The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Eco Beat

Scourge of the bark beetles

Ty Belknap

There's a lot of conflicting information out there about how to fight the bark beetles. Dead piñon already litter the landscape, and after a warm, dry winter, stressed piñon will be increasingly vulnerable and many more will die. The experts agree on two things: watering helps, and dead trees should be removed before the beetles spread.

One intrepid Placitas landowner, upon reading about the scourge of the bark beetles last year in the Signpost, decided that the situation demanded action. Lacking a working chain saw, he doused his dead trees with gasoline and torched them where they stood. When the fires reached thirty feet high, some neighbors became alarmed and reported the fires to the Signpost. A month later, the drought had gotten so bad that the county passed an no-burn ordinance that might have landed the well-meaning firebug in jail.

This year, after reading horticulturist Paul Stamm's article about the scourge, our Placitas hero felt that it would be negligent not to try again. This time he hired a friend with a chain saw and called the sheriff's office for a burn permit. They dragged the trees into a deep arroyo and set off another impressive blaze. The flames were mostly hidden in the arroyo, so most of the neighbors didn't complain. Many bark beetles were destroyed.

Still, there were some fine piñon remaining that were in the early stages of infestation. The landowner was faced with more tough decisions. There was no water available on his land, so he couldn't soak the trees with Vita Planta. The Placitas Gardener had advised against the use of the insecticide recommended by other experts. He was tired of burning trees and wanted to save them.

His friend Avelino Marsanich claimed that he saved beetle-infested piñon with a single application of a lime slurry to the trunks, a technique used by his grandfather on fruit trees in his native Croatia. Avelino thinks that this simple technique is used in third-world countries worldwide. So that's what the landowner did next. Time will tell if these efforts were successful.

Burning permits can be obtained by calling the nonemergency number for the Sheriff's Office, 867-7526. Burning hours are 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The dispatcher will advise you to burn only dry weeds and to limit the fire to a three-foot square. It's hard to fit a piñon into a three-foot square. Deputy Fire Marshall Jess Lewis said, "There are no strong ordinances in place at the present time, but that is about to change. Right now we recommend that people get a burning permit, attend their fire at all times, have a garden hose available, and put the fire out if the wind blows. People should keep in mind that if the fire gets away from them and causes damage to other property, they are criminally liable."

As it turns out, the intrepid landowner was ignoring lots of recommendations, but no laws. He had better hurry up and finish burning before they change the rules. The trees around his house that can be reached with a hose are doing fine, but maybe they remain vulnerable. The neighbors haven't joined him in the fight to stop the scourge, and dead piñon dot the hills in all directions. The insatiable bark beetles are preparing themselves for this summer's assault.


County line—

County’s Tent Rocks and Intel partnerships have been successful

Jack Thomas
Sandoval County Commission

The excitement of government can often be likened to watching paint dry. Until, that is, you view the dynamic results being achieved in Sandoval County.

I had the opportunity in the past few weeks to participate in two separate events—one at our nation's newest national monument and the other at UNM's Technology Training Center. The purposes of the gatherings were as diverse and unrelated as Tent Rocks and micro-technology. Yet both exemplify what can be accomplished with the types of partnerships that Sandoval County constantly seeks to form and nurture.

A ceremony to mark the second anniversary of our nation's newest National Monument, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks northwest of Cochiti Pueblo, drew our state's congressional delegation, tribal government officials and other state and local representatives.

Remarks by Senator Bingaman, Representative Udall, a representative of Senator Pete Domenici, and others praised Sandoval County's role in shepherding the process to attain monument status for Tent Rocks. Without exception, each of the many speakers also singled out the direction and persistence of county manager Debbie Hays in pulling together the diverse partnership needed to create the national monument.

The effort to form a national monument is highly complex. As Hays wrote to former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt months before monument status was granted, it is an undertaking a lot like Tent Rocks itself—fraught with peaks and valleys, but always interesting.

The diverse geological formations found at Tent Rocks have awed residents and visitors for centuries before the arrival of the first Europeans more than 450 years ago and its status as a national monument had been a longtime vision. By forming working partnerships of that grew to include friends and neighbors in Cochiti Pueblo, Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties, Washington, and beyond, that longtime dream became a reality.

Just four days before the Tent Rocks ceremony, I had the opportunity to attend Intel's announcement of its gift of $17.5 million in chip-making equipment to an economic-development group seeking to set up a microelectronics factory in Albuquerque.

It's impossible in today's economy to name any investment that has returned near the benefits that our communities and state are receiving from the county's twenty-year-plus partnership—our investment—with Intel's Rio Rancho plant. The value of that venture just keeps getting better with time.

Intel is to be commended for its foresight in helping to strengthen our state's economic future. The emerging microelectronics industry is on the threshold in New Mexico. In terms of potential, it is similar to that of our region's emerging chip-processing business when Sandoval County and Intel began our partnership in the early 1980s.

During those past two decades, the Sandoval County-Intel partnership has contributed to the economy of our state and county beyond all expectations. We now have many well paying jobs for our workers and committed development of our workforce. We have strengthened our educational system, including the creation of a $30 million high school in Rio Rancho that was negotiated between the county commission and Intel—technology in schools and scholarship programs second to none. Other benefits of that partnership include an exemplary record of involvement in our communities, including the company’s $5 million contribution to widen NM 528. And Intel's technology-sharing program is providing millions of dollars in needed equipment and expertise to other enterprises across New Mexico.

The Sandoval County Commission strives to form and nurture working partnership with other entities, both public and private. Our partnerships, like Tent Rocks, are unique, diverse and longstanding. As we're experiencing from the county's partnership with Intel, the potential benefits of those undertakings may exceed all expectations.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Thomas can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87048.


Regional water forum invites participants

The Middle Rio Grand Water Assembly will host a regional forum on March 1 at the University of New Mexico Anthropology Building. Forum participants will hear the results from a feasibility study on the alternative actions being considered for inclusion in the Regional Water Management Plan and will see a unique model being developed for "seeing" relationships among various water use choices.

At various public meetings throughout the region, the Water Assembly collected ideas for potential actions to include in the management plan. Water Assembly volunteers organized the suggested actions into forty-four discrete options and prepared an initial analysis of each action regarding its benefits, consequences, and implications. Attendees at the Fifth Community Conversations had the opportunity to review this initial analysis and to select their most and least preferred actions.

In October 2002, the Water Assembly and the Mid-Region Council of Government hired consulting firm D.B. Stephens and Associates (with funding from the Interstate Stream Commission) to complete a more in-depth assessment of twenty-five of the alternative actions. At the March forum, various experts will present their results and provide an opportunity for participants to raise questions and to rank the alternative actions. The Water Assembly hopes to complete further analyses of the alternative actions not included in the consultant's in-depth review.

Additionally, Sandia National Laboratories will demonstrate the model that they are developing with the Water Assembly. The model is designed to help people understand and evaluate the effects of possible water-use scenarios. These scenarios are collections of alternative actions that can work together to meet the region's water budgeting needs. The March forum will provide and excellent opportunity to hear what has been accomplished and to be sure that your ideas and concerns are included in the planning effort. The meeting will begin at 9:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. Lunch will be provided.

For more information, contact Bob Wessely at 867-3889 or Mike Trujillo at 247-1750 or visit the


One of our fifty is missing

Carol M. Parker
Citizens for Safe Pipelines

Many of us are familiar with the occasional stories about some publication forgetting that New Mexico is one of the fifty states. Most of those stories are funny. However, in a recent lawsuit where New Mexico has been left out of a pipeline consent decree, the story is not funny and may endanger lives.

The incident that led to the lawsuit is the June 10, 1999, rupture of the Olympic pipeline in Bellingham, Washington. Almost 250,000 gallons of gasoline poured into a county park, where it exploded. The fireball was more than a mile long; the mushroom cloud was six miles high. The gasoline spread through downtown Bellingham, as far as three miles from the pipeline. The fumes suffocated a young man who was fishing; his body was burned beyond recognition. Two ten-year-old boys walked out of the park badly burned and died the next day. Equilon (now known as Shell) is alleged to have been the operator of that pipeline.

A grand jury indicted Equilon, Olympic, and three employees. The three employees and Olympic pled guilty. Equilon pled nolo contendere, essentially denying that it broke any laws but offering no defense and permitting the company to be convicted. In addition to the criminal charges, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a civil suit for environmental damages. In partial settlement, the EPA has negotiated a consent decree for Shell (formerly Equilon).

Shell’s consent decree requires safety measures exceeding federal requirements on Shell’s four main product pipelines in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. Those measures are supposed to “help prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again,” according to the EPA. The consent decree does not cover Shell’s New Mexico Products Pipeline.

Shell’s proposed New Mexico pipeline is almost a twin of the Olympic Pipeline. The New Mexico pipeline is the same diameter, the same length, and almost the same age as the Olympic Pipeline. Like the Olympic, the pipeline here will have a new terminal. (One of the contributing factors to the Bellingham accident was an improperly installed valve at a new terminal.) Like the Olympic, the pipeline here has had excavation in the right-of-way, where prior damage could be missed by an internal inspection. Like the Olympic, the pipeline here traverses streams that could carry gasoline from a ruptured pipeline into neighborhoods far from the pipeline. The New Mexico pipeline has a similar ownership history—first Texaco, then Equilon, then Shell. It is difficult to understand why, if the goal is to prevent similar tragedies, EPA omitted a pipeline so similar to the Olympic pipeline from the consent decree.

The consent decree offers safety measures beyond federal requirements but most importantly, requires independent monitoring and reporting to the EPA. In combination with five years of probation for the criminal conviction, the consent decree will provide a meaningful increase in safety for people who live in the danger zone related to Shell’s refined products pipelines, unless they happen to live in New Mexico.

Citizens for Safe Pipelines has written to the Department of Justice asking that the New Mexico Products Pipeline be included in the consent decree. When it comes to pipelines, New Mexico deserves the best. This is not a good time for one of our fifty to be missing.


Local water flavors to compete

At New Mexico Rural Water Association’s Twenty-fifth Annual Technical Conference and General Meeting, NMRWA will choose the best of the best to represent the state of New Mexico. The conference will be held March 23 to 27 at the Sheraton Old Town in Albuquerque. Small and rural water utilities are encouraged to enter. The winner will receive a trip to Washington for the rally in April. Last year’s winner in the category of small water systems was Las Acequias de Placitas.

For further information, call 884-1031 or (800) 819-9893.




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