The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Las Placitas Association to host workshop on conservation easements

With residential development proceeding apace in the Placitas area, one wonders from time to time what our local landscape might look like in five, ten, or twenty years. What will remain of the great vistas and open spaces that drew many of us here in the first place?

Open-space preservation is an increasingly popular topic these days. Tracts of undeveloped land are valued by many, not just for the pastoral scenery they provide but for wildlife habitat and a host of other “ecological services.” With land values so high in Placitas, owners of developable tracts of land ask, how could I possibly realize any financial value out of my land without selling it for development?

Conservation easements provide an alternative to this default approach. A conservation easement is essentially a contractual agreement to leave a tract of land undeveloped, or developed in a limited way, subject to various stipulations, essentially dedicating the land as open space in perpetuity. Just as land may come with water rights or mineral rights, the conservation-easement contract effectively constitutes “development rights” which hold a discrete portion of the overall land value. As with the other resource rights, the conservation easement takes on a sort of commodity value. The easement may be sold (or donated) by a willing landowner to a willing buyer with an interest in preserving the land.

Current state and federal law allows for substantial tax breaks for individuals donating conservation easements. Some federal and state programs provide grant funds to pay for conservation easements on land with particular agricultural or ecological values. Conservation easements provide the opportunity of a win-win situation for both landowners seeking to realize the financial value of their holdings and communities interested in open-space conservation.

Las Placitas Association, a local nonprofit dedicated to preserving quality of life in the Placitas area, is hosting a half-day workshop on this fascinating and timely topic on Saturday, June 17, from 9:00 a.m. to noon, at the Placitas Community Center (41 Camino de las Huertas). Some of the state's leading experts on conservation easements and some local property owners who have donated easements on their land will share their knowledge and experiences. Join us for what promises to be an enlightening and valuable morning with LPA. Admission is free, and refreshments will be provided.

For more information, visit the LPA Web site,, or call LPA board members Lolly Jones (771-8020) or Reid Bandeen (867-5477).

Good news from Placitas Recycling Center:
“If it comes in the newspapers, it goes out with the newspapers”

One of Placitas’s great mysteries—and frustrations—has been eliminated. After months of confusion about what to take out of newspapers brought to the Placitas Recycling Center, the board of directors of the Placitas Recycling Association has reached an agreement with its vendor: “what comes with the paper, stays with the paper.”

In the words of board member Carol Rushton, “Just when you thought all was lost and no way to heal the pain of separation, along comes hope. For those who bring great passion to the art of recycling, there is very good news.”

Recyclers and volunteers who work at the recycling center no longer have to separate the kraft paper inserts from the rest of the newspaper. Master Fibers, to which the association hauls its paper, has decreed that nothing has to be separated from the newsprint—neither the slick-paper ads nor the kraft-paper advertisements.

“We want to thank the Placitas community for taking the time and effort to separate their newspapers in the past. Now we've all been given a break. We can put our anxiety on the shelf, get our life back, and dump those tabloids with abandon,” enthused Rushton. The new motto at the recycling center is “if it comes in the newspapers, it goes out with the newspapers.”

In other news, the Placitas Recycling Center has been selected by the New Mexico Recycling Coalition to receive a Recycling Achievement Award as the Community-Based Recycling Program of the Year. The award will be presented at a ceremony at the Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town on June 14.

The Placitas Recycling Association continues to look for new ways to support and promote recycling in the community. Other materials the center accepts include corrugated cardboard (clean and flattened), aluminum, No. 1 and No. 2 plastic, printer cartridges, brown paper bags, and white and mixed paper. “When we find out about places that accept recyclables we can’t take,” noted association president Len Stephens, “we try to pass it on. For example, we recently learned of a new location to recycle old tires. Jai Tires, on Girard, in Albuquerque, will take them off your hands for ninety cents each and recycle them into landscaping material.”

Information about this and other recycling locations, as well as a detailed list of what the Placitas location takes, can be found on the Placitas Recycling Center Web site,

The Placitas Recycling Center is on Highway 165, about a half-mile east of I-25, and is open every Saturday from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Corn ethanol isn't all it's cracked up to be

This was supposed to be a cakewalk, a no-brainer, a slam-dunk. Ethanol from corn lessened our dependence on foreign oil, they told us. It helped our struggling Midwestern farmers. It was much better for the environment. Who could not support this? As it turns out, quite a few of us. Ethanol plants are sprouting like weeds in mid-America, but more and more question marks are emerging along this corn-paved road to energy independence. Ethanol, as it is made from corn, isn't nearly the renewable fuel it's cracked up to be.

Here's the simple but telling equation: Our federal farm bill subsidizes the growing of corn—about $10 billion this past year, according to the Environmental Working Group. That policy leads to overproduction of this thirsty crop, which drains the Great Plains' precious Ogallala Aquifer and requires massive amounts of nitrate fertilizer that, inevitably, seep into that same groundwater.

Our federal, state and local governments also subsidize the building and operation of ethanol plants, usually with incentives and property tax breaks. Many of these plants have been cited for water and air pollution violations.

Yet another subsidy, more than 50 cents a gallon, occurs at the pump. The fuel desperately needs it because, depending on the ethanol content and the vehicle, it gets anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent worse mileage efficiency than regular unleaded. After all this, how can we view the corn ethanol apparatus any other way than the obvious? It is little more than political gift to the corn and ethanol lobbies.

When you scratch beyond those lobbies' slogans and sound bites, the realities emerge.The latest: Some, perhaps a majority, of our newest ethanol plants are making the switch from natural gas to coal to make the fuel. Because coal is cheaper, a new Iowa ethanol plant has chosen that route. Similar plants are planned for North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and perhaps Kansas. The problem, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, is that the carbon emissions alone from the coal plants will far outweigh any possible gains in using ethanol in our tanks.

Other corn ethanol realities:
•Producing one gallon of corn ethanol needs 1,700 gallons of water to irrigate the corn and process the fuel, according to Cornell researcher David Pimentel, who's been lambasted by ethanol proponents because he says what they don't like to hear. Because of that depletion, the Ogallala Aquifer in the Plains is under considerable stress. Crop irrigation has already effectively dried up most of the aquifer in the Texas Panhandle, western Kansas and eastern Colorado.
•Growing corn for ethanol increases soil erosion and reduces biodiversity, according to Washington State University researchers.
•The Des Moines Register, in an enterprise story last fall, found that Iowa's ethanol plants have contaminated the state's air and water. A corn ethanol plant in Hastings, Neb., was cited for clean-air violations every year from 1995 to 2004. And some studies performed in California, where ethanol blends are required in the Sacramento and Los Angeles areas, show that the fuel increases harmful emissions.
•Nearly half of all ethanol plants are owned by Cargill and ADM, and that percentage is likely to increase, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
•In parts of the Midwest this spring, the price of Ethanol-10 was higher than regular unleaded. Since a gallon of E-10 lacks the energy content of a gallon of regular, the price of the former must be 15 to 75 cents cheaper to offer any real savings for consumers. (Check out

So does all this mean we should forget ethanol entirely as a player in our energy future? Well, no. Ethanol will become a more attractive alternative when we kick our corn addiction and get serious about more efficient alternatives. It can be made from numerous materials—landfill waste, livestock manure, even beer waste, as Coors is demonstrating.

But what really has scientists and researchers excited is cellulose.These materials include wheat straw, hemp, miscanthus and switchgrass. The latter promises the greatest rewards. The technology is developing quickly. The huge advantages of cellulosic ethanol are threefold—it's much easier on our natural resources than corn, it yields much more energy per acre (and it's a perennial), and it emits two-thirds less greenhouse gases. America's first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant may break ground next year in Idaho. It will use wheat straw and barley to make its ethanol. That's a good first step. From there, we can pursue truly environmentally friendly fuels and put this culture of corn ethanol to bed.

Pete Letheby is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He is a writer and reporter in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Robert Tórrez to speak on acequia and land grants

On June 3, from 9:00 a.m. to noon, at the Placitas Community Center, Robert Tórrez, former New Mexico state historian, will speak on “Acequias and Land Grants in New Mexico History,” with a concentration on our area. Robert Tórrez is the author of UFOs Over Galisteo and Other Stories of New Mexico. He has also published numerous articles in periodicals such as True West, Historical Review, and New Mexico Magazine. This event is sponsored by Las Placitas Association. For further information, please contact Elaine Sullivan, at 771-1171.

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