An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Illegal trails in a side canyon off of Gonzales Canyon

OHV users have been cutting illegal trails in a side canyon off of Gonzales Canyon trying to make a connecting route back up to the top of the mesa.

Off-road traffic threatens wildlife corridor

—TY BELKNAP
Mitch Johnson and Elise VanArsdale had worked for almost two years to find ways to protect Perdiz Canyon when they made a shocking discovery. The United States Forest Service (USFS) was considering designating the area including the upper end of the canyon as a playground for motorized off-road traffic. They found in April that the USFS had been conducting Travel Management workshops since October 2006, as mandated for all national forests. Proposed off-highway vehicle (OHV) routes had already been drawn through the La Madera and Cedro Peak areas of the Cibola National Forest.

Johnson and VanArsdale have met with local landowners, the Las Placitas Association (LPA), the Wilderness Alliance, and other organizations. Dave Parsons of the Rewilding Institute wrote in a letter to Johnson, “In my opinion, the opening of this area to off-road travel would have unacceptable impacts to ecologically-important species, such as mountain lions and black bears, biological diversity, and ecological and watershed values on both a local and eco-regional scale.”

The canyons to the east of Placitas on the north side of the Sandia Mountains that extend to NM 14 at La Madera represent the last unobstructed wildlife corridor to the Sandias and mountains to the south.

“Las Placitas Association strongly opposes the designation of the La Madera Area for ORV use. Our areas of concern include: pipeline easement access, increased potential for forest fires, lack of USFS oversight capabilities, environmental degradation, negative impact on wildlife and risk for cultural resource destruction,” according to a statement posted on the LPA website at http://www.lasplacitas.org/orv.html.

Since the La Madera area has been little-used by OHVs, few people realized that it was already open to motorized travel, as was Cedro Peak and any other part of the national forest that is not designated otherwise. In calling for reform of management rules, former USFS chief Dale Bosworth said, “Unmanaged recreation is one of the four major threats to the national forests.”

At a May 8 public workshop in Albuquerque, professional facilitators made one thing clear: motorized travel is a legitimate use of the national forest. This was an agency decision that came from the top. OHV use of public land is a huge issue nationwide, and the OHV lobby is said to be very powerful. Workgroups made up of OHV users, equestrians, homeowners, and hikers had tentatively agreed on designated roads and trails, and areas were identified on vehicle-use maps taped to the walls of the meeting hall.

A limited time at the meeting was provided for questions and discussion conducted within the ground rules included in the participant handouts. It was clear that the tree-huggers and the motor-heads agreed on very little about which parts of the national forest could be appropriately designated for controlled destruction. Three workgroup representatives from three stakeholder factions—two-wheel dirt bikes, four-wheelers less than fifty inches wide, and full-size trucks and SUVs—spoke of the cohesive way they had come together on trail design, even though different vehicle users tend to clash over trail size. Single tracks for dirt bikes are turned into double tracks for four-wheelers, which are then turned into jeep trails for full-size OHVs. Depending on the terrain, the different uses cause varying amounts of ecological damage.

Since this was the final step in the preliminary designation of routes for OHVs, there was apparently no need to hear from hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians in the group. All of these stakeholders were assured that they would also be allowed to use these routes (if they dared.) The USFS lacks funding and personnel to provide law enforcement in these areas. Users will be relied upon to ensure the rules are obeyed and to report infractions.

Workshop participants had until May 23 to make comments and suggestions or to propose more motorized routes. At a final meeting, Lloyd Swartz, representing the rock crawlers and full-sized OHVs, made a major push for being able to use the pipeline area.
In addition to the area already shown on the map, they drew in all of Tejon Canyon from the pipeline to the northern boundary, as well as the side canyon that extends west to the center of Section 11 and some connecting loops.

USFS will publish Proposed Action for Motorized Designation by late May, conduct scoping meetings, complete analysis, prepare environmental documentation through the summer, present environmental documents for public comment in October, make a decision in November, and finally publish the Motorized Visitor Road Map by the end of the year.
Sandia District Ranger Cid Morgan said that the varied users of Cedro Peak and nearby homeowners make the planned use of that area even more contentious than La Madera. She concluded, “No matter what they pay me to do my job, it’s not enough to make this decision.”

For more information concerning efforts to preserve Perdiz Canyon, call Mitch Johnson at 868-5100. For further information about the USFS travel management workshops, contact Nancy Brunswick, Travel Management Team Leader, Cibola National Forest at cibolatravel@fs.fed.us or 346-3900.
An informative photo gallery can be found at www.abundantadventure.com. (Click on Photo Gallery, then La Madera Area.)


illegal trails in a side canyon off of Gonzales Canyon

Concerned citizens gather in the Our Lady of Sorrows Social Center to hear and discuss potential improvement ideas for US 550, US 528, and I-25.

US 550 Study: The question
of congestion

—JAYDA PATTERSON
An open house and public discussion was held by the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) and the Mid Rio Grande Council of Governments (MRGCOG) at Our Lady of Sorrows Social Center on May 16. Potential improvement ideas for US 550, US 528, and I-25 were presented, and comments from residents were gathered.

The US 550 Transportation Study includes three possible connections between I-25 and Rio Rancho. These plans are preliminary and no decisions have been made. The first possible connection could be from I-25 to South Hill Road; the second possible option is I-25 to South Hill Road with improvements to the US 550/NM 528 Intersection; and the third possibility is a connection between I-25 and South Hill Road, with improvements to the US 550/NM 528 intersection and improvements to US 550 intersections at NM 313 and Camino Don Thomas.

In addition, five long-term options were proposed:

1) No improvements within the US 550 study area. Due to traffic congestion and accident rates, this option is probably not going to work much longer.

2) South corridor construction—south of existing US 550—focused on automobiles. This option would affect residents and farmers, and it would leave a large footprint through the Bosque.

3) US 550 improvements—a proposed expansion of the existing US 550 corridor focused on automobiles. This option would slow traffic during construction and make a larger footprint than what is currently in place. Right-of-ways would have to be bought and that would affect businesses and homes.

4) South corridor construction of a High-Capacity Transit Mode, meaning a maglev tram or bus corridor connected to the Rapid Ride, Rail Runner, and Park and Ride systems. Residents at the meeting said that perhaps either a maglev system or a tram over Tramway, Paseo del Norte, or Alameda that would connect to buses or rapid-ride systems would help the traffic congestion in Albuquerque, too.

5) US 550 improvements with the focus on a High-Capacity Transit Mode. This alternative has the least impact on wildlife, homes, and the environment of all the choices, but businesses would be affected. The footprint is much smaller than an automobile bridge. There are far fewer accidents every year on public transportation systems than on highways.

Most of the congestion is coming into Bernalillo from commuters driving between Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. Plans were outlined to turn the intersection into a roundabout, cloverleaf interchange, or exit ramps. Thirty-five to forty thousand vehicles travel US 550 on a daily basis, with traffic volumes rising six to seven percent per year. The study area is expected to include around eighty-eight percent more people by the year 2025.

At Exit 242 southbound, it is almost impossible to turn left. Part of the plan outlined at the meeting will probably include a new light, a new lane, a roundabout, or some other intersection or interchange.

According to the handout at the meeting, the NMDOT study of US 550 reported that eighty-two percent of accidents on US 550 were access-related (i.e., occurred at driveways or intersections). It also reported that the accident rate on US 550 was seven percent higher than the statewide average for similar roads. Various ideas were outlined at the meeting to deal with the problem, including possible signal modifications, restriping of lanes, intersection improvements, reversible lanes, and making gravel trucks take the Algodones exit.

Increasing transportation problems prompted the study, but many residents said that the traffic isn’t a problem for them—they just don’t drive at rush hour. They say they aren’t contributing to the traffic, so why should they have to lose their beautiful backyards and Bosque to the newcomers who have to get across the river? Bernalillo’s agricultural community does not want to lose the land they have cultivated for generations and they don’t want to see the last of the irrigated land in town paved. Residents of Bernalillo don’t want to lose either their homes or their land. Businesses don’t want all the traffic out of Bernalillo or wider roads that make their parking lots smaller. Santa Ana Pueblo depends on US 550 for the safe transport of its residents and business patrons. Obviously, it will be hard to make everyone happy.

“Why do all we small, poor communities have to subsidize the unfettered growth on the west side where large corporations and large land owners reap hellacious profits without any problem and we pay the cost to put in the infrastructure?” Bill Patterson, a Placitas resident, asked.

Lynette Devel commented, “My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my whole family is here in Bernalillo. There would be water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, structural damage to homes where roads might be built, lost property value, and a loss of quality of life. People would lose their homes and the land that they worked hard to acquire. The roads would make it so people would be going around Bernalillo instead of through, and that’s bad for business.”

Linn Leappy lives right on the border of the Sandia Reservation and right up against the river on the east side—she would be affected as well. “If they put a road through, then I would lose my home,” she said. I have an organic farm and wildlife habitat. Over the years, the animals, reptiles, and birds have come back.”


Rush Hour on 550

Bernalillo mayor Patricia Chavez (center) strolls down US 550 during rush hour with Congresswoman Healther Wilson and Rio Rancho mayor Kevin Jackson. All pledge to find a solution to the gridlock.

550 Corridor Study

—PATRICIA CHAVEZ, MAYOR, TOWN OF BERNALILLO
On behalf of the Town of Bernalillo, I thank all who attended the 550 Corridor Study Open House. Much of the information provided by the DOT included long-range plans that showed potential locations for an additional bridge. No final decisions have been made nor dollars allocated.

Our official public policy does not support an additional Rio Grande crossing within the jurisdiction of the Town of Bernalillo. Another crossing in Bernalillo is not an option, as it would represent condemnation of much private property (and prime real estate), and essentially contribute to the demise of Bernalillo. We already have one river crossing in our community!

Further, this administration continues to support US Highway 550 improvements that can be done within the existing right-of-way and without going to a dual-level structure. We will continue to protect private land ownership to the fullest degree possible and intervene emphatically on any proposal that has an adverse economic impact on our businesses.

As a region, all jurisdictions must necessarily revisit land use development and authorizing building permits/plans to ensure that they incorporate getting homeowners safely and efficiently from point of origination to work/play/shop destinations before those developments are approved, and then worrying about transportation access/congestion as an afterthought.

I encourage your continued input on the US Highway 550 Operational Improvement Study. Please provide written comments on this alternative to DOT. Our staff will make every effort to keep you informed. Visit www.townofbernalillo.org for updates.


Governor Bill Richardson appoints directors of Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority

Governor Bill Richardson announced the appointment of five directors to the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority. This board was created by HB 939, the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority Act, which was signed during the 2007 legislative session. The five appointees are Debbie Kilfoy, William Sapien, Wayne Sandoval, Dan Dennison, and Salvador Reyes.

“The Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority will work to prevent flooding on public and private lands and protect New Mexico residents,” said Governor Bill Richardson.

Debbie Kilfoy is currently the Planning and Zoning Chairperson for the Town of Bernalillo. She and her husband reside in Bernalillo.

William Sapien received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of New Mexico. Sapien served as a Sandoval County Commissioner for seven years and lives in Bernalillo.

Wayne Sandoval served as president of the Placitas Water Board from 1998 to 2006. He is currently a member of the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission. He lives in Placitas.

Dan Dennison holds degrees from the University of New Mexico and Vanderbilt University. He has an extensive background in storm water control. Dennison resides in Placitas.

Salvador Reyes is an environmental engineering consultant, as well as an adjunct professor in civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. Reyes lives in Algodones.

Under the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Act, Governor Richardson shall appoint five electors who will serve until their successors have been elected in November 2008. Board membership is based on population.

The Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority encompasses the areas of Placitas, Bernalillo, and Algodones; federal and tribal lands are excluded from this authority. The authority will manage flood control, and work to protect lives and properties in eastern Sandoval County.

The Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority is effective immediately.


Bad month for Sandoval Broadband

—SIGNPOST STAFF
May was a bad month for Sandoval Broadband, a project funded by $9 million of Sandoval County funds. The goal of the project is to create an ultra-high-speed wireless network that would distribute cheap bandwidth to Internet service providers throughout the county, even in the most remote rural areas.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the following:

• The State Auditor’s office, which has been conducting an audit of the project’s financial records since February, contracted a private investigation firm to further look into Sandoval Broadband’s records.
• State Auditor Hector Balderas said his office had “questions about how the project was created and financed” that were not answered during an audit.
• The gaps concern missing invoices for about $200,000 worth of equipment between January 2005 and February 2006.
• Sandoval County Commissioner David Bency was quoted, “There was not enough technical expertise to oversee that contract. We had no oversight mechanism.”
• Dewayne Hendricks resigned as CEO of Sandoval Broadband.
• Sandoval County Information Technology director Mike Hoag took over the coordination of the project for the county. “I think some of that equipment (being used) is not the right equipment,” Hoag said.
• There is no salary specified in the county’s contract with the Dandin Group, the company hired by Sandoval County to run the project, to determine Hendricks’ compensation for running Sandoval Broadband. Hoag said he thought the salary probably came out of engineering costs billed to the county.
• Currently, the only working signal that will be part of the network is from the signal provider IXNM, Inc. in downtown Albuquerque to the county courthouse in Bernalillo.
• Sandoval Broadband defaulted on its $36,000 contract with signal provider IXNM, Inc., who threatened to shut off the only source of bandwidth for the Sandoval Broadband project.

State auditor Hector Balderas addressed the Sandoval County Commission on May 17. He said that his office conducts annual audits of local governments statewide to insure fiscal responsibility. Special audits, such as the one investigating Sandoval Broadband are ordered when there is evidence of fraud, waste, or abuse. He said that questions arose about the project during the 2006 audit and that a private investigator was hired in 2007 because concerns remain. Subpoenas have been issued on project contractors and there is no timetable for completion of the investigation.

All commissioners solemnly defended the project, and commissioners Leonard and Bency asked Balderas if he could certify the routine audit before the special audit is completed, so Sandoval County could move forward with funding other projects, including the new $10 million administration building.

Debbie Hays told the Signpost, “It is apparent that we have significant issues with Dandin. We are conducting an inventory to see what we have.” Dandin was paid to provide service and equipment to get the backbone of the project up and running. Hays said that they did get a signal to the Jemez and Cuba last fall, however briefly, which proves that the project is doable. They also brought the cost of bandwidth down significantly—it would be cheap if it were available.

“Things were going well until the system crashed [due to technical problems and bad weather]. Since Hendricks took over from Jonathon Mann last October, not much has been accomplished on the technical side,” Hays explained. If the Dandin Group fails to deliver as contracted by the end of June, the county will consider litigation. Wireless technology has been over-hyped and under-delivered nationwide in projects such as the one in Rio Rancho. The developing technology often works better in theory than in the real world. A company called Net Logic has been hired to help determine what the system needs to get back on track.

Hays said that the technical side is just a small part of the project designed to bring initiatives in health care, public safety, education, and Internet service to rural areas of the county.

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert
I-25 widening to start in 2008

Interstate 25 between Bernalillo and Tramway Boulevard in Albuquerque will be widened to three lanes in each direction with construction beginning in early 2008. The project will also improve deficiencies in the interchanges and straighten part of the mainline I-25.

Project design should be done in September. Construction is scheduled in two parts, the first being in Bernalillo from the southbound on-ramp at Exit 242 to Exit 240. Work could take twelve to eighteen months. Project engineers plan to keep two lanes of traffic open in each direction during peak traffic hours.


P&Z meeting highlights development issues

—TY BELKNAP
At an April 24 public hearing, the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission considered two requests for family transfers of land. This was one of the first times the commission was called on to make such a decision since June 2006, when the Sandoval County Commission voted unanimously to adopt revisions to the county subdivision ordinance, dealing specifically with summary subdivision and family-transfer exemptions in Placitas.

Prior to these revisions, the relaxed provisions of the subdivision ordinance allowed requests for transfers of land to family members to be handled by the Sandoval County Development Department staff without a public process.

The first request by Fred and Mabel Smith to split their 2.5 acres with their daughter was granted with little discussion and no public comment.

The request from Placitas builder David Vandriessche was more complex. He proposed the division of about twenty acres into ten lots to be transferred to members of his family who were living in several different states. Vandriessche explained to the commission that he wanted to give the lots to his siblings and their children, and to his parents who had expressed an interest in building a cottage in Placitas.

Changes in family-transfer exemptions require public-hearing notification to adjoining property owners. In addition, subdividers using this exemption are now required to file sworn and notarized statements that ensure that land transfers will be used by family members for their own residential use and not as part of a development scheme.

By using this exemption, subdividers could possibly avoid the expense of summary subdivisions which require a grading-and-drainage plan to be submitted to the county engineer, and a water-availability assessment to be reviewed by the Office of the State Engineer.

Placitas resident Bill Patterson pointed out to the commission that Vandriessche had previously subdivided land in Placitas, and was in the construction business. He suggested that this request was an attempt to make an “end run” around county regulations. He also testified that the Vandriessche property had important archeological value and required careful planning to protect sensitive riparian areas, as well as the springs along Las Huertas Creek.

After discussion about conditions to ensure that Vandriessche’s generosity would not result in unregulated development, the commissioners voted to grant the request, but imposed all the conditions of a Class II subdivision. This action effectively cancelled any advantage of a family transfer.

In other action, the commission approved Delashe Investments’ request for the preliminary plat for Petroglyph Trails, a two hundred-seventeen-acre/one hundred forty-one-lot Type II subdivision. Several speakers expressed concern that access to the subdivision would come through the neighboring Trails subdivision. Developer Tom Ashe of Delashe Investments agreed to the prohibition of such an access. The commission ruled that all conditions had been met and approved the request.

Diamond Tail Estates postponed its request for consideration of a preliminary plat for its one hundred forty-two-lot Phase II.

The P&Z Commission approved the Diamond Tail request at the May 23 meeting after nearly three hours of testimony, both for and against.


Rotary hosts BBQ, Family Fun Event

There will be a Community Barbeque and Family Fun Event in Rio Rancho at Haynes Park at 2006 Grande Boulevard on June 10 from 12:00 noon to 6:00 pm. The fun starts with a traditional barbeque, including hamburgers, hot dogs, barbeque beef, pork, and chicken, along with salads and all the “fixins” served until 3:00 p.m. There will be live entertainment with bluegrass, rock, and pop music. Children’s activities will include face painting, bouncers, and more. A silent auction and fun raffles will run throughout the afternoon. Advance tickets are available at the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce, but are not required. The event is sponsored by the Rio Rancho Rotary Club to support local charities. For further information, call 238-3991.


Historical Society features Placitas Mountain Band

The Sandoval County Historical Society meets on Sunday, June 3, at 7:00 p.m. at the Delavy House. The highlight of the meeting will be a concert of old-time, folk, and bluegrass music by the Placitas Mountain Band. The Placitas Mountain Band has performed at the Sheraton Old Town, the Albuquerque Sunport, the Albuquerque Folk Festival, and the Santa Fe Bluegrass Festival, among other places.

The featured artist for this event is Bonnie McCrarry, whose pen and ink, watercolor, and acrylic paintings will also be showing at the Delavy House every Sunday from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
This program is free and open to the public. Please note that the 7:00 p.m. meeting time is for this musical program only. The Delavy House is in Bernalillo, on US 550, just west of Coronado State Monument, behind the Warrior Gas Station. For details, contact Martha Liebert at 867-2755.

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert
Secret subdivisions: the continuing saga

—TY BELKNAP
For over eight years, Placitas residents Bill Patterson and his wife Denise Cherrington have fought a lonely battle with the Sandoval County Development Department. In an article entitled “Secret Subdivisions,” which appeared in the March 1999 issue, the Signpost covered the first of many clashes over the uncontrolled development of an area north of the Village of Placitas called Indian Flats.

Patterson won that round when the Sandoval County commission upheld his appeal of the summary plat approval granted to the late Michael D’Ornellas for development of five one-acre lots on Indian Flats. The action was based on a technicality unrelated to Patterson’s complaint that subdivision ordinances were being bypassed by a “common promotional plan.”

He charged that thirty-two contiguous lots had been created using provisions intended for smaller subdivisions. “These thirty-two lots represent the first steps in what could result in three hundred lots on three hundred-sixty available acres,” he said. “This is comparable to the size of Diamond Tail [the subdivision that was taking the brunt of anti-development efforts], yet it would effectively circumvent rules for subdivisions of that size.”

Patterson insists that he is a supporter of property rights and is not trying to halt development—that he is motivated by the need to protect his own nearby property rights.

He explained, “A $200,000 house in an unregulated subdivision might look the same as a house in a subdivision which has gone through all the legalities, but there are several problems that are disguised in this form of affordable housing. Developers who follow all the rules incur costs that are passed on to the buyer. If other developers find ways around these rules, it leads to unfair competition. Eventually buyers pay for roads, drainage, surface water pollution, and other problems resulting from lack of planning. Buyers are misled because their affordable housing is worth less and costs them more. Finally, the cost of the infrastructure should be reasonably apportioned to new developments, rather than being passed on to us taxpayers.”

Speaking for Sandoval County, Gayland Bryant said at the time, “The commission’s action sends a clear message that the county expects and requires people to comply with the relaxed provisions of summary plats, which allow for smaller developments but not for circumvention of the subdivision regulations.”

In spite of these assurances, the development of Indian Flats continued with the approval of one small subdivision after another. It’s about half way to build-out. Access via Camino de las Huertas is overburdened and increasingly dangerous. New residents were nearly stranded by four wash-outs of the creek crossing. A three-hundred-lot subdivision was appearing without much county attention to water supply, drainage, traffic, environment, or archaeology.

In February 2006, in an attempt to better control residential development, the commission had approved a one hundred-twenty-day moratorium on relaxed provisions of the subdivision ordinance to allow time for the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission to work on changes without being flooded with last-minute applications. P&Z conducted two well-attended and contentious public hearings and recommended changes to the county commission.

Developers and private landowners complained that the revisions would make small summary subdivisions prohibitively expensive.

Sounding a lot like Bill Patterson, Sandoval County Development Department head Michael Springfield told the commission that people were abusing the process and that “you approve one of these and the next thing you know, you have an entire subdivision that you never expected.”

The revised subdivision ordinance made it much more difficult for developers to avoid regulations through family transfers. The more stringent requirements for water availability assessments have resulted in a decreased number of lots permitted in some subdivisions. There may be nothing, however, that planners can or will do about some of the problems associated with sprawl—not without interfering with the property rights of developers. Take Rio Rancho, for example.

There is still no provision in the regulations to consider the development of an area as a whole. According to Springfield, if a subdivision meets all the conditions, the county is obligated to approve it.

A case in point occurred on May 17, 2007, when, over Patterson’s objection, the county commission granted final approval to the forty-one-lot Wild Horse Mesa Subdivision on Indian Flats. This action occurred in spite of the fact that Patterson’s appeal of the preliminary approval is still under litigation in district court.

 

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