Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front
 

c. Rudi Klimpert

Mining concerns shift to Placitas public lands

—Bill Diven

As the county’s lawsuit against one Placitas gravel quarry stalls in court, residents are trying to stop a major mining expansion into public land bordering the community.

On one front, the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) is working to set up a meeting with Gov. Susana Martinez in hopes she will oppose opening a quarter of the 3,100-acre Buffalo Tract to mining. When the Bureau of Land Management releases a new management plan for the area later this year, Martinez will have up to sixty days to comment on federal intentions.

The Buffalo Tract wraps around northern Placitas from east of Interstate 25 to Las Huertas Creek near the intersection of Camino de las Huertas and Camino de la Rosa Castilla.

“We have four of the 13 largest gravel operations in the state within a six-mile radius of the community,” ES-CA President Bob Gorrell said. “It puts a heavy burden on us. This is not a mining town. Neither is Bernalillo. Neither is Santa Ana.”

ES-CA has raised concerns about public health threatened by uncontrolled dust, water consumption from washing gravel and wetting roads and economic and taxation losses from depressed property values and potential homeowners deciding to buy elsewhere.

“Here’s a resource New Mexico has: its beauty,” Gorrell continued. “People are brought in by that, and they bring money with them. Why do we want to negatively impact that by allowing gravel mining in an area like that?”

On a second front, ES-CA is working with Sandoval County Commissioner James Dominguez on a resolution urging the BLM to emphasize open space and wildlife corridors in the Buffalo Tract as stated in the Placitas Area Plan the county approved in 2009. The resolution also will ask the BLM to limit any conditional uses to those allowed by the county zoning ordinance.

Dominguez said he plans to introduce the resolution at the June 4 commission meeting.

“We don’t want anything to happen like happened at Lafarge,” he said.

Sandoval County filed suit against Lafarge North America Inc. in April 2014 alleging zoning violations by the company and the two owners of the one thousand-acre property. The county contends a 1988 zoning agreement limits operations at the quarry off the Interstate 25 frontage road about a mile north of State Route 165.

Lafarge lawyers argued a later document overrides the 1988 deal. In August 2014, Vulcan Materials Inc. bought Lafarge and its second quarry on the I-25 frontage road, inheriting Notice of Violation (NOV) filed by the New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau, but not the lawsuit.

“We understand the concerns that some people may have related to the NOV for this property,” Barbara Goodrich-Welk said in an email response to questions from the Signpost. “However, Vulcan was not in ownership of this property at the time of the cited violation.

“Since the acquisition of the property’s assets, Vulcan continues to focus on maintaining full compliance with existing permits, administrative statutes, and regulations.”

Goodrich-Welk also said Vulcan wants to be a good neighbor and is planning a community meeting this summer at a date still to be announced.

For now, the lawsuit languishes in District Court. Beyond Lafarge and the property owners denying the allegations, the court record consists mostly of the case being passed from judge to judge. The case is now assigned to its sixth judge after one judge bowed out on her own, the county challenged another, and the respondents removed three more.

The Placitas-based Land Protection Trust filed in November to join the case as an interested party, but that request has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

Also pending are the seven alleged violations of the air-quality permit NMED issued to Lafarge. Those involve dust controls and record-keeping on mining operations.

NMED is in negotiations with Vulcan about the violations and also is determining whether the quarry needs a groundwater discharge permit for ponded water left from washing gravel, according to staff members who recently accompanied NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn to Placitas.

During a meeting with ES-CA and LPT members, Flynn said he would pass on the community’s concerns about the Buffalo Tract to the governor along with a request to meet with her on the issue. Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, who helped arranged Flynn’s appearance, said he was encouraged by its outcome and likelihood of additional meetings with state officials involved in economic development and taxation and revenue.

“This is just to make them understand what’s going on and offer input,” Smith said.


Local governments split on new I-40 connection

—Signpost Staff

When the Legislature failed to pass a capital-outlay bill, Sandoval County lost more than five million dollars for everything from playground equipment at a Bernalillo Park to a fire station at Zia Pueblo.

But the big-ticket item was six hundred thousand dollars toward buying right-of-way for Paseo del Volcán, envisioned as a four-lane, limited-access connection running thirty miles between U.S. Highway 550 in Rio Rancho and Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque. Both Rio Rancho and Sandoval County endorse the plan as important to transportation and economic development although their neighbors are resisting.

The money was part of a $264 million dollar statewide spending package that died when the Legislature adjourned in March. The governor then rejected calls for a special session in May amid partisan bickering over the outlay package and an unrelated tax bill.

“It’s a disappointment because I think we need to move that program in a direction that does not allow it to stagnate as in the past,” Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull told the Signpost. “Paseo del Volcán is a great regional project. The bigger picture is potential economic development.

On either end of the route, however, the town of Bernalillo and Bernalillo County aren’t so enthusiastic. Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres speaks up frequently at regional planning meetings raising concerns about aggravating the already troublesome traffic on U.S. 550, the main commercial corridor in his town.

“My question has always been, what happens when that traffic hits 550, and we know the answer to that question,” Torres said at a town council meeting earlier this year. “If there’s too much traffic, it will kill the businesses on 550 not to mention dealing with other problems.”

Torres also raised the issue in a later meeting with Secretary of Transportation Tom Church.

“I know what the answer is not. It’s not an eight-lane freeway ripping through Bernalillo, and he agreed with that,” the mayor said.

For its part, Bernalillo County staff called Paseo del Volcán “so remote it represents a significant leap frog in infrastructure.” In April, Bernalillo County Commissioners voted not to support the Paseo del Volcán project until the county studies the Atrisco Vista Boulevard corridor with its existing zoning, development, and infrastructure.

That corridor starts at a recently upgraded I-40 interchange four miles closer to Albuquerque and runs north between Double Eagle II Airport and Petroglyph National Monument. As proposed Paseo del Volcán would need a new interchange on I-40.

Regardless, Paseo del Volcán isn’t ready to go given its lack of funding. The most recent construction estimate is near one hundred million dollars with about a third of that for buying land mostly in Sandoval County.

Acquiring right-of-way is less of a problem in Bernalillo County where there are only three landowners, two of whom likely will donate rights-of-way to enhance the development potential of their land, according to Bernalillo County. The third owner is the city of Albuquerque.

The price for land goes up in Sandoval County, however, where the Parsons Brinckerhoff engineering company last year reported 1,050 separate parcels in the project’s path. About seven miles of the road already exists in Rio Rancho as two lanes between U.S. 550 and Unser Boulevard.

Hull said he’s aware of Bernalillo’s concerns and will work with Torres as the project progresses. There may be some balancing between the new traffic coming through Bernalillo and existing commuters from Rio Rancho abandoning Bernalillo for the new route to Albuquerque, he said.


Local projects stall as compromise fails

—Signpost Staff

When legislators fumbled a capital-spending plan during the 2015 session and later special-session negotiations, local and tribal governments, acequia associations, and school and flood-control districts lost out on the $264 million dollars they expected for projects and improvements.

In Sandoval County, the loss totaled $5.3 million dollars designated for 48 separate items ranging from three thousand dollars for equipment at the Cañon water system to six hundred thousand dollars for land acquisition for the proposed Paseo del Volcán connecting Rio Rancho with Interstate 40. [See story, page 1, this Signpost.]

In between the high and low figures, police and fire departments in Rio Rancho and Corrales will delay buying new vehicles and other equipment, a $450,000 dollar renovation of the Meadowlark Senior Center won’t happen next fiscal year, a domestic-violence shelter won’t get a fence, and Bernalillo’s Athena Pond Park will go without additional playground equipment.

The list included $42,000 dollars for vehicles to be used by the Placitas Community and Senior Center.

The capital outlay bill begins as a pile of requests given local senators and representatives who weed the list to fit within the bond money allocated for their districts. Legislators sometimes pool money for larger projects in their areas, behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing occurs, and a bill almost always comes out of the House and Senate and is signed by the governor.

Not this year, however.

Instead the bill died in March at the end of the sixty-day session when the House version arrived in the Senate with under twenty minutes to adjournment. Democratic senators blamed the House for making major amendments with no time to consider them while House Republicans, in control of their chamber for the first time since the 1950s, didn’t like how the Senate funded the governor’s highway program.

Gov. Susana Martinez could have called a special session to deal with the bill, but in mid-May she killed that idea after Democrats and Republicans couldn’t cut a deal on the capital projects or a tax-cut package she wanted considered as well.

Another round of partisan finger pointing ensued. Republicans accused Democrats of going back on their word; Democrats accused the governor of not accepting a compromise on the highway funding.

So they’ll try again next year when the thirty-day 2016 session convenes on January 19.


Two free-roaming horses browse through a neighborhood on Camino de las Huertas in February, 2015. Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Care, ownership of roaming horses splits Placitas advocates

—Bill Diven

Tensions over free-roaming horses that divided the Placitas community in recent years now split the animal advocates themselves.

Court records, legal notices, and law enforcement reports show one-time allies separated by a restraining order and allegations of horse theft and unpaid care costs. Adding to the drama are one fresh criminal case, the dismissal of others, and the revival of another case dropped earlier this year.

At the center of the schism are activist Gary Miles of Placitas Animal Rescue and Barbara Goodwin, who allowed Miles to corral and care for horses on property she owns along Las Huertas Creek. Details of their contract aren’t mentioned in public records, but Goodwin claims she’s owed more than $11,000 dollars for caring for the horses.

To recoup that expense, she placed a lien against twenty horses that were scheduled to be auctioned at the Sandoval County Courthouse on May 26. Miles called the $11,000 dollar amount absurd, a sheriff’s deputy reported after Miles alleged 22 of his horses had been stolen from the Goodwin property.

In April their dispute led to Goodwin obtaining a court-issued protective order requiring Miles to stay off her property and at least one hundred yards away from her. Neither Miles nor his attorney were present in court when the protective order was issued based on Goodwin’s complaint.

Miles has denied guilt in various charges filed against him recently and referred questions about those and the alleged horse theft to his attorney, who had not responded to a request for comment by the Signpost deadline. Goodwin’s attorney declined to be interviewed.

Miles alleges the 22 horses were stolen from Goodwin’s property from mid-March to mid-April, according to an April 18 incident report taken by a sheriff’s deputy at Miles’s request. On April 10, he said he followed a horse trailer from the property to State Route 313 in northern Bernalillo where two other vehicles boxed him in.

“Mr. Miles stated he was wrongfully imprisoned by these vigilantes,” the investigating officer wrote in his report.

It’s unclear if any of the horses in the trailer were among those listed in the lien auction although San Felipe Pueblo is said to have taken possession of some animals they believe strayed off the pueblo through downed or cut fences.

In her petition for the protective order, Goodwin alleged Miles’ horses were being neglected and underfed. That prompted the New Mexico Livestock Board to look into the condition of the animals.

“As of right now there is no official case or ongoing investigation,” NMLB Director William Bunce said. “By the time we were called in to that, the horses were in pretty good shape.”

NMLB inspectors and administrators have made frequent visits to Placitas to pick up horses and respond to complaints and are simply trying to keep all parties working within state laws, he added.

“It certainly would be better for the people and the horses if everyone could get along out there, but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Bunce told the Signpost.

The issue of free-roaming horses in Placitas began escalating about three years ago as the animals in increasing numbers expanded their range and numbers. From public land and private lands north of the community, they spread into residential areas and onto neighborhood roads and State Route 165 in the Placitas village.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to roadway collisions that occurred, residents complained of landscaping eaten or trampled, and the local conservation district tried to order the NMLB to round up the horses claiming that they were a threat to the already drought-stricken watershed.

As animal conflicts became sometimes-angry human confrontations, the county brought in the nonpartisan New Mexico First in a $23,000 dollar effort to calm the various parties, identify legal and others issues, and try to move toward a solution. The process generated 22 “suggestions” that have produced little visible action since the report was submitted to the county in June 2014.

Meanwhile Miles and a group of supporters began their own roundups, moving dozens of horses away from roads and back into less-developed areas. A year ago, Miles estimated the horse population, once said to be as high as 140, to be between forty and sixty.

Along the way, the Livestock Board got involved taking possession of horses corralled by landowners, advertising them as stray livestock and then offering them for auction. Lawsuits by the Wild Horse Observers Association of Placitas filed against the NMLB and the federal Bureau of Land Management failed to convince judges the horses are wild and protected by federal law.

As horses came up for auction, Miles and his allies bought most of them, taking on the responsibility of finding news homes in and away from Placitas, and caring for those they couldn’t relocate.

Miles is the founder of Placitas Animal Rescue, created in 1988 when there were no animal shelters in the county. According to undated information on its website, PAR is caring for 52 wild mustangs, sixty dogs, and 17 cats, and relies totally on private donations for their support.

A horse adoption is at the center of another dispute that produced a felony count against Miles filed in 2013 and dismissed in April. This involved a misdemeanor harassment complaint filed against Miles’s adoption coordinator by a person trying to adopt a horse.

While that flap didn’t involve Miles directly, he was charged with bribery of a witness for allegedly holding up the adoption unless the harassment charge was dropped. Miles attorney at the time contended Miles only said the adoption couldn’t proceed because a judge ordered the adoption coordinator not to have any contact with the complainant.

Another dustup turned physical last July during an encounter between Miles and a Placitas resident who had penned three horses on his property for pickup by Livestock Board inspectors. Both men were charged with aggravated battery although the charge against the property owner was soon dismissed.

The charge against Miles was dismissed in January, but in April prosecutors filed a new count, criminal damage to property, alleging Miles knocked down the portable corral to free the horses during the July incident. Also pending is a charge of failure to obey an officer, related to Miles’s actions as livestock inspectors were taking three horses from a property in February.

Caught in the middle of all this is the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office as it tries to maintain peace and public safety

“We’re also enforcing any criminal violations by opponents or proponents in defense of their stance,” Undersheriff Karl Wiese said. “We strongly encourage people to consider the impact of their actions and to limit their actions to noncriminal activities.”

The office is neutral on whether or where horses should roam in Placitas but will step in to chase them from roadways or deal with other safety hazards, he added.


Placitas Recycling Association helped by Sandoval County and Road Runner Waste Services

—W. Paul Barbeau

It’s not officially a leap year, but it has become a leap year for the Placitas Recycling Association (PRA) thanks to the generosity and community spirit of the Road Runner Waste Service, Inc. and Sandoval County.

The PRA has been exploring ways to reduce operational costs to offset declining recyclable material prices, so we met with Lee Dante and Vicki Andrews, the owners of Road Runner Waste Service, Inc. to explore any assistance that they might be able to provide.

Road Runner offered to put two roll-off collection containers and a chemical toilet in the Center free of charge and, as “frosting” on the cake, they also offered to pick their roll-offs up when they are full, transport them to the vendors, and have the vendors give the PRA the sale proceeds. As a result of their generosity, PRA volunteers no longer have to deliver the paper and cardboard to the vendors, which reduces delivery costs and also reduces the time that the volunteers spend delivering the materials. Sandoval County is continuing their support for the PRA by also providing a roll-off and transporting it to the vendors at no cost to the PRA.

This new partnership of residents, the Sandoval County government, and Road Runner is a model of community, government, and private industry cooperation that benefits all of the parties and the environment—a real “leap” forward.

In addition to the formation of this partnership, the PRA has expanded the materials recycled to include any kind of printer cartridge, non-rechargeable batteries, and the small lead acid batteries used in surge protectors and home security systems.

The PRA is an all-volunteer community organization. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Max Pruneda at 877-7745 or at placitasrecycles@gmail.com. Additional information regarding the PRA is available at placitasrecycling.org.


Coronado Historic Site celebrates 75 years

Come help us celebrate at our Anniversary Party on May 30, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. This free, family-friendly celebration features reenactments of the original Site dedication, guided tours, music, refreshments, a display of classic Model “A” Fords, a very special cake prepared by an award-winning pastry chef from the Tamaya Resort and Spa, the re-opening of the five hundred year old Kuaua Mural Gallery, and two new exhibitions, the Good Earth and Native American Easel Art in New Mexico: The Dorothy Dunn Collection. Making a special appearance will be Albuquerque’s award-winning slam poet, Carlos Contreras, who will recite his poem, It Used to be a Village.

Coronado Historic Site is located on US 550 at 485 Kuaua Road in Bernalillo. For more information, call 867-5351.

 
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