An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Pepper Trail

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 you.

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.


Sandia Shadows

The shadows on Sandia Mountain show pathways that wildlife might take to travel.

Travel Management Plan worries Pathways

—KEIKO OHNUMA

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/ tm_sandia/index.html.

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 pathwayswc@yahoo.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.


Wildlife Mural

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

—LAURA ROBBINS

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 community by:

• 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 landscape.

• 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 foothillstudio@comcast.net) or Cirrelda Snider (897-0285 or cirrelda@laalamedapress.com).


energy corridor map

West-wide Energy Corridor Plan proposed route through southeastern Sandoval County

West-wide Energy Corridor project update

—REID BANDEEN

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, i.e. condemnation.

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 solutions explored.

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
Email: senator_bingaman@bingaman.senate.gov

The Honorable Bill Richardson
Office of the Governor
490 Old Santa Fe Trail
Room 400
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
Email: komadina@stevekomadina.com

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

Debbie Hayes
Sandoval County Manager
PO Box 40
Bernalillo, NM 87004
Telephone: 867-7500

Orlando Lucero
Sandoval County Commissioner
PO Box 40
Bernalillo, NM 87004
Telephone: 867-7500

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 lasplacitas@gmail.com, or call 867-5477.


Legal wrangling delays Wild Horse Mesa subdivision

—TY BELKNAP

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 developments.

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 Commission.

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 court order.

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.

 

 

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