The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Bernalillo first town in state to invest in electric car

April Gutierrez and Gage Mortensen may be thinking about trading up from their grandfather-powered Radio Flyer to the electric Gem eL buzzing around the Bernalillo Town Hall parking lot. Grandfather Victor Gutierrez parked the kids just in time to see Councilor Serafín Dominguez take a spin in the two-seater with Zangara Dodge fleet manager Debra Millard at the wheel.

A seventy-two-volt, five-horsepower motor powers the street-legal vehicle at up to twenty-five miles per hour for up to thirty miles before recharging on standard house current.

The town is the first local government in the state to buy one of the $10,000 Gems, now assigned to water-meter readers who formerly drove a full-size pickup truck. If the Gem works as advertised, the town expects cost savings over the pickup to recoup the purchase price in about eighteen months.

The town also is considering buying one or two more of the vehicles for use in high residential-growth areas west of the Rio Grande.


Upgrade of north Bernalillo interchange not until 2010, south Bernalillo in 2007, Tramway this year

Bill Diven

State officials and consultants came to Bernalillo anxious to hear public thoughts on rebuilding 8.5 miles of I-25 between the town and Albuquerque.

Instead, Placitas residents unleashed a litany of complaints about traffic congestion at the north Bernalillo interchange, where US 550, NM165, and the I-25 frontage road congeal over the freeway. The displeasure continued when the twenty-five people attending the meeting heard the interchange is not scheduled for a major upgrade until 2010 or later.

“Getting on I-25 off the frontage road is a disaster,” said Placitas resident Ken Longeway who uses the frontage road to access NM 165 east of I-25. “If it's bad now, by 2010 it's going to be a parking lot out there.”

The idea of adding lanes to I-25 from north Bernalillo to the Tramway interchange in Albuquerque also failed to impress Placitas residents.

“The fact you've got three lanes doesn't mean diddly because traffic is backed up because the interchange is all screwed up,” said Glen Petersen.

When the New Mexico Department of Transportation officials and their consultants finally steered the conversation back to their I-25 project, James Apodaca of Bernalillo suggested using Exit 240, the south Bernalillo interchange, for Placitas access. The quarry road running south from NM 165 dead-ends near the interchange, he said.

“If the road's there, it's available,” Apodaca added. “Why can't we use it?”

Sandoval County Commission chairman William Sapien later told the Signpost that discussions on limiting heavy truck traffic on NM 165 are continuing among the county, NMDOT, and the operators of gravel quarries on the frontage road north of NM 165. A state official previously said one option would be to route the trucks north to the Algodones interchange during peak traffic hours on NM 165.

NMDOT held its meeting to solicit commentary on upgrading the freeway from a thousand feet north of the Tramway interchange to and including the on- and off-ramps at north Bernalillo. The separate $20 million reconstruction of the Tramway interchange is scheduled to begin later this year.

Adding one lane to each side of I-25, replacing the forty-year-old Sandia arroyo bridges, and possibly realigning the south Bernalillo interchange currently is scheduled to begin in January 2007. The $38 million needed for the project already is available as part of the $1.6 billion being borrowed for transportation projects under Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership program, GRIP.

The reconstruction does not include any frontage roads, since most of the existing right-of-way passes through Sandia Pueblo. “The pueblo is extremely reluctant to give us additional easements,” said Luis Duffy of the consulting firm DMJM Harris.

In that case, Longeway suggested, the state should at least put up message boards to warn of accidents closing the road. “Once you're past Exit 240 southbound or Tramway northbound, you're committed,” he said.

Terry Doyle, of the NMDOT district office in Albuquerque, said highway priorities are determined by the Mid-Region Council of Governments, made up of representatives from local governments in Bernalillo, Valencia, Torrance and Sandoval Counties. The MRCOG is updating its transportation plan. creating an opportunity to move the north Bernalillo project up on the schedule.

Local representatives to MRCOG include Sandoval County commissioners Jack Thomas and Donald Leonard and Bernalillo's planning director Kelly Moe and community development director Maria Rinaldi.

Documents related to the I-25 upgrade are being posted as they become available on the Web site of Taschek Environmental Consulting, at


County commission to vote June 16 on animal-fighting ban

The Sandoval County Commission is picking up where the Legislature left off after the state body earlier this year failed to ban cockfighting.

An ordinance introduced last month by commissioners Jack Thomas and Don Leonard would ban animal fighting in the county. The measure is expected to appear on the June 16 commission agenda for final consideration.

“I don't think we have a rooster-fighting problem in Sandoval County,” Leonard told the Signpost. “There have been some reports of dog fighting

“I felt that after the Legislature chose not to deal with it, it was something I felt strongly enough about to put up before the commission.”


Residents given a chance to affect pipeline expansion plan

(Now is the time to speak up)

Signpost staff

The draft environmental assessment needed to expand a liquid-petroleum pipeline through Placitas is expected to be released for public comment some time this month.

At Signpost deadline, the exact release date had not yet been determined, according to Danita Burns, deputy chief of external affairs at the federal Bureau of Land Management. Once released, public comment will be taken for thirty days before the document becomes final, she added.

An outside contractor prepared the assessment, which looks at questions and concerns raised by citizens and public agencies about the project proposed by Mid-America Pipeline. An environmental assessment is a less detailed analysis than the environmental-impact statement requested by some participants in public meetings last year.

MAPL already transports natural-gas liquids through Placitas in two pipelines stretching 840 miles from Wyoming to Hobbs. The company proposes to increase its capacity by building twelve parallel segments totaling 202 miles.

The Placitas segment begins at a pumping station near San Ysidro and runs 22.5 miles before rejoining existing pipe on the east side of the Placitas Open Space.

The fifty-foot pipeline corridor then continues east, following Las Huertas Creek and Diamond Tail Road before turning south.

Burns said legal notices announcing the release will appear in the Albuquerque Journal and Sandoval Sentinel. The Signpost will post the notice on its Web site.

The document also will be placed in the Bernalillo and Placitas libraries and mailed to participants in public meetings who requested a copy.


No public opinion expressed on landfill expansion

Bill Diven

As public hearings go, the discussion over expanding the Sandoval County landfill and adding sludge to its composting program couldn't have been friendlier.

The state environment department had few questions for some county witnesses and none for others. Similarly, the county had but one minor question for the one state witness, an expert from the state solid-waste bureau, who reviewed the landfill application and recommended granting the new permit with a few conditions already accepted by the county.

And the public did not appear at either the afternoon or evening session of the May 11 hearing. Both the county and the state had notified property owners around the landfill at Iris and Idalia in northeast Rio Rancho.

“There was no expressed opposition to the landfill expansion,” Solid Waste Bureau hydrologist Dan Fuqua said. No homes are within five hundred feet of the expansion, which is buffered on the north by the proposed Paseo del Volcan, according to other testimony.

Barring some unexpected snag, county public works director Phil Rios said it appears the permit will be granted.

The county currently operates a sixty-seven-acre disposal area within a 114-acre site and has buried about two million tons of waste there. With the expansion, the site would cover 177 acres, of which 130 acres would be used for waste disposal.

In addition, the county seeks approval to accept sludge from wastewater plants and petroleum-contaminated soils. Neither is considered a hazardous waste, but rather a special waste, a separate category of the municipal wastes already accepted by the landfill, according to testimony by county consultant Dr. Mark Turnbough.

The sludge would be used in the recently started composting project, which Turnbough called the “gold standard” in the state for turning green waste, mostly yard, shrub, and tree trimmings, into fertilizer. The sludge would be added to the waste to accelerate the biological action in enclosed composting vessels.

The system can handle ten tons of waste a day, with plans to expand to forty to fifty tons a day in the future. County officials have said the goal of the program is to reduce the amount of waste being buried to extend the life of the landfill.

While the county is the first in the state to begin composting in enclosed vessels, the permit would allow the county to dispose of sludge on land if necessary.

“That's not the primary use,” said engineer Keith Gordon, president of Gordon Environmental Inc. of Bernalillo. “It's a fallback if the composting can't keep up.”

Gordon also said the petroleum-contaminated soils would be spread and disked so the petroleum can evaporate.

Other county plans include moving the landfill entrance farther north on Iris so traffic won't backup onto the street, and starting a drop-off recycling program.


Bark beetles: down but not out

Signpost Staff

The State Forestry Division says that the devastating infestation of bark beetles that killed so many piñon trees peaked during the drought decreased significantly in 2004, and continues to ebb this year. Aerial surveys show that statewide there was a decrease in the beetle infestation from eight hundred thousand acres in 2003 to about 122,000 last year. State forestry entomologists did not detect the usual beetle swarm in April.

Normally an innocuous part of the piñon-juniper ecosystem, bark beetles feed off host trees. In times of extreme drought all piñon trees are stressed and most are highly vulnerable to the bark beetle. Northern New Mexico first showed signs of the bark-beetle epidemic in the late 1990s. By 2002 Los Alamos was severely hit and by 2003 had lost more than 90 percent of piñon trees over ten feet tall. While we can’t be sure when this bark-beetle epidemic will end, evidence shows that epidemics usually last from three to seven years.

In 2004, the hardest-hit areas continued to be Santa Fe, Ojo Caliente, East Mountains, Glorieta, and Pecos. .

Adult bark beetles chew their way through the outer bark of a living tree and emit a scent to attract other beetles. Beetles infect the tree, then mate and lay eggs in galleries that they construct between the bark and the wood. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the nutritious soft inner bark layer, or cambium. A “blue stain” fungus carried by the beetles contributes to the death of the tree by clogging water- and nutrient-conducting tissues. When the cambium is damaged, the tree begins to die. Larvae form into pupae that transform into callow or immature adults. Once fully mature, beetles leave the infected tree and start the life cycle over again.

At the height of infestation, beetles can produce multiple generations each year between the months of April and October. Bark beetles over-winter inside dead or dying trees in late fall. In early spring the hibernating beetles re-emerge and begin to spread to other living piñon trees.

To determine if a piñon has been infested with bark beetles, look for evidence of a “pitch tube,” a small hole surrounded by a buildup of sap. Other signs include small piles of sawdust around the base of the tree or in branch cross-sections, and browning of needles on the entire tree. While we would like to believe something could be done at this point to save the tree, there really is nothing that will save it.

—The above information is from

State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware told the Signpost that when bark beetles emerged from hibernation this spring, they found piñon trees that are healthier because of the increased amount of precipitation during the winter. Their attacks were thwarted by the healthy trees’ ability to “pitch out” by filling holes bored into the bark by beetles.

“The beetles can fly, but not very well,” Ware explained. “They can hop from tree to tree, but if the trees are healthy, many of the beetles move on or die.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that bark beetles are still here, waiting. Ware said that if May and June are dry, the infestation could return, especially in the more mountainous areas. Placitas and the Sandias are in pretty good shape, but the soil is still fairly dry.

“After four or five years of drought the vegetation sucked up a lot of the moisture in soil,” Ware said. “If it stays dry for a couple of months, the trees will again be under stress and susceptible to insects and disease. They are also stressed by increased development, roads, traffic, and pollution.”

Ware explained that watering trees (where and when appropriate) is the best defense. Insecticides are expensive, toxic, and not as effective.

Residents should consider leaving trees in place that have been dead long enough to lose all their needles, because they stabilize the soil and provide shade and habitat for new vegetation, “good” insects, and wildlife. Newly dead trees can be cut, especially to provide an interface around houses for fire prevention. Bark should be stripped back, and if beetles are found, the trees should be solarized by covering them with heavy, clear plastic.


Read these regulations before doing any burning

Bud Brinkerhoff
Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade

Each year, friends and neighbors ask me and other members of the Placitas Fire Department what burn restrictions and regulations exist for burning weeds or trash or stockpiles of dead piñons. The following is the spring and summer burning advisory for all unincorporated areas of Sandoval County for this year.

Burning of dry tumbleweeds and leaves in piles no larger than three feet by three feet will be allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily without a permit, weather permitting. However, you must call 867-4581, Extension 3, on the day of the burn to listen to a recording and make sure it is a “burn day.”

For all other burning, including slash piles and ceremonial, religious, and recreational fires, you must obtain a written permit from the fire marshal’s office one week in advance of the burn date. To achieve this permit, call 867-0245 Mondays through Fridays. But even with this permit, you must still call 867-4581, Extension 3, on the day of the burn to verify that it is a burn day.

Fire-extinguishing equipment, such as a water hose, bucket of water, shovel, and dirt, must be available at the burning site at all times. All fires must be attended at all times. No burning is allowed within fifty feet of any structure, combustible materials, or vegetation. If the winds start up and exceed fifteen miles per hour, the fire must be extinguished immediately.

The county fire marshal and all designated county fire departments reserve the right to inspect the burning site to insure that burning is conducted safely.

If the fire gets out of control, call 911 immediately.

Please use extreme caution when burning.


Youth jobs program to boost SC employment

Lawrence Rael

On May 15 the Workforce Connection of Central New Mexico will kick off its second Summer Work Academy to provide meaningful public-sector employment for graduating high school seniors and recent high school dropouts in Sandoval County.

Following last year's highly successful program, the 2005 Summer Work Academy will target young people from low-income families throughout Sandoval, Torrance, Valencia, and Bernalillo counties, with particular emphasis on rural areas. The Academy will provide jobs for up to fifty individuals in each of the four counties and will offer additional benefits within the workforce program, such as leadership development, mentoring, and tutoring. County and city managers will recruit eligible applicants from among recent high school graduates and students who have dropped out of school.

The Mid-Region Council of Governments oversees the administration of workforce investment programs and has contracted with local governments in the region to implement the program. “This is a great program for counties, villages, and for tribal entities, because young people are offered the employment they need and want, and because they benefit from exposure to the public sector,” said Lawrence Rael, MRCOG executive director. “This program provides practical, constructive, paid employment that prepares participants for future employment and/or postsecondary education.

For more information, contact Harold Vann at (505) 459-2307.






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