MAY 14, 2009 — 350 Carroll Elementary School students joined other Bernalillo residents on NM 550 to welcome President Obama as his caravan passed through town. Traveling with Governor Bill Richardson, President Obama was in Sandoval County for a town hall meeting at Rio Rancho High School on credit card debt. Governor Richardson said,” he's pleased the president addressed "this critical economic issue." He says New Mexico's working families are struggling under the weight of credit card debt fueled in part by out of control interest rates and fees.
Overlook subdivision water transfer application withdrawn
—Ty Belknap, Signpost
After ten years of legal wranglig over the Lomos Altos water transfer application, the outcome was ultimately decided by fatigue. Lomos Altos, Inc. (LAI), developers of the Overlook subdivision in Placitas, lost in a war of attrition with protestants in their efforts to transfer nine acre-feet of water rights from Valencia County.
Nobody got what they really wanted—certainly not LAI. On April 28, 2009, the Thirteenth Judicial Court allowed LAI to withdraw the transfer application, dismissed third party complaints, and dismissed any claims and counter-claims against LAI without prejudice.
After investing countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars, the decision means that LAI must drill several domestic wells to provide enough water for build-out of the Overlook subdivision.
The protestants didn’t get the landmark decision on water policy that they had hoped for. Protestant Bob Wessely told the Signpost, “It’s disappointing that the outcome was determined by fatigue rather than the merits of the case. This case was an opportunity to address the issue of unlimited pumping of a limited supply of water as allowed by current regulations.”
Protestant Lynn Montgomery declared in 1998 that he would protest all water transfers to the Placitas area due to the alleged impairment of surface and senior water rights. He now promises to continue to use the legal system to oppose development and unrestricted water use. (See letter in Gauntlet, this Signpost.)
The process started in March, 1999, when the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) rescinded the transfer approval due to inadequate publication. OSE agreed to consider several protests and in November, 2000, the protestants and applicants, along with their lawyers and hydrologists, squared off for three days of testimony regarding the effect of pumping an additional nine acre-feet per year.
OSE and LAI hydrologists presented evidence that the efffect would be “de minimus,” or too small to measure. The OSE subsequently approved the transfer application. The protestants appealed the decision to District Court, then to the New Mexico Appeals Court. The court ruled in favor of LAI. Finally, the protestants appealed all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
In December, 2006, the Supreme Court remanded the case to lower courts and ordered the OSE to consider impacts on all potential irrigation water-rights holders in the area. LAI attorneys notified about one hundred holders of pre-1970 water rights that they were being required by the courts to either validate their potential irrigation rights or to sign a waiver agreeing to extinguish them.
According to Bob Poling of LAI, this started a “firestorm of protest and misunderstanding.” Poling stated, “LAI would like to sincerely apologize to any Placitas residents who thought we were trying to take away their right to use water ... LAI was trying to promote the conservation of water and limit the number of domestic wells drilled in the Placitas area.” (See letter in Gauntlet, this Signpost.)
Jack Bates was one of the potential irrigation rights holders notified by the LAI—one of the third-party defendants. He said, “I was pretty incensed when a process server showed up with a notification from people I’d never heard of, apparently sueing me for my water rights.” He said that because of this, he spent “a fair amount of money on legal fees and suffered through a lot of inconvenience and adversarial nonsense due to the sloppy work of LAI attorneys.” He concluded that he is satisfied that the case is over at this point as long as “it never comes back again.”
Bob Wessely said that the Supreme Court judge’s decision to require the OSE to consider the broader impacts of water pumping was based on the merits of the protestants’ case. He said, “The effect of the Lomos Altos protest could be seen as anti-development, but the intent was to force regulators to deal sensibly with the water supply.”
If LAI doesn’t start drilling the domestic wells soon, they could be back in court. Last July a lower court ruled that the state law which requires the OSE to approve all domestic wells is unconstitutional. This ruling was based on a lawsuit charging that groundwater pumping impaired the senior water rights of a southern New Mexico acequia. The case is currently under appeal.
Carroll Elementary Ballet Folklórico and Mariachi Bernalillo entertained the crowd for the 25th Anniversary of PB&J in Bernalillo. The picnic brought the community together to celebrate the quarter-century milestone.
Local businesses hung banners congratulating PB&J on their accomplishment. Tom Fenton, co-owner of The Range Café, said, “The Range Café has been feeding PB&J’s kids for a long time. We know what they do for our community and we wish them the best of success in the next twenty-five years.”
Town of Bernalillo launches the next twenty-five years of PB&J
If you drive along Camino del Pueblo, you still may see the fifteen businesses along the Town of Bernalillo’s main drive displaying banners congratulating PB&J Family Services on serving the families of Sandoval county for twenty-five years. The gratitude that poured out from local citizens of the town, surrounding pueblos and hundreds of residents throughout Sandoval County was evident at the May 8 community-wide celebration in the Town of Bernalillo’s Loretto Park.
With entertainment provided by Mariachi Bernalillo, Carroll Elementary Ballet Folklórico, and scores of businesses and neighbors participating in the pot-luck, including the Range Café, Camino Real Antiques, Bernalillo Chevron, Bernalillo High School, and the Civitan Club of Sandoval County.
Don Chalmers Ford pitched in by parking a brand new F-150 Super Cab on the grounds and enticed participants to toss their loose change into the bed of the truck, which raised needed funds for PB&J Family Services.
“Those of us in the business community know the impact of a good investment. PB&J changes lives and does so for the children of Bernalillo and throughout Sandoval County. We know by investing in our children we can dramatically improve our community for the next generation, says Senator John Sapien and owner of John Sapien State Farm Insurance in Bernalillo.
Wells Fargo presented PB&J with a $15,000 donation to launch a financial literacy program and Intel pledged to continue supporting PB&J for the next twenty-five years.
Flying Star Café hosted PB&J’s board members and local businesses owners for a dessert reception following the event. “I’ve watched a generation of children grow up through PB&J and know the interventions they provide to children and families save lives. This celebration is about honoring the brave families who came forth for help and giving PB&J our best wishes for the next twenty-five years,” says Maria Rinaldi, supporter of PB&J Family Services and emcee of the event. Rinaldi is a lifelong resident of the Town of Bernalillo and longtime volunteer with PB&J.
Tom Fenton, co-owner of The Range Café, who also proudly displayed a banner supporting the PB&J milestone said, “The Range Café has been feeding PB&J’s kids for a long time. We know what they do for our community and we wish them the best of success in the next twenty-five years.”
“PB&J Family Services helps New Mexico’s most vulnerable families through our sites both in the South Valley and in the Town of Bernalillo,” says Debbie Sanchez, PB&J’s Executive Director of Programs. In addition to celebrating on May 8, PB&J has also established a fund to make sure families in Bernalillo and Sandoval County continue to receive the help they need for the next twenty-five years. To find out more about the event or ways to support PB&J, contact PB&J Family Services at 877-7060 or visit their website at pbjfamilyservices.org.
PB&J Family Services (PB&J) envisions a world where children and their families are no longer victims of violence and instead are nurtured and supported within loving communities. The agency began in the South Valley in 1972 as a therapeutic preschool. In 1983, PB&J opened its doors in the town of Bernalillo. Since that time, PB&J’s programs have grown to include case management, counseling, parenting classes, health care, and logistical support. This year, PB&J kicks off the next twenty-five years of serving families throughout Sandoval County through its programs in the town of Bernalillo. For more information, please visit pbjfamilyservices.org.
Sandoval County Commissioner Don Leonard
Sandoval County Line
—Don E. Leonard, Sandoval County Commission Chairman
It’s a nationwide juggling act: Cities and counties, even states and federal agencies, are scrambling to meet mushrooming demands for services with fewer available funds.
The worldwide recession that is causing the worst economy we may experience in our lifetimes, combined with ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are placing increasingly heavy burdens on federal budgets. That squeeze, in turn, is causing trickle-down funding shortages for local programs that are so vital to residents, including many of the locally-provided services that Washington requires states and counties to provide.
You need look no further than your nearest senior center for a close-to-home view of the effect that fewer federal dollars are placing on local programs and budgets. Even as program costs are escalating and demands for services by our growing aging population are increasing, Washington has not kept pace with its funding for senior programs.
Many county employees and residents can remember the time not too long ago when funding for the county’s Senior Program was fairly evenly divided among federal, state, and county governments, with each paying about one-third of the total cost. Those days, however, are as long gone as $1 per gallon gasoline or an eighty-cent loaf of bread. Today, Sandoval County residents pay more than seventy-five percent of the costs of providing senior services, even as the program’s costs have been rapidly increasing.
In just the past ten years, the cost of operating senior centers and providing vital services for Sandoval County’s elderly population has dramatically increased by $1.35 million—or almost 163 percent—to more than $2.1 million. Despite increased costs, the federal government has reduced its funding percentage. Today, Washington contributes just over twelve cents for every dollar spent for the county Senior Programs, down from a twenty-five percent share a decade ago. State funding for the county’s Senior Program, too, has likewise decreased—from twenty-two percent in 1999 to twelve percent today.
To offset that decline in federal and state support, and to keep pace with both inflation and growing numbers of senior residents, Sandoval County’s costs have dramatically jumped by 273 percent, from just over $439,000 in 1999 to more than $1.6 million today.
While lack of adequate funding has caused some counties locally and nationally to cut programs, limit services and close centers, Sandoval County’s seniors are more fortunate. Even with rising costs and shrinking federal support, Sandoval County has continued to enhance and improve its Senior Program—thanks in large part to the efforts of hundreds of residents who are volunteering time and services to help others.
Some county senior volunteers give as many as forty hours or more each week to assist their neighbors as Retired Senior Volunteers, Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions, or in other programs on which all county residents depend.
We owe our Senior Program volunteers our deep appreciation. With their commitment and effort, Sandoval County is providing services that, with rising costs and less federal support, could otherwise become as much a distant memory as ninety cents for a pound of ground beef.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Leonard can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.
Local drinking water gets a green boost
Just recently, Governor Richardson announced that the Town of Bernalillo will receive $3.27 million for the improvement of the water that the citizens of Bernalillo drink.
Total funding for the project will be $4.27 million, which includes $3.27 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (stimulus funding), plus an additional $1 million in low interest loans from the same fund. Bernalillo Mayor Patricia A. Chávez states, “Funds will be applied to specifically re-commission one of two existing but dormant municipal water wells.” Commissioning the well requires a new eight hundred gpm pump, rehabilitation of an existing storage tank, and installation of new distribution lines and electrical service and control equipment. In addition, a new arsenic treatment facility will be designed and built at a separate location to treat the water supply.
Upon approval by the New Mexico Finance Authority’s Board, the projects will be forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for final approval. EPA will award funding for the projects as early as June. “This is a result of significant foresight, planning, and efforts by many of our employees,” said Mayor Chávez. “We never forget that the welfare of our citizens is our first priority. We have worked hard and hoped for support in our efforts to provide the citizens of Bernalillo a sustainable drinking water supply. It will be money very well invested in the future of our community.”
Up to now, the town has blended water from its two operational wells to meet EPA standards. The Town of Bernalillo invested and completed arsenic treatment of both of these wells in 2007 and 2008.