The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

 
THE GAUNTLET

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letters, opinions, editorials

re: traffic woes

A key person at Sandoval County Public Works said if Placitas wants to get NMDOT to do something about the daily commute problems, it can use as a model what the North Valley did, when a group of diverse people created a unified coalition that spoke for the community as a whole. Individuals whining won’t make a difference.

Asked if Placitas had a land use management plan in place, a Sandoval County community development administrator said that a few years ago, Placitas was given a chance to create one, but for lack of a unified voice, the effort died out because there was no consensus between the ones who were here first and the ones who came after them.

At the recent US 550 transportation study open house, three consultants hired by NMDOT and MRCOG were asked why Phase A did not include a serious immediate plan to re-route or at least address heavy gravel truck traffic (between fifty and seventy-five trucks cross Exit 242 each hour during heavy Placitas commute hours) and why, for that matter, the area called Placitas wasn’t even on their graphic presentation maps.

The Sandoval County Sheriff’s department pays its patrol officers to babysit the gravel trucks during heavy morning commute hours to make sure they at least stop at the stop sign. When the officers aren’t there, one out of four gravel trucks do not obey the law. The Sheriff’s Office says they hand out numerous tickets to the truck drivers, but it does no good.

When asked who is responsible for upgrading signage for safety concerns on the frontage road where developers are intending to put in yet two-hundred-plus more houses and LaFarge is intending to expand its aggregate mining, the Bernalillo Police Department said it is the State’s responsibility to enforce that situation and study the problems.

A key person in the NMDOT District 3 engineering office said that unless politicians shake loose money to help with the traffic mess Placitas faces each morning, it will take years to improve the situation.

While some highway improvements will have to be installed by the developers, the main brunt of the increased traffic will still flow into the congestion with the current single stop sign still humbly in place.

The Town Council of Bernalillo has created a TIF (tax-increment financing district) below the Piedra Lisa Dam and intends to attract private development. There has been no published intention to address the traffic off that at this time.

The I-25 improvement from Tramway to Exit 242 is expected to take eighteen months to complete. The impact on our traffic is going to be horrendous. Brace yourselves.

A movement to create Placitas County fizzled. Do you feel a wee bit disenfranchised that Placitas has no voice in any of what’s happening to us? We are just an ‘area’—an addendum to Bernalillo Town by location, a tax-base to Sandoval County which is over two thousand square miles, and we are growing every time the county okays another home built. Have you called and gone the circuitous route like other individuals in trying to get information, or even have a say, only to hang up and wonder who really is in charge? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could think like a community, work like a community, and actually be a community? We want a safe place to live and we want Placitas’ needs to be heard. I think it’s time we come together with a real plan for our immediate protection and control of our future community goals.

Is there anyone willing to spearhead this effort?

—CHRIS HUBER, Placitas


re: tree planting thanks

Dear Signpost,
Just a quick note to thank everyone (particularly Francis) at the Placitas Mercantile for their support of Forest Guardians’ Stream Team events this year (see article, May 2007). The Merc provided delicious vegetarian and vegan sandwiches which the tree planters loved. We planted over seven hundred-fifty cottonwoods, one hundred-fifty container plants, and thousands of willows at three sites: Las Huertas Creek, Santa Fe River, and Rio Puerco. It was a good year for river restoration!

—CAROL NORTON, FOREST GUARDIANS

re: Santa Ana Pueblo and US 550

I would like to respond to the article written by Eric Collins about the Pueblo of Santa Ana being a bad neighbor and us being “his” sole problem for traffic congestion in Bernalillo.

First off, the sites are sacred and un-divulged for a reason, and second, we are not responsible for this unplanned second coming of manifest destiny (this includes Placitas) that has been occurring around us. For the Pueblo not to make a profit of it would be totally un-American.

—KORN, Santa Ana Pueblo


re: I-25 expansion

The I-25 lane expansion is great for highway contractors and a rip-off for the rest of us. How high do gas prices have to go before we can all admit that single passenger auto commuting is not sustainable?

Why not put the I-25 project on hold and use a tiny fraction of that money to expand the Park and Ride by, let’s say, four hundred percent, in the next eighteen months. Just as we pay to have buses pick up our kids and take them to school and back every day, let’s design bus routes to pick up commuters from, or very near, their homes and take them to work and back. Large employer destinations such as Sandia Labs, the University area hospitals, downtown Albuquerque and others, would easily make this feasible. Incentives by employers, tax advantages of transportation as an employee benefit, the convenience and savings in time, stress, and the skyrocketing costs of driving would fill these buses immediately.

There is a lot of money to be made expanding highways. A lot of money! The highway contractors and their allies will lie and bully and manipulate and conspire for their bottom line. Greed does not care about global warming, families’ transportation budgets, or the future of the community. As citizens and taxpayers, we must stand up for our own interests.

—DAN GIPS, Placitas


re: highway to run through Bernalillo bosque?

It’s so frightening to hear the discussion about building a huge passageway from Rio Rancho to I-25 through the bosque in Bernalillo. I’m sure you’ve heard about it, right? I was hoping you might write something in the Signpost so that more people can be aware and we can all fight it. They should just turn the Highway 550 interchange into a multi-layered interchange similar to the Big I and leave our end of town alone.

—JULIANNA KIRWIN, Bernalillo

[See related story, page 1, this Signpost.]


re: ill-planned highway construction negatively impacts Placitas Studio Tour and soccer tournament

AN OPEN LETTER TO LARRY VELASQUEZ, DISTRICT ENGINEER, NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Dear Mr. Velasquez,

I am writing to express my frustration with the timing of the work done on State Highway 550 during the weekend of May 12–13, 2007. Surely you have heard from many others regarding the long delays (as much as an hour sitting in northbound traffic on I-25 between exits 240 and 242, as well as delays getting onto I-25 at exit 242.

For ten years, the Placitas Studio Tour has been held on Mother’s Day weekend. Fifty-nine artists worked for months to prepare work, mailed invitations, sent out press releases to the media, and then on Saturday and Sunday, waited for customers. New Mexico Magazine published a beautifully-illustrated article about the tenth annual tour, the Journal and Tribune gave good advance coverage, and an eight-page guide was included in the May issue of the Signpost. Ads were taken in The Magazine in Santa Fe, ABQ Arts, and other publications.

This event has always attracted visitors from Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, and Santa Fe, but this year, all artists reported a big decrease in traffic. (Well, that is to say, they reported a decrease in customers, because actually there was plenty of traffic in the area of the lane closures.) Everyone who made it to my studio from outside of Placitas reported long delays, and expressed disbelief that Mother’s Day weekend would be intentionally disrupted. Apparently there was a soccer event as well, adding to the traffic.

Having lived in Placitas since 1975, we have seen tremendous growth in this area. Now we try not to leave Placitas during Monday through Friday morning and evening rush hours. The “regular” traffic is more than the current roads were built for, even without lane closures.

While we understand the need to schedule repairs on our damaged and inadequate roads, surely in the future, major work can be done at night. This is a safety issue as well as an issue of inconvenience: I recall that when the Chile Hill Emporium burned at Jackalope, the media reported that fire engines were stuck in traffic on 550.

Please be aware when scheduling repairs and construction in the future that we are already heavily stressed at exit 242, and that some serious long-term planning is necessary on Highway 550 as the major housing developments already planned to the west are built out. I-25 is bad enough, but 550 is worse.

Sincerely,

—DOROTHY BOWEN, Placitas


Correction:

In the May 2007 issue of the Sandoval Signpost, “What’s the Word?” mistakenly named Kris Blad as the owner of Buttons and Bows. This Placitas dry cleaning service, located in Homestead Village, is actually owned by Troy and Tammy Bradley.


Re: Santa Ana pueblo and US 550

I have worked with the pueblo of Santa Ana for just over ten years. One thing I have learned working with these people is their culture is much different than mine. There are many things I may take for granted that the tribal members find sacred.

I do not question what is sacred to them. It’s part of their culture, their beliefs. Which leads me to my own belief—that what helps feed, clothe, and/or empower me is sacred.

Why would the tribe want a bypass through their land? I know I would not want the pollution (air, noise, garbage in general) associated with a major road going over my home; why should they? Besides, the reservation land is theirs, the tribe can do whatever they choose or not choose to do with it. I personally feel it is not the tribe’s responsibility to help fix the problem of someone else’s poorly planned development.

I also feel the tribal enterprises are a benefit for the neighbors. There are employment opportunities for local people. There are revenues being made that funnel into tribal programs that help keep the tribe off federal and state dollars—our tax monies. Needless to say, 8.5 percent of the revenue from the casino goes to the State of New Mexico. We can spend leisure time in a few very nice places without having to drive miles or head out of state. My friends have an opportunity to buy locally grown agriculture products. Many plants available at Santa Ana Garden Center are beneficial to our landscapes, in our ever-growing, water-needy communities. If we spend our money locally, we don’t have to drive so far to spend it.

I personally thank the hundreds, gaggles, herds, and thousands that will support the pueblo of Santa Ana, with or without a bypass. I’ll see you on the road!

—CAROL SCRIVNER, Algodones


re: competitive states
To Friends Back East:

Thanks again for visiting me in New Mexico. I greatly enjoyed your company and am glad you each had a safe return to your respective asphalt jungles.

I do, however, find it necessary to address a couple of items that came up during your stay. You had some fun with the official New Mexico state question, i.e. “Red or green?” referring to chile preference. You each called it “dumb.” Are you aware that the official questions for your states are, “Is that thing loaded?” and, “Where’s the cash box?” respectively? At the risk of seeming confrontational, I strongly favor “Red or green?” to either of your state questions.

You also ridiculed the New Mexico state bird—the roadrunner—as “gawky” and “graceless.” While you are each entitled to your opinions, do you really think that your own state bird designations—the “Soiled Dove” and the “Northeastern Pecker”—are in any way superior? I think not, but respect your right to a different point of view.

On the other hand, I’m glad you’re happy with your mounted jackalope heads with their magnificent antlers. As the (specially licensed) sales clerk indicated, these are extremely rare animals and are protected from hunters. Yours each died from cardiac arrest while doing what jackalopes do best and were part of a large herd owned by Ted Turner. Enjoy their decorative beauty. I think your new, large orange Styrofoam cowboy hats and anatomically correct prickly pear cacti are also very nice souvenirs that will serve you well back east.

I’m sorry you did not like the Santa Fe/Albuquerque cuisine. I enjoy dining in so many restaurants in both cities and regret your bad experiences. Perhaps on your next visit you’ll subject the area to sterner tests than blueberry bagels and pastrami sandwiches. You should have at least tried the corn dogs.

I don’t mean to be critical at all, and look forward to your next visit. I’ve also experienced some difficulty adjusting to this area; e.g., I only recently discovered that the yellow and black traffic signs indicating “hump” and “speed hump” here in Placitas are nouns rather than perverse verbal commands from the public roads people. So, it all takes time.

Speaking of time, I’m afraid that my fine cat Patrick’s friend Lochinvar, the six-foot bull snake that hangs around the patio, may have found his way into your luggage. Would you please Fed Ex him back if you encounter him? Patrick misses him. Thanks!

See you again soon.

—YOUR FRIEND, HERB, Placitas


re: local concerns and highway department answers

[Placitas resident Dorothy Bowen emailed an open letter to government officials, including NMDOT traffic engineer Tony Abbo who replied via email. Their exchange is presented here in question-and-answer format.]

• BOWEN: I am writing in regard to the dangerous traffic congestion at the I-25-242 exit, which serves the entire northwestern part of New Mexico and Placitas, where we live.
ABBO: The NMDOT is looking at short- and long-term solutions to resolve congestion at the I-25 and US 550/NM165 interchange, as well as the US 550 corridor. We are working diligently on the matter and I hope that you will start to see some of these improvements in the near future.

• BOWEN: I understand that I-25 will be soon widened to three lanes up to, but not past, exit 240.What will happen to all the traffic headed to Rio Rancho, Cuba, Farmington, and Placitas? Has anyone counted how many cars actually exit at 240? My guess is that most traffic continues on at least to 242, or would prefer to. Many of those who exit at 240 now are heading to Rio Rancho and trying to avoid the backup at 242, increasing the traffic on Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo. As planned developments in northern Rio Rancho build out, this will get worse. A shutdown from three lanes to two beyond 240 will cause a lethal bottleneck.
ABBO: The three-lane section on northbound I-25 will extend to the I-25/US550/NM 165 interchange with one the through lanes dropping at the Interchange itself. I believe that there will be a two-lane exit at the north Bernalillo interchange.

• BOWEN: What if there were a Rail Runner parking lot on the east side of the freeway and a safe way to cross on foot to the station?
ABBO: I do not see this as being a viable option as the distance between the station and the proposed location east of I-25 may discourage some people from using the service. We need to make access to the Rail Runner as convenient as possible, so that we can make people want to get out of the automobile and into the train.

• BOWEN: What if Rail Runner ran more often?
ABBO: I will forward this question to the Rail Runner staff so that they can respond.

• BOWEN: What if the eastbound traffic at 242 had its own exit lane and didn't have to slow the egress of westbound vehicles?
ABBO: This option is being looked at.

• BOWEN: What if there were a light for traffic heading south from Santa Fe trying to go east at 242?
ABBO: There is serious consideration been given to removing the signal at Hill Road and moving it east to the southbound I-25 off/on ramp intersection.

• BOWEN: What if the gravel pit traffic were restricted to non-rush hour times?
ABBO: We have looked into that solution. Unfortunately, there numerous hurdles that we need to go through to get the restrictions placed. It is my understanding that the pits further north have voluntarily complied with this requirement but I not know if they are still self-enforcing what was promised.


Editorial
More inconvenient truths

—VICTOR KAMBER
Why are so many Democrats feeling uneasy about the 2008 elections? Every indication is they’re going to win big. Republicans in Congress are sure doing their part to keep Democratic hopes high. Hardly a day passes without the GOP leadership blocking some new initiative people desperately want—such as ending the hated Iraq war or refusing to allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices. You might think they’re tanking this election, which they don’t want to win. And you could be right.

Why else would Rudy Giuliani, the liberal, pro-choice former mayor of a city they despise, be their leading candidate for president? Sure, Republicans love his campaign slogan (“Vote Democrat and Die!”), but TV’s Fred Thompson is already rehearsing that line, and with his years on “Law & Order,” will be more convincing.

The GOP faithful doesn’t much like what has happened to their party under Bush. They recall how Barry Goldwater’s landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson devastated the conservative movement for a generation. So if 2008 is shaping up like that kind of debacle, why not let that slug Giuliani absorb the beating to show what happens when the party abandons its family values and tops its ticket with an adulterous, value-challenged weasel?

Of course, that’s only speculation. What is really bugging Democrats is the inconvenient truth that the next president will inherit a federal government resembling the Gulf Coast after Katrina. Comptroller David Walker says the “biggest threat facing the U.S. is not terrorism but fiscal irresponsibility.”

Deficit spending by President Bush and the Republican Congress increased the national debt by $3 trillion in six years, to an unprecedented $8.8 trillion, or $29,000 for every American. What the Bushies have done to the federal government makes a piker of Grover Norquist and his tax dodgers—all Grover wanted to do was make government so small you could “drown it in a bathtub.” The Bushies expanded the government and made it so costly, globally-hated and incompetent, the country may never recover.

Iraq is the only war America ever waged without raising taxes to fund it. Instead, President Bush cut taxes for the rich and told everyone else to “go shopping.” In his new book, Paying for America’s Wars, Robert Hormats argues that failure to engage the American people in funding the war not only runs counter to tradition, but big deficits and heavy dependence on foreign capital will place U.S. security in peril for decades to come. Hormats, by the way, is no liberal weenie. He’s vice chairman of Goldman Sachs and a former official of the National Security Council.

Getting out of Iraq will not solve all the economic problems the Bush administration won’t be around to see. We’ve deferred payments, our military is threadbare, our trade balance is a disgrace, our infrastructure is crumbling, our social programs are withering, and the most vulnerable people in our society are at the greatest risk they’ve been since before the New Deal.

The American public must be prepared for some very hard times. What’s ahead for the “winning” Democratic ticket isn’t just straw hats, spangled bunting, and “Happy Days Are Here Again”—which is why mainstream Republicans are chortling as Democrats prepare to regain the White House.

If Goldwater’s defeat set conservatives back two decades, think about the Democrats in 2008 and their two talented front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Can you imagine a worse time for the first woman president or the first black president—succeeding a man who entered the Oval Office with surpluses as far as the eye could see, and leaves it treading water?

To Rush Limbaugh, the Bush Legacy never looked so good.

Victor Kamber’s blog can be read at www.victorkamber.com.

Kids Count data shows greater hardships for NM’s Hispanic children

While New Mexico enjoys a rich Hispanic heritage and cultural traditions, our young Hispanic population does not fare as well as it should. A new Hispanic Kids Count report, released by New Mexico Voices for Children, shows that the state's Hispanic children suffer from a number of hardships more than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts.

More than half of all children in New Mexico are Hispanic, yet the percentage of Hispanic children living in poverty is higher than for New Mexico children in general. The percentage of Hispanic children with no parents in the workforce is also higher than the state average. Things don't seem to improve as these children enter adulthood, as fewer 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics have at least a high school diploma, and a higher percentage is idle (meaning they are not in school, working, or enlisted in the military).

"The Hispanic population is the fastest growing population here in the U.S.," said Juan A. Delgadillo, Chair of the Hispanic Statement of Cooperation. "So we have to ask ourselves, what do we want that population to look like in ten, twenty, even thirty years? Do we want a population of successful people who make valuable contributions to society? Or do we want an underclass of disenfranchised souls who grew up being shown that they were not worth much investment?"

"The Hispanic culture is one of honoring tradition, working hard, taking pride in that work, and family values," said Ralph Arellanes, District I Director of LULAC and Executive Board member to the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico. "Unfortunately, hard work alone is no longer the key to the American Dream that it once was. New Mexico's children need a better support system if they are to succeed."

"Today's children are tomorrow's doctors, teachers, business leaders and politicians. How they'll take care of us in our old age will be a direct reflection of how we take care of them now," said State Representative Rick Miera, Chair of the House Education Committee.

New Mexico Voices for Children believes that inequitable outcomes for racial minorities cannot be overcome unless they are intentionally addressed.


State would save more than $1 billion with Pre-K investment

A study released in May 2007 by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that participation in a high-quality pre-kindergarten program provides a child—and society at large—with life-long social and economic benefits. "Enriching Children, Enriching the Nation" states that children who receive early child education are less likely to repeat a grade or require special education or child welfare services. They are less likely throughout their lifespan to engage in criminal activity and as adults they earn higher incomes.

The study projects that by the year 2050, New Mexico would save more than $1 billion from reduced crime if it implemented a universal pre-K program for all three- and four-year-olds now. And we'd see more than $2 billion more in increased wages and benefits.

"The study reinforces what we've been saying for years," said Bill Jordan, policy director for New Mexico Voices for Children. "The benefits of early childhood education are many and well worth the investment. Science tells us that more than 85 percent of brain development occurs in the first few years of life," he added, "and yet less than one-half of one percent of our state budget is spent on these early years.

"By contrast, over sixty percent of the state budget is spent on K–12 and higher education. One of the reasons our children fail to reach their full potential is that we've failed to invest in them when it is most crucial."

Jordan likens the brain development that occurs in early childhood to the frame and foundation of a building—it is the structure upon which all future learning and development is built. But unlike a building foundation, which can be shored up later, that brain development can only occur in the first few years of life. A missed opportunity for developing this critical structure can never be recovered.

The study points out that pre-K is one of the only public programs that pays for itself in the long run and it advocates for a national pre-K program as a way to strengthen the U.S. economy by raising incomes, improving worker skills, and reducing poverty.

"High quality early childhood education isn't just the right thing to do for our children—it's the right investment for our state and our country," Jordan added.

The study, written by well-known economist Robert Lynch, is available here: http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/book_enriching.


Harvesting the sky

—CHRISTINA OPDAHL
Old-timers remember when the Santa Fe River, which cuts through the middle of the city, ran year-round. These days, the river—when it runs at all—is little more than a trickle through a dry, sandy arroyo.

Santa Fe and its sixty-five thousand residents are dangerously close to outgrowing their water supply. The city’s reservoirs on the Santa Fe River above town provide about forty percent of its water; the rest comes from wells. Meanwhile, the local economy rests heavily on the building industry, which adds some four hundred to eight hundred homes annually. Despite implementing strict water restrictions in the last decade, adding four new city wells, and planning for a water diversion project from the Rio Grande, the city estimates that it could experience water shortages after 2015.

Many Western cities face the bleak combination of rapid growth and a maxed-out water budget. But Santa Fe is working on an innovative solution. If Mayor David Coss gets his way, the city will adopt an unprecedented ordinance requiring all new buildings to install rainwater-harvesting systems. Long championed by green builders, these systems funnel rainfall from rooftops into cisterns, where it’s stored for later use.

Some systems purify the captured runoff for drinking and bathing, but most just use it to water lawns and plants. A growing number of buildings use rainwater to flush toilets.

“Rainwater harvesting puts water right back into the system when it is used that way,” says Paul Paryski, who co-wrote the ordinance currently being considered by the city. “It puts it back into the treatment plant. There’s a net increase in water in the system” because rainwater that would otherwise be lost to evaporation is captured and contained.

Using the captured water for irrigation or toilets reserves treated city water for drinking or bathing. An inch of rain falling on a one-thousand-square-foot roof can add up to more than five hundred gallons of stored water. In Santa Fe, where it rains about fifteen inches a year, that amounts to seven thousand gallons per home. If most of the town’s buildings had such systems, almost two thousand acre-feet each year—about twenty percent of the city’s total water use—could be collected.

New Mexico water managers encourage rainwater harvesting. But upstream, in Colorado, using rainwater in this way is illegal, and punishable by a fine of up to $500 per day.
“Rainwater harvesting interferes with water rights,” explains Marta Ahrens, public information officer for the Colorado Office of the State Engineer. “Even if that person puts that water back into the groundwater system, the problem is that it is used first. (It) interferes with the priority system.”

John Longworth, chief of the Water Use and Conservation Bureau in the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, acknowledges that rainwater harvesting holds an ambiguous place in the world of water law. “It’s a tough place to be,” he says. “At this point, we’re using this policy (encouraging rainwater harvesting) as a common-sense approach. In New Mexico, these kinds of activities have been going on for hundreds of years. If you’re not going to be pulling water off of a roof, then you’re pulling it out of a domestic well. It’s six [of] one, half dozen [of] another.”

Other cities and states also encourage the practice. Seattle has included systems on some of its municipal buildings; Portland awards grants to fund projects incorporating it; and the state of Texas has passed incentives to promote rain harvesting. Even the county surrounding Santa Fe requires new homes over twenty-five hundred square feet to include water harvesting systems. But if the city of Santa Fe adopts the proposed ordinance requiring all new buildings to capture rainwater, it would be the first municipality to pass such a law.

Residents and builders aren’t waiting for the ordinance, however. Many houses already have elaborate catchment systems, and a six-hundred-gallon cistern sitting in a Santa Fe courtyard is not unusual. Even mainstream developers are catching on. At Lena Street Lofts near downtown, a live/work development under construction, rainwater running off the roof will fill a sixty-thousand-gallon cistern, providing about eighty percent of the water needed for toilets. Homes at another development have six hundred- to twelve hundred-gallon systems for irrigation.

And the Santa Fe Railyard, which includes businesses, municipal buildings and residences, will be linked to a 110,000-gallon rainwater-harvesting system. Nearby, El Corazon, a new condominium community, waters plants with rainwater stored in two fifty-thousand-gallon holding tanks.

But relying too much on the “free” water that falls from the sky could be asking for trouble, says Claudia Borchert, water resource coordinator for the city of Santa Fe. “I’m all for trying to catch rainwater,” she says. “The problem is, people still want to have their green gardens even when it doesn’t rain.” In Santa Fe, the annual fifteen inches of precipitation tends to come from quick cloudbursts separated by long periods without rain. “Then it’s hot, and people are watering, and it hasn’t rained in the last three weeks,” Borchert says. “That’s the day you have to plan for, the peak day. And it costs a lot.”

Cristina Opdahl, a former resident of Santa Fe, now lives in a cistern-equipped home in rainy Fayetteville, West Virginia. This article originally appeared in High Country News (www.hcn.org), which covers the West’s communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.

Heard around the West

—BETSY MARSTON

COLORADO
A ski instructor at Powderhorn Ski Resort near Grand Junction, Colo., was riding a lift some 30 feet above the Red Eye trail when he looked down and saw a wide-awake black bear. It was standing at the mouth of a cave no longer blocked by snow. Rick Rodd took a quick photo, but was sorry he didn’t get a peek at the den’s other residents — two cubs born while their mother was hibernating through the winter. A spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife told the Vail Daily that “people have probably been skiing past this bear for years and never given it any thought.” What was different this year was an early spring with mild temperatures; this caused the snowpack to begin melting and also woke up some bears in mid-March, when skiers were still on the slopes. A resort spokeswoman said there were at least two other dens at Powderhorn occupied by newly awakened bears and their cubs; this led to the closing of the Sweet Misery and Diversion runs as well as the Red Eye. The bears regained some of their privacy March 26, when the resort closed for the season.

ARIZONA
The Arizona Republic shared some good news April 6, as well as some bad news related to the good news. The first story: “Deserts may avoid wildfires due to low precipitation.” A second story took a different tack on the no-rain, no grass to burn, no-fire prediction: “Southwest could become Dust Bowl, study warns.”

OREGON
Eugene’s annual used-book sale, organized by Friends of the Library, turned vicious last year, reports the Register-Guard. “Aggressive and boorish” Internet booksellers hired local people to wait in line, and when the doors opened, they swarmed in and threw sheets over tables, claiming every book. “It was over the top — it was savage,” said one local bookseller and frustrated buyer. The monopolizers used portable scanners, cell phones and laptops to identify rare and valuable books, then shoved their discards into a disorganized heap. Fed-up volunteers who had spent months collecting and sorting books were so dismayed that they’ve tightened up rules for this year’s book sale. There will be no saving places in the line that starts forming the night before, you can look at only one box of books at a time, and you better put back what you don’t buy.

COLORADO
A lot of skiers don’t know it, but when they slip off a lift and slide down a mountain, they’re apt to be skiing on land owned by the public and managed by the Forest Service. That gives the agency the upper hand when it comes to telling the Aspen Skiing Co., for instance, that it has to demolish a dozen or so shacks on Snowmass Mountain. These are rough structures where skiers go to “to take a break and spark a joint,” reports the Associated Press. The smoke shacks that keep popping up at Snowmass are within the White River National Forest, as are some shrines, though the latter are more prevalent on private land on Aspen Mountain. Shrines seem more basic than smoke shacks: “It doesn’t take more than an hour to go in, nail a bunch of memorabilia, photographs, silk flowers and a pair of panties to a tree.” Smoke shack or shrine, they’re about to be history if they’re on public land. The Forest Service calls them “unapproved structures,” or as one agency manager put it, “One man’s shrine gets to be another’s trash.”


Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (betsym@hcn.org). Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.

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