Sandoval Signpost


An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

BLM mine

Open-pit mining disrupts the natural environment. Photo credit: —Tony Hull

There can’t be open-pit mining in Placitas.

—Tony Hull, ES-CA

A few nights ago I talked with my old friend and archaeology research co-investigator back east and told her that I would need to end our conversation because I was going to a meeting about open-pit mining in Placitas. Having been to Placitas, her incredulous reply was “There can’t be open-pit mining in Placitas!”

But there is. The Lafarge site is located east of Highway 25 and about a mile north of Hwy 165 on the frontage road, right in the midst of the Anasazi Meadows, Sundance Mesa, and La Mesa neighborhoods, and pending Petroglyph Trails.  In the past, Lafarge has tried to maintain a buffer between mining operations and the back yards of their neighbors.

Recently, several members of Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) met at Lafarge with site manager Ross and Western U.S. Region General Manager Trevor Tipotsch. They explained that Placitas has the best quality aggregate around, and it was highly desirable for them to mine here. There had been considerable turnover of management at the mine over the years that resulted in significant corporate memory loss. We presented some of the correspondences between neighboring communities and Lafarge, going back a number of years that gave Lafarge’s neighbors the expectation that buffers to the neighborhoods would be maintained, and the interpretation that Lafarge would cease mining at the end of the current lease in 2015.

Neither manager seemed to be aware of this body of correspondence, and there appear to be exploratory holes much nearer to the residential back yards than previously discussed. We anticipate that if there are no changes in the factors as viewed by Lafarge that they will want to continue and expand mining at the Placitas site until the site is exhausted.

On a positive note, we reported to Lafarge that the bright lights at the mine were disturbing to their neighbors, even over a mile away, and they responded by turning the lights out immediately. Unfortunately, the basic contrasts between Placitas community needs and mining needs for the most part are unlikely to be resolved easily. We expect to have further meetings with Lafarge in early June.

The situation can get worse. Placitas BLM lands may have similar quality aggregate as at the present Lafarge site. BLM is preparing a new Resource Management Plan, which should be released later this year. This could include opening up sectors of Placitas BLM land to further open-pit mining. Many of us enjoy many outside activities there and would prefer that this land not be used in such a manner.

In response to an observation that there are large new exploratory pits either on or near BLM land, we went out to explore the area. Five large pits were observed, perhaps thirty feet long, eight feet wide, and one was measured to be twenty four feet deep. If you are riding your ATV out there and see an inviting berm to ride over, it might be pretty exciting on the other side. Be careful!

Since the edge of BLM lands is not well delineated, we took GPS readings, and with the assistance of the BLM office, determined that these are on private land. This suggests that existing mines are going to expand operations. These pits appear to be on land held by the Baca Gravel Pit. There is already an extensive Baca operation just outside the BLM lands further north along the I-25 frontage road which is visible from BLM lands.

While each of us is dependent on aggregate for our concrete way of life, is this continuation and expansion of large scale open-pit mining appropriate in historic and intensely residential Placitas? What state will the land be in once they have mined out all the aggregate. Will we be left with a dusty, polluted community?

While there are powerful economic interests in play here, we are not helpless. ES-CA has demonstrated effectiveness in dealing with other threats to our lifestyle using a professional, fact based approach. With your engagement and assistance, ES-CA can address the issues of open-pit mining in Placitas and work with mining interests and regulatory bodies to minimize, and where possible eliminate, mining and its manifestations in our community. ES-CA will continue to watch the Fisher mining and asphalt operations as well. While it had seemed that they would move out, there are indications that they may still be planning to stay.

ES-CA will conduct an open public meeting on Saturday, June 23, at 2:00 p.m. at the Placitas Community Center, 41 Camino de Las Huertas. This will be an opportunity to become informed on the issues, to express your feelings about further open-pit mining around Placitas, and to become a member of ES-CA. Only with full community support can we help protect our land.

Connecting the dots between hail storms, oil, the Amazon Rainforest and New Mexico
A personal experience of climate change

—Vickie Peck

Recently I picked up a new book by Bill deBuys (A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest) that outlines in starkly beautiful and somewhat terrifying detail the likely future of our New Mexican desert. With changing weather patterns, it looks like we are in for a very dry, fire-prone, tree-less future. DeBuys’ book added fuel to my intention to install a rainwater harvesting system to back up our marginal village water supply. It also connected some dots that I hadn’t put together in the same way—the connection between our desert landscape and another landscape just south of the equator that is pretty much the opposite of our desert—the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest.

In 2007, while I was living in a completely isolated village with an indigenous Ecuadorian rainforest tribe [See December, 2007, Sandoval Signpost article, The Achuar’s Rainforest at Click on Back Issues.], I participated in an unusual conversation. The Village Chief, Domingo, told me a story that was clearly worrying him. He said, “Hard water fell from the sky and hurt the leaves.” I asked him to tell me again to be sure that I understood him correctly. My first intuition was correct. He had observed a hail storm which had shredded leaves of the rainforest plants, some leaves as large as Volkswagen beetles. No one had ever seen such a thing in their village. They asked me what it was. I tried to explain ice, a foreign concept to these people of the deep forest. My question to myself was “Why had a hail storm hit the rainforest?” Clearly plants with huge leaves were not accustomed to such abuse.

I was thinking about the Amazonian hail storm and also the recent hail we had in Placitas. The recent storm here hadn’t damaged the hard green, promising apricots, but it had knocked off a lot of leaves. The huge cumulonimbus clouds rose high over the Sandias and then collapsed into crazy purple-blue clouds that dumped the hail. Could those clouds have been affected by the same forces that caused hail in the rainforest? Well, yes, since the Earth and everything living here shares the same atmosphere. More energy in the atmosphere pushes clouds higher, more rising moist air causes more intense storms with hail rather than rain. According to internationally acclaimed climatologists that deBuys interviewed, the atmospheric circulation patterns that bring rain—and occasional devastating hail—to New Mexico are moving further north, leaving us high and increasingly dry. It turns out that these circulation patterns are mirrored in the southern hemisphere, too, producing both hail and more erratic rainfall in the Ecuadorian rainforest as marked by two widespread droughts since 2006. That doesn’t bode well for the long-term health of huge-leafed trees which are likely to die when their leaves are shredded or the rains are less, thereby destabilizing the forest ecology. It also doesn’t bode well for the rainforest villagers whose food, water, plant medicines, shelter, and culture depend completely on a healthy forest around them.

Another connection between New Mexico and the Ecuadorian Amazon has to do with petroleum. Ecuador is a new member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the global oil producers’ club. Petroleum is Ecuador’s largest cash cow for paying its international loans used to fund the infrastructure of this tiny, still-developing country. Unfortunately for my villagers, Ecuador’s President Correa, who was elected by mostly indigenous voters, has been forced into an economic corner by debt and the world-wide economic slump. He has just proposed to lease a huge chunk of the rainforest for oil development, including the entire territory of the tribe I know. With oil development comes a worse scourge—roads bring all the problems of the outside world along with them. Rather than bringing the “fruits of progress” (education, health, employment and wealth) to the region’s indigenous people, roads that served past oil development in Ecuador’s rainforest have brought widespread ecological damage and cultural destruction to the forest peoples. The US buys plenty of oil from OPEC—something I often contemplate as I fill my gas tank.

Wade Davis, an anthropologist and ethnobotanist described the situation of these villagers, and indeed that of New Mexicans, in the following quote from The Wayfinders: “If diversity is a source of wonder, its opposite—the ubiquitous condensation to some blandly amorphous and singularly generic modern culture that takes for granted an impoverished environment—is a source of dismay. There is, indeed, a fire burning over the earth, taking with it plants and animals, cultures, languages, ancient skills and visionary wisdom. Quelling this flame, and re-inventing the poetry of diversity is perhaps the most important challenge of our times.”

Well, it seems to me that making connections with cultures and landscapes across the globe is both beautiful and foreboding. These ideas, coupled with a few stories of life in the rainforest are the subjects of a gathering at the Placitas Library where I will give a presentation two p.m. on Saturday June 9. I hope you will join me in connecting the dots from here to the Amazon.

SC Master Gardeners offer free advice

Sandoval County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer all gardening questions for free on Saturdays June, 2; July 7, August 4, and September 1, at Home Depot, off NM 550 in northern Rio Rancho. If you want plants or insects identified, bring them with you, along with any other gardening problems from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Bring your questions and or sick and ailing plants for diagnosis from the experts. 

They will also be on hand for questions and will present a free program: “Rain Water Harvesting”—techniques for rain water collection in urban areas for existing homes and new construction sites—on Tuesday, June 5, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Meadowlark Senior Center, 4330 Meadowlark Land SE, Rio Rancho.

They offer free plant clinics from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on June 16, June 21, August 18, and September 15 at Santa Ana Garden Center in Bernalillo, off NM 550 by Santa Ana Casino.

For more information contact Sandoval County Extension at 505-867-2582.

Severe drought conditions not predicted to dampen summer rec

—Julie Maas

Recreational opportunities in New Mexico are abundant this summer despite severe drought conditions and fire danger, which are predicted to continue throughout the state.

A joint news conference was held on May 11 at the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque to emphasize that plenty of recreational opportunities exist in New Mexico even without precipitation.

New Mexico is again experiencing a dry start to the year with precipitation at less than half of normal. The Office of the State Engineer/Interstate Stream Commission has been working to protect water resources in a number of ways. They include, but are not limited to, supporting projects that diversify supply to better plan and respond to drought (such as the surface water diversions for Albuquerque and Santa Fe) as well as the Ute Reservoir pipeline in eastern New Mexico; allocating relinquishment credits to the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and US Bureau of Reclamation to store water this spring in El Vado Reservoir for release and delivery to farmers and to meet endangered species flow targets later in the summer; development of a Recovery Implementation Program in the middle Rio Grande that seeks to avoid endangered species and water user conflicts, especially during drought; working to restore New Mexico’s share of the Rio Grande Project surface water, and continued maintenance of the temporary channel into Elephant Butte Reservoir.

Also, the Water Use and Conservation Bureau is implementing a conservation campaign by our Water Use and Conservation Bureau to reduce household leaks. Local television ads featuring a Roaring Twenties flapper were targeted at alerting people to fix bad toilet flappers in order to save water and money.

Despite the current dry conditions, New Mexicans can enjoy their summer activities. Because we live in a state with highly variable climate, we always need to be mindful that water conservation efforts are critical every year. By managing our water supplies and balancing our needs, New Mexicans can lessen the burden on our streams, rivers, and aquifers. We may value water for different reasons, be it river rafting, gardening, or boating, however, water conservation unites us and will serve us well as we begin our second hundred years as a state. 

New Mexico is rich with abundant natural resources. Did you know that that seventy percent of New Mexicans live within forty miles of a State Park? There are 35 diverse state parks to explore, including cool lakes, mountain forests, canyons, desert beauty, and fascinating historical sites—even dinosaur tracks! New Mexico State Parks offer family-friendly settings, endless recreational opportunities, and hundreds of special events and educational programs each year. Reservoir levels at state parks vary, but will provide superb water recreation this season.

The potential for destructive wildfire is increasing across New Mexico, as warm and windy weather continues to dry out vegetation already stressed from mild winter weather. The possibility of wildfire is a very real concern. Fire danger in many areas across the state is very high and State Forestry is urging all residents to be cautious with any use of fire. There are currently no state fire restrictions in place, however state residents and visitors should log on to throughout the summer to see if any fire restrictions have been imposed in the areas they plan to visit.

PNM plans to expand renewable energy

—Ron Darnell, Senior Vice President PNM Public Policy

An expansion of renewable energy such as wind and solar is important to both our customers and the economy of our state. It’s also the law. By 2015, utilities in the state are required to obtain fifteen percent of the energy customers use from sources such as wind and solar.

On Monday, we filed a plan with the N.M. Public Regulation Commission that outlines how we would achieve the state requirement of ten percent for 2013. This plan also looks ahead to 2014 and 2015. 

Highlights include:

  • Geothermal energy will be added to meet the requirement to have some power come from sources other than wind and solar
  • If approved, we would install another twenty MW of solar capacity. In 2010, we added 22 megawatts.
  • Despite being well above the requirement to have part of the mix come from customer-owned solar installations, we would continue our popular incentive program for customer-owned solar, although the incentives would change.
  • The plan incorporates input from the solar community and others, because we know how important the customer-installed program has been to the solar business in New Mexico. Last year, our customers had record participation in the program and installed more solar panels on their homes and businesses than in the previous five years combined.

Forest hosts public field trips into Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration Area

—Lawrence Lujan

The Santa Fe National Forest is hosting three educational field trips into the Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration project area.

These field trips are designed to provide on-the-ground information about the project. Participants will be guided through the area to see and learn about existing conditions, desired conditions, ecosystem function, treatments that have been accomplished, and engage in interactive conversation with Forest personnel about the project.

“We are in the process of drafting a proposal to treat approximately 110,000 acres of National Forest System lands to improve resilience and restore function to forest, woodland, and riparian ecosystems, and we want to involve the public in the process and show how treated areas will look in contrast to non-treated areas,” said Linda Riddle, Jemez District Ranger.   

Field trip dates are: Saturday, June 2; Saturday, June 30; and Saturday, July 14. Trips will start and end at the Walatowa Visitor Center located at 7413 off NM 4 in Jemez Springs. The field trips will start at 9:30 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m. Two of the trips, June 30 and July 14, will be four-to-six mile moderate hiking trips; the other will be a van ride with stops. There is a limit of thirty people per trip and selections will be made according to the order in which registration forms are received. 

Registration forms will be available May 9 through May 25, between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., at the Santa Fe National Forest Headquarters located at 11 Forest Lane in southwest Santa Fe and at the Jemez Ranger Station located at 051 Woodsy Lane in Jemez Springs. Registration forms are also available online at All forms, including those received through e-mail, must be mailed and postmarked or hand-carried no later than May 25. By May 31, everyone who was selected to participate in the field trips will be notified by phone or email. Details about the field trips are outlined within the registration form. 

The Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration project was among ten nationwide projects selected by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on August 13, 2010, for funding under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). The grant program, created by federal legislation sponsored in 2009 by New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, takes the highly successful Collaborative Forest Restoration program approach, pioneered in New Mexico, and applies it nationally. The Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration proposal for funding was developed by more than sixty people representing over thirty different groups.

Restoration treatments will be done across 110,000 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest, much of the 89,900 acre Valles Caldera National Preserve, and more than 10,000 acres managed by Bandelier National Monument, and the Jemez and Santa Clara Pueblos.

For further information about the project or field trips, contact Lawrence Lujan at 438-5321. 

Suit filed against expansion of Navajo Coal Mine in the Four Courners area

—Ramona Blaber

After decades of coal pollution from the 2040-megawatt Four Corners Power Plant and BHP Billiton’s 13,000-acre Navajo Coal Mine that supplies it, Navajo and conservation groups filed suit on May 15 against the federal government for improperly rubber-stamping a proposal to expand the strip mine, which is already more than twenty square miles, by hundreds of acres without full consideration of the mine’s damage and risks to health and the environment. 

“The Navajo mine has torn up the land, polluted the air, and contaminated waters that families depend on,” said Anna Frazier of Diné CARE. “Residents in the area deserve a full and thorough impact analysis that is translated into the Navajo language to provide for real public participation, not another whitewash for the coal industry.”

Navajo Mine is located in San Juan County, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation. Four Corners Power Plant, built in 1962, provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and is the largest coal-fired power plant source of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the United States. (NOx is associated with public-health impacts including respiratory disease, heart attack, and stroke). The legal action, brought under the National Environmental Policy Act, challenges the Office of Surface Mining’s decision to allow BHP Billiton to expand strip-mining operations into 714 acres of a portion of land designated “Area IV North” and the agency’s claim that the mine did not cause significant human health or environmental impact.

The present Area IV mine expansion was proposed in the wake of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment v. Klein (Diné CARE), 747 F. Supp. 2d 1234 (D. Colo. 2010). In that case, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that a previous proposal to strip-mine all 3,800 acres of Area IV North violated the National Environmental Policy Act and ordered OSM to revisit its analysis under the Act.

Unfortunately, OSM’s new analysis only exacerbates the deficiencies of its first analysis. OSM justified a finding of no significant impact in a vacuum, focusing only on a cursory analysis of impacts within the mine expansion’s perimeter. The analysis also ignores indirect and cumulative impacts from mercury, selenium, ozone, and other air and water pollutants caused by the combustion of coal at the Four Corners Power Plant and the plant’s disposal of coal ash waste generated by the coal mined from the expansion area.

The lawsuit seeks a comprehensive analysis of the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant’s impacts to health and the environment to inform current and future coal-related decisions and help illuminate opportunities to transition away from coal toward clean, renewable energy generated by New Mexico’s abundant sun and wind.

A copy of the filed lawsuit can be found at

Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE), San Juan Citizens Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Amigos Bravos and the Sierra Club are represented in the case by the Western Environmental Law Center.

Reel Paddling Film Festival now in ABQ

—Stephen Verchinski

A unique film festival will shows in Albuquerque on June 2 from noon to 3:30 p.m. Albuquerque is bringing the Reel Paddling Film Festival, the best of the best of 2012 winners sponsored by Rapid Media. Viewers will see just how much fun a day of paddling a kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or kayak fishing can be. The festival screening will also tackle some important water-related issues and raise money for American Rivers, Wild Earth Guardians, and New Mexico Xtreme Sports water programs. 

Screenings shown at the Guild Cinema, on 3405 Central Avenue Northeast in Nob Hill, in Albuquerque. Admission to the event is $15 per person, with advance ticket sales both at REI Albuquerque and at (for will call tickets at the box office the day of the event). Seating is limited and there will only be one show. 

Many of the films are from out of the country, but it’s a collection of the year’s best paddling films. There are awards for different genres of paddling films, ranging from environmental films, or whitewater films or fishing films.

Saturday’s event will also offer a chance for paddlers mingle with others in preparation for the City of Albuquerque’s Paddlefest on June 3, celebrating the Rio Grande with the Open Space Program.
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