing with large volume of commuter traffic and (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance.”

The overhaul of just over half a mile of South Hill Road (about halfway between U.S. 550 and Avenida Bernalillo) is expected to start in November. While funded mostly by seven hundred thousand dollars the town received from the Federal Highway Administration, the road project includes a storm sewer and drainage improvements to help protect residents living between Richardson Drive and Bobby Place.

A drainpipe will run through the KOA campground and under the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District irrigation ditch to a ponding area on Athena Avenue.

Residents remain at risk, however, from heavy storms like the one that hit in July of 2013. Runoff swamped neighborhoods east of the railroad, breeched the irrigation ditch, and sent water into some homes.

“This is not a flood project,” Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres said during a public hearing on the project. “Nobody has enough money to solve our drainage problem. “If we have another event (like last year), we know this won’t solve it.”

Which is not to say that no one is working on solving it.

The Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo and Flood Control Authority is helping to fund the South Hill Road work and has a master plan of its own for additional upstream catchments to slow runoff into the town.

Meanwhile the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District, responsible for the Piedra Liza Dam protecting part of the town, is working on flood maps and an emergency plan that includes evacuations. The maps and plan are needed to apply for federal funding to improve drainage and public safety, Coronado Chairman Lynn Montgomery said during the public hearing.

 
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