An octopus wants to eat the West
—PEPPER TRAIL, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
What’s 3,500 feet wide, 6,055 miles long and 2.9 million
acres big? That’s wider than Hoover Dam, bigger than Yellowstone
National Park and almost three times as long as the Mississippi
River. This behemoth goes by the name of the West-Wide Energy Corridor,
and if you live in the West it could soon devour a landscape near
This huge new system of energy corridors was mandated by the Energy
Policy Act of 2005. You remember 2005: That was when newly re-elected
President Bush claimed a “mandate” and Congress was
controlled by Republicans. The Energy Policy Act was a grab bag
of tax breaks and incentives to various sectors of the energy industry
that failed to raise vehicle mileage standards or take any other
meaningful steps to reduce energy demand. Section 368 of the law
directed the Secretaries of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce,
Defense, Energy and Interior to designate corridors on federal land
in 11 Western states for oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines and electrical
power lines. These agencies have now released the federal West-wide
Energy Corridor Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, a three-volume
document totaling well over 1,000 pages.
If its bureaucratic verbiage numbs the brain, its system maps should
make anyone sit up and take notice. Check them out at http://corridoreis.anl.gov//eis/dmap/index.cfm.
They show a network of cracks spreading across the West, from Puget
Sound to El Paso, and from San Diego to the Little Bighorn. On these
maps, our beloved West looks like a shattered and poorly mended
dinner plate. And that is an entirely accurate image.
These new energy corridors—averaging six-tenths of a mile
wide—will fracture a landscape that is already a maze of hairline
cracks—the lines made by highways, railroads and the current,
comparatively delicate energy rights-of-way. These existing corridors
have been enough to severely fragment habitat in the West, interfering
with the movements of pronghorn, elk and bison, denying undisturbed
wild areas to wolves and grizzly bears, and weakening the ecological
health of deserts, grasslands and forests.
The West-Wide Energy Corridor, if enacted, would be a death sentence
for many wildlife populations. The corridors it outllnes would cross
national wildlife refuges, national recreation areas, national monuments
and national parks. One tentacle would split the Big Horn Basin
of Wyoming; another would run the length of California’s Owens
Valley between Sequoia and Death Valley national parks; another
would cut from Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado to Bandelier
National Monument near Santa Fe.
You have to wonder why the government didn’t simply use the
existing system of energy corridors and rights of way. And here
is the government’s answer: ”This option was considered
but eliminated for a number of reasons. Many of the existing energy
corridors and utility rights-of-way … are sized for relatively
small transport systems (both in terms of capacity and distance)
and could neither support added systems nor be expanded to accommodate
additional energy transport facilities. These limitations make them
too fragmentary or localized to serve the need for long-distance
energy transport across the West.”
Well, many readers may think, fair enough. We do have to upgrade
our energy delivery systems, don’t we? Isn’t this an
example of the government being prudent and planning for the future?
Arising out of the political context of 2005, the Energy Policy
Act did not entertain the possibility that energy use could actually
be reduced through conservation, and it gave little consideration
to local power generation by wind farms or solar arrays, for example,
that would not require massive, long-distance energy corridors.
In other words, the West-Wide Energy Corridor was never a prudent
attempt to plan for the future: it simply takes a failed energy
distribution model and makes it bigger.
Then there’s the contentious issue of property rights. On
the maps, the lines representing the corridors are frequently interrupted,
only to pick up again after a gap. Those gaps are private land;
the map shows only the rights of way proposed for federal land.
Obviously, those gaps must be filled in, and if you happen to be
a landowner in the way, watch out!
The West-Wide Energy Corridor analysis was open for public comment
until February 14, and prior to that, what appears to be a land
grab had received little media attention. If you value the integrity
of our public lands and the sanctity of private property, you owe
it to yourself to look at: http://corridoreis.anl.gov/eis/dmap/index.cfm.
To me, it looks like an octopus trying to devour the West.
Pepper Trail is a contributor to Writers on the
Range, a service of High Country News
(hcn.org). He is
a biologist and writer in Ashland, Oregon.
The shadows on Sandia Mountain show pathways that
wildlife might take to travel.
Travel Management Plan worries Pathways
A quiet, narrow canyon fed by springs at the northern foot of the
Sandia Mountains has become the unlikely stage for a showdown between
competing interests: migrating elk, neighborhood activists, forest
managers, and off-road vehicle recreationists.
The La Madera area of the Cibola National Forest, sandwiched between
Placitas and the slopes, is the fought-over jewel locally in a vast
project to decide where off-road vehicle use should be allowed in
national forests from coast to coast.
The final decision—with its attendant map that will carve
in stone (more or less) where all-terrain vehicles and four-wheel-drives
are allowed to roam—is now reaching a head. Public input is
being accepted on six alternatives for the Sandia Ranger District,
and each constituency is rallying its forces for its preferred alternative.
For Mitch Johnson, Elise VanArsdale, and a dozen other organizers
of the Placitas wildlife group Pathways, the imminent ruling came
as an unwelcome surprise. The group formed in 2005 to try to protect
Perdiz Canyon, which they discovered was one of the last remaining
passageways for wild animals squeezed by development to access forests
to the north. They were shocked to discover that this area, part
of La Madera, might be opened to off-road vehicle (ORV) use.
In fact, the area has never been closed to ORVs. Technically, it
is legal to drive on- or off-trail, crunching nature under the tires,
in both La Madera and the district’s Cedro Peak area—although
there are obstacles to public access in La Madera. It was precisely
this unregulated situation, which the district’s head ranger
Cid Morgan calls “more or less open, unless designated closed,”
that the National Forest Service sought to address by mandating
Travel Management Plans for every national forest: “closed,
unless designated open,” a 180-degree shift in policy.
La Madera has never suffered as much ORV use as popular Cedro Peak,
largely because of its rugged mountain terrain. But Pathways and
other groups, including the Las Placitas Association, fear that
publishing a map designating ORV trails in the area will doom the
animals’ safe passage. They have asked residents who support
a wildlife corridor east of Placitas to weigh in on the Environmental
Assessment for the Sandia Travel Management Plan before the end
of the thirty-day comment period, February 28. Information is available
at the Cibola National Forest site, www.fs.fed.us/r3/Cibola/travel-management/
Of the six alternatives presented for comment, only Alternative
3 raises alarms, as it opens up La Madera to motorized travel. Many
local environmentalists would prefer to see all areas closed to
vehicles, Alternative 6, but Pathways’ main focus is defeating
entry to La Madera.
“This is the last area in the 360 around Sandia that doesn’t
have human development,” the group’s Peter Callen said.
“That’s why elk, antelope, deer, wild horses, and other
large animals use the narrow strip to travel from the Sandia/Manzano
range north to the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains,”
he said. “The animals move not only to follow food sources,
but to mate outside their immediate genetic pool.” The issue,
as Callen sees it, is protecting the health of the mountains themselves.
Johnson concurs, noting that elk and other wildlife are not only
indicators of an ecosystem’s health, but also support that
health. “If we don’t take care of the animals, we’re
going to lose those areas,” he said. “If large animals
cannot move out of the Sandias, one natural disaster could kill
them off, allowing smaller prey to proliferate, and throwing the
whole ecosystem out of whack.
“We know that mankind is not knowledgeable enough to manage
those areas. That’s why we know we have to rely on them—the
animals are the issue,” Johnson said.
The group’s strategy, before it was sidetracked by the fight
for La Madera, has been to expand the boundary of the Sandia Wilderness,
which is permanently closed to motorized use. That project is advancing,
thanks to support from local lawmakers, Indian pueblos, the Bureau
of Land Management, the Forest Service, and even private landowners
such as Joe Matthews, developer of the Diamond Tail Ranch subdivision,
who are working with the group to patch together a wildlife corridor.
The next step is to extend their project statewide, and reach out
to communities along the rest of the state’s wildlife corridors.
Biological studies cited by Pathways show animals crossing Galisteo,
Otero Mesa, and other open areas that continue to face land-use
struggles. Affiliate groups are also forming in Santa Fe and Jemez.
“It’s huge for these communities to deal with these
(land-use) issues on a volunteer basis, so it helps to know other
people who are involved,” Callen explained.
Meanwhile, a decision on ORV use in La Madera is expected around
late March or early April, after Cibola National Forest Supervisor
Nancy Rose weighs the public testimony and makes a ruling. Although
she is bound by federal regulations to consider certain criteria,
the decision is hers alone. Morgan, the head ranger, said Rose has
made it clear she will hear all sides—including opinions from
the Sandia Ranger District staff—before deciding.
Once trails have been designated as open or closed to motorized
vehicles, Morgan says the ranger district will enforce the rules
by erecting barriers on closed trails and hiring a foreman to oversee
a cadre of volunteer patrols.
For the Pathways group, protecting the canyon is just the first
crucial piece in an intricate puzzle, depicted by a map of arrows
indicating the likely routes of animal migration through New Mexico,
from the Rocky Mountains south toward the Gila Wilderness and beyond.
Allowing wild animals safe passage has the support of almost everybody
involved, they say—Indian pueblos, the state’s Game
and Fish department, hunters, land agencies, even cattle ranchers
and some private developers. “The real battle,” said
Johnson, “is in the wilderness of the Roundhouse.
“The toughest part is getting lawmakers to accept this concept
of animal movement,” he said. “We relegated them to
that space,” he said of the animals. “Now we need to
keep it open.”
To contact Pathways, email email@example.com
or call Mitch Johnson at 867-5100. The group meets on the fourth
Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Placitas Community Center.
A preliminary sketch for the Wildlife Corridor
Mural Project shows some of the animals that artists might choose
to add to the mosaic.
Wildlife corridor community mural project gets underway
We are very excited to announce that a community mural entitled
“Protect Our Wildlife Corridors” will be created on
the Placitas Recycling Center wall on Highway 165 in Placitas. We
express our gratitude to the Placitas Recycling Center board members
for unanimously approving this huge endeavor, which will take at
least two years to complete. We hope to include every person who
is interested in working on the project. Laura Robbins and Cirrelda
Snider will spearhead the mural and are asking artists who have
experience with clay or mosaics to be involved in creating the initial
large animals. If you are an interested artist and have not already
been contacted, please let us know.
Linda Hughes will coordinate the Placitas Elementary Arts in the
School program to involve children in creating flora and part of
the landscape. Also, Albuquerque’s Bosque School art teacher,
Ann Dunbar, and science teacher, Dan Shaw, have offered to help
with this project during the 2008-2009 school year. Students at
the Bosque School have been intimately involved with monitoring
Las Huertas Creek for years and have been providing data to UNM,
BEMP, and elsewhere. Students will help to create cacti and other
native plants, etc. We will announce workshops for the general community
in the future, but if you are a teacher or leader of a group (whether
they be seniors or Scouts) in Placitas or Bernalillo and would like
to get involved, please let us know. We are especially in need of
a person who would be willing to work on fundraising.
We believe that the clay and mosaic mural will enhance the Placitas
• Engaging and educating the community about local wildlife
needs and preservation so that this awareness becomes part of the
culture of Placitas.
• Involving community members in an artistic project. Placitas
and Bernalillo residents will be invited to help in various ways
to see the mural progress and reach completion.
• Adding artistic beauty to a wall in the already beautiful
• Creating historic quality by stamping names of contributing
community members into clay pieces, as well as those of individuals
and businesses who are fiscally supportive.
The Sandias and Rio Grande form parts of very crucial “wildlife
corridors” (i.e., strips of habitat connecting wildlife populations
separated by human activities). Thus, the Placitas Recycling Center
is in a great position to be a place to honor as well as educate
our community about these important parts of our land that happen
to be in our own backyard.
For further information, contact Laura Robbins (867-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Cirrelda Snider (897-0285 or email@example.com).
West-wide Energy Corridor Plan proposed route through
southeastern Sandoval County
West-wide Energy Corridor project update
The public comment period for the proposed “West-wide”
Energy Corridor project closed on February 14, 2008. Numerous parties,
including Las Placitas Association (LPA), submitted comments, and
most are in agreement that the plan is deeply flawed. The project,
authorized by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, proposes a massive network
of energy transmission corridors spanning the eleven western United
States. The project is officially proposed and documented in a Programmatic
Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), published in September 2007
by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management
(DOE/EIS-0386). The corridors would average two-thirds of a mile
in width and accommodate high-voltage electric transmission lines
(such as the one visible on BLM land north of Indian Flats) and
pipelines carrying various petroleum, and possibly even hydrogen,
products. As proposed, the corridor project officially includes
only segments that occur on federal lands. However, internal “hypothetical”
working maps obtained from federal agencies under a Freedom of Information
Act request show pre-planned routes connecting the various federal
land segments with additional segments on private, state, and tribal
lands. One of these segments includes a route through the Placitas
area (see map inset).
General public dissatisfaction (to put it lightly) with the plan
was expressed at a public meeting held in Albuquerque on January
24. Numerous individuals representing private landowners, tribes
and pueblos, master-planned residential communities, and land grants
spoke out against the proposed corridor. Most of the comments provided
both at the public meeting, and later in written form directly to
the agencies, express the following common themes:
1) Affected parties, including tribes, pueblos, states, counties,
and private landowners, were not adequately notified and consulted
about the project, as required by the National Environmental Policy
Act and the 2005 Energy Policy Act.
2) The project as proposed constitutes a “segmented action.”
By attempting to secure corridor routes on federal lands only, connected
corridors through private, state, and tribal lands become all but
pre-approved. The normal process for this is through eminent domain,
3) By not conducting proper consultation with affected parties,
the corridors have been placed without the benefit of local knowledge
and land-use plans. The result is a proposed corridor that may affect
especially sensitive cultural and ecological areas and clash with
local land-use plans. The potential hypothetical local corridor
through Placitas passes through parts of the Las Huertas Creek riparian
area, the historical and cultural feature of the San Antonio de
Las Huertas Land Grant, and established residential areas, including
master-planned communities such as Diamond Tail and Campbell Farms
communities, for example.
4) The project fails to address environmental impacts or their
mitigation even on federal lands, let alone on the non-federal lands
that will be affected by the project. The project fails to comply
with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species
Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.
5) The project fails to present a range of reasonable alternatives
to the “Proposed Action.” The project evaluates only
the proposed action and a no-action alternative, with no other reasonable
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1) Become more informed about the proposed energy corridor project
by reviewing the project website at http://corridoreis.anl.gov/.
You may also review LPA’s written comments at http://www.lasplacitas.org/lpa_pdfs/corridor_comments.pdf.
2) Write, fax, or call your governmental representatives, starting
at the county level and working up to our congressional delegation.
Advise them of your opinions and present your questions regarding
the proposed energy corridor plan. The more people who contact our
representatives, the more likely this project might be given a second
look before steamrolling ahead as planned. Appropriate contact information
is as follows:
NEW MEXICO POLITICAL REPRESENTATIVES:
The Honorable Jeff Bingaman
703 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Telephone: (202) 224-5521
Fax: (202) 224-2852
The Honorable Bill Richardson
Office of the Governor
490 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Telephone: (505) 476-2200
The Honorable Pete Domenici
328 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Telephone: (202) 224-6621
Fax: (202) 228-3261
The Honorable Steve Komadina
PO Box 2085
Corrales, NM 87048
Telephone: (505) 328-4696
The Honorable Heather Wilson
442 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Telephone: (202) 225-6316
Fax: (202) 225-4975
The Honorable Kathy McCoy
PO Box 1488
Cedar Crest, NM 87008
Telephone: (505) 281-9540
The Honorable Tom Udall
1410 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Telephone: (202) 225-6190
Fax: (202) 226-1331
The Honorable Steve Pearce
1607 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-2365
Telephone: (202) 225-2365
Fax: (202) 225-9599
Sandoval County Manager
PO Box 40
Bernalillo, NM 87004
Sandoval County Commissioner
PO Box 40
Bernalillo, NM 87004
The PEIS now enters a review period, and will supposedly be revised
to address the public comments presented to date. A final EIS will
be presented sometime this summer. The agencies will then issue
a “Record of Decision” (ROD) announcing their decision
to either accept or reject the plan as presented in the final EIS.
History tells us these are usually accepted. The time to make your
opinions heard to your governmental representatives is now.
Las Placitas Association plans to continue working to build a local
coalition in which we can explore potentially more optimal corridor
locations through this area, as well as challenge the fundamental
basis of the project. To contact us and learn how you can contribute
to or support our efforts, visit www.lasplacitas.org,
email us at firstname.lastname@example.org,
or call 867-5477.
Legal wrangling delays Wild Horse Mesa subdivision
On February 7, the Sandoval County Commission conducted a re-hearing
on Wild Horse Mesa Subdivision in Placitas, as ordered by District
Court Judge George Eichwald. Wild Horse Mesa, a Type Two Subdivision
developed by Dave Harper and Jon McCallister, consists of 42.88
acres, more or less, to be subdivided into forty-one lots ranging
in size from 1.000 acres to 1.33 acres. The proposed subdivision
is located in the Indian Flats area of Placitas. By a vote of three
to two, Commissioners voted to return the subdivision to the Planning
and Zoning Commission to revisit the application process.
Judge Eichwald ruled in November 2007 in favor of Placitas resident
Bill Patterson, who had appealed the October 2006 preliminary plat
approval of Wild Horse Mesa. For over ten years, Patterson has objected
to piecemeal development of the Indian Flats area. He contends that
the county has not considered the impact of a great deal of residential
development on transportation, drainage, and water supply. He also
charged that the county has ignored an illegal common promotional
plan to avoid more stringent subdivision regulations.
In his ruling, Judge Eichwald found that in approving the preliminary
plat, the county had not considered a common promotional plan, and
had acted arbitrarily and capriciously by not looking at the overall
combined effects of this and other subdivisions in the area. He
also ruled that there was inadequate legal notice concerning adjacent
Following the February 7th re-hearing, the County Development staff
issued its findings on the case. After reviewing the proposed subdivision
with County Attorney David Matthews, they concluded that the developers
of Wild Horse Mesa had followed all subdivision regulations and
that the county had gone by the book in the approval process. Another
re-hearing was scheduled for the February 21 meeting of the County
Patterson’s attorney James Sanchez immediately filed a motion
in District Court to order county officials to show cause why they
were not abiding by the court’s decision—that they were
in contempt of court.
On February 20, Judge Eichwald ordered an emergency hearing to
consider this motion, as well as a motion that he recuse himself
from the case.
At 8:00 a.m., the litigants appeared in court along with three
county commissioners, the county manager, and the heads of the county
development staff. Orville McCallister, attorney for the developers
of Wild Horse Mesa, argued that Eichwald should recuse himself from
the case due the “appearance of impropriety” stemming
from his professional relationship with Sanchez and campaign contributions
from Sanchez’s law firm. County Attorney Matthews argued that
the judge had improper communication with Sanchez outside the courtroom.
He told the judge that the mere fact that he had called this emergency
hearing over an alleged contempt of court that had not happened
yet demonstrated a bias against the county.
Eichwald curtly dismissed the motion for recusal and elected to
consider the contempt of court charges at a later date.
On the following day, the County Commission voted unanimously to
approve the preliminary plat of Wild Horse Mesa subdivision after
Matthews presented the staff review findings. Several commissioners
commended the staff on the good work done in complying with the
Matthews told the commissioners that the state Attorney General
is investigating allegations of a common promotional plan. He said
that the county has no jurisdiction over the criminal offense and
has “no remedy” since all the residential developments
in the Indian Flats area have been sold to homeowners. He also said
that he can find no evidence of a common promotional plan, i.e.
dummy corporations, transfer of land to family members, profit sharing
with the developer, etc.
Harper and McCallister have filed suit against Patterson, James
Sanchez, and Sanchez’s law firm, alleging that they had engaged
in a malicious abuse of the legal process. The developers also allege
that Patterson and his attorney intentionally harmed them by slandering
the title of the subdivision by filing a Lis Pendence to notify
potential buyers of the pending litigation, causing financial loss.
Patterson says that he is trying to protect his own property value
and that his legal actions are not malicious. In 2006, due primarily
to Patterson’s activism, the Sandoval County Commission declared
a moritorium on new subdivisions in Placitas while they revised
the regulations to eliminate possible abuse of the development process.
Sheriff’s Office conducts county-wide checkpoints
—JOHN PAUL TRUJILLO, SHERIFF
The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office will conduct several
county-wide operations and checkpoints throughout Sandoval County
from February 10 through April 10. The purpose of these operations
is to have high-visibility patrols and enforce traffic laws with
special attention to speeding, seatbelt use, aggressive driving,
reckless driving, and DWIs.
As Sheriff, it is my belief that the main goal of our checkpoints
and operations is to reduce DWI and aggressive driving crashes through
education, information, and enforcement. The Sandoval County Sheriff’s
Department, along with the New Mexico Traffic Safety Bureau encourages
people to drive responsibly, use safety belts, and most importantly,
to not drink and drive.