Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

 
Up Front

Paseo del Volcan extension easing traffic congestion

On Thursday, February 10, the extension of Paseo del Volcan (N.M. 347) from Iris Road to U.S. 550 was officially opened for motorist use. The 3.4-mile extension cost approximately $19 million and required about 19 months to complete.

The project consisted of the addition of a two-lane roadway, drainage crossings, roadway intersections with traffic signals, three bridges, and the raising of Enchanted Hills Boulevard.

The design provides additional access for traffic coming to and from Interstate 25 via U.S. 550 to the City Center area, which includes City Hall, Santa Ana Star Center, Hewlett-Packard, UNM West campus, CNM Rio Rancho Campus, Cleveland High School, and the forthcoming UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center.

Funding for the project came from $14 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money allocated by the Mid-Region Council of Governments in March 2009; $3,776,609 from a previously awarded New Mexico Department of Transportation grant stemming from federal High Priority Project (HPP) funding; and $944,152 from a general obligation road improvement bond approved by Rio Rancho voters in March 2009.

HDR Engineering, Inc. performed the design work related to the project and Mountain States Constructors was the project contractor.

The first section of Paseo del Volcan completed in Rio Rancho, from Unser Boulevard to Iris Road, was completed in October 2006 and is 3.9 miles of two-lane pavement.


Gas outage crisis continues to leave unanswered questions

During a U.S. Senate hearing on February 21, in Albuquerque, New Mexico's U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall questioned executives from companies involved with February’s natural gas crisis during a field hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Emphasis was placed on why so many New Mexicans were left out in the cold without natural gas during the bitter cold snap. The hearing focused not only on the service disruptions from the New Mexico Gas Company to some 30,000 customers, but the reliability of the regional energy infrastructure.

“Obviously there were all kinds of failures with regard to the communications with customers and regard to adequate response plans,” Bingaman said.

“Did we underestimate it? Yes we did,” conceded George Schreiber, a member of the New Mexico Gas Company board of directors.

Schreiber took part in the panel discussion along with executives from the two pipeline companies that supply New Mexico, as well as a regulator from the Texas electricity grid and two federal regulators. The pipeline executives said they never lost power at their compression stations, but the problem started at processing plants in Texas and New Mexico. The failure at the processing plants caused the gas supply to plummet while demand was skyrocketing as the arctic cold front brought record low temperatures to much of New Mexico and western Texas.

Executives said the processing plants that feed gas to New Mexico had a slew of problems as well. Some lost power, some had difficulty operating in the cold temperatures and many were not winterized to withstand the cold causing ice buildup in pipelines that took up to two weeks to fix.

In earlier testimony to a legislative committee, New Mexico Gas Co. officials said that, at the outset of the crisis, the company faced a rapid drop in gas pressure in its lines because a transmission pipeline couldn't provide gas supplies that had been ordered. Therefore, the pipeline couldn't deliver the gas because of the low pressure in its lines that was caused by electrical power outages in Texas, which disrupted gas supplies from processing plants and wells.

By the time the gas in the pipeline reached New Mexico Gas Company, the utility says the pressure was at a point where the entire system was on the verge of collapse.

"The system was crashing so rapidly and with such an amount, that we were fearful that we would have lost a large, large portion of Albuquerque and surrounding areas," said Ken Oostman, the utility's vice president for technical services. "We were very fearful that we would lose the entire system."

 The decision-making behind which communities would lose out on natural gas to keep the entire system from shutting down and leaving hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans throughout the state without natural gas on one of the coldest days of the winter for New Mexico was a difficult one. It came down to the expediency with which crews could get the main valves to a community turned off, and with the hope that the reduction in demand from the shut-down communities would be sufficient to reduce the load enough to stabilize the system. One by one, valves were closed.

In the hours that followed, the scene was repeated across the state as New Mexico Gas Co. crews wrestled to keep their system's core alive by cutting off its failing extremities until the system was finally "balanced,” with the limited gas supply finally meeting the massive demand of New Mexico's coldest morning in 40 years.

It became a race to protect the core of the system, the population centers of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Company engineers who had apparently spent four days scrambling to avoid having to effectively decide who stayed warm and who didn't -- a decision that has sent human, political and economic shock waves through the state -- had apparently won the battle, but lost the war.

Whether the company officials could have done more is open to debate. But this much is clear: Every move they made was trumped by the forces of nature. As the cold had continued to gain the upper hand and gas lines emptied, crews closed valves, cutting one community after another off of the gas grid -- first Tularosa, then down to La Luz and Alamogordo on the gas company's southern system. To the north, Red River went first, followed by Questa, Taos and Española in a trail of fallen dominoes that did not end until company officials made the decision to cut service to Placitas and Bernalillo.

Udall and Bingaman said they want to see increased regulation so that natural gas facilities are required to meet a certain standard of winterization and to make sure they’re not part of rolling brownouts in the future, while New Mexico Gas Company said it is now looking into isolation valves along the interstate pipeline system so that fewer customers would be affected in the event another disaster scenario plays out.

"If we have to curtail customers,which of course we don’t' want to do, but if we do, we can curtail it in a much more concentrated area so we can shed the load we need to, but then relight much faster than six days," Schreiber said.

Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres was one of eight mayors who met with New Mexico Gas Co. officials shortly after the outages, on February 16, to discuss why the company shut off service during the recent record-setting cold snap, but left dissatisfied after not getting answers about how future emergencies could affect the town. It is still not clear whether the town can expect reimbursement for roughly $32,000 in overtime expenses for police, fire, recreation department and water utility workers during the multi day crisis.

In addition, Mayor Torres announced that the Town of Bernalillo continues to press the Gas Company of New Mexico to rectify all claims and issues related to this situation. The town has offered an office and administrative assistance to the Gas Company to deal directly with local claims and will inform the public should the Gas Company accept this offer. Mayor Torres and the town will continue to update the community on developments in their ongoing meetings with the Gas Company of New Mexico, State and Federal regulation agencies and the office of Governor Susana Martinez.

New Mexico Gas Company (which is a subsidiary of Continental Energy Systems LLC, a utility holding company and through its subsidiaries, serves approximately 835,000 natural gas customers in Alaska, Michigan and New Mexico) recently announced information and details for its claims process in the wake of gas shortages in its service territory. The company announced a one million dollar fund to assist customers with claims as a result of the gas shortage.

The company has posted an online form for customers to file claims in English and Spanish. There are several ways customers can file a claim:

-Online at http://www.nmgco.com/emergency_updates customers http://www.nmgco.com/emergency_updates.aspx (where customers can fill out a claims form and submit it directly from the Web site.)

·Customers may print the form from http://www.nmgco.com/emergency_updates.aspx, fill it out and fax or mail it to the New Mexico Gas Company Claims Department.

·Call the customer service number at 1-888-664-2726.

New Mexico Gas Company has put into place a special claims team to expedite claims. Once a claim is filed online or on the phone with a customer service representative, customers will immediately receive a claim number. Customer service will call customers with a claim number if they file through the mail or via fax.

To file a claim, customers must provide their New Mexico Gas Company account number and insurance information, including their insurance policy number.


Orlando Lucero

Sandoval County Commissioner Orlando Lucero

You have to give before you get

—Margaret M. Nava

Orlando Lucero sips a hot chocolate during a rare break from his hectic schedule. When he isn’t working in his orchard, restoring historic churches, visiting his grandchildren, carving colonial furniture, or teaching in the South Valley, he serves as Sandoval County Commissioner of District 1, overseeing county activities and working to ensure that concerns of residents in his district are met, federal and state requirements are fulfilled, and county operations run smoothly. Considering that District 1 includes the communities of Sandia Pueblo, Bernalillo, Santa Ana Pueblo, Algodones, San Felipe Pueblo, Placitas, La Madera, and San Pedro Creek Estates, that means he spends a lot of time working with and representing constituents, as well as running back and forth between meetings of the county board, board sub-committees, and other county-related commissions.

Having served as a county commissioner for the last four-and-a-half years, Lucero is pledged to “challenging growth while preserving the rural and cultural atmosphere of Sandoval County.” Some of the ways he accomplishes that is by working to protect wildlife corridors, promoting wellness activities, creating a transportation plan for moving Sandoval County traffic rapidly, encouraging high standards of education, securing competitive salaries for county employees, supporting water conservation, and sponsoring town and community meetings.

But while each of these endeavors is of enormous importance, the volunteer work Lucero does with inmates, teens, and seniors seems closest to his heart.

Lucero says most of his Saturdays are spent with high school kids who have to do mandated community service. “All the kids I’ve worked with are really very good. A lot of them are just having trouble in school or are working off misdemeanors or traffic tickets. You know… petty things. Pulling weeds and cleaning up old buildings gives them time to think and, hopefully, helps them turn their lives around and get back on the right track.

“On Sunday, I spend time at the Sandoval County Correctional Facility working with the inmates. A lot of these guys are very remorseful about what they’ve done, but don’t know any other way because of the way they were brought up. One of the things I try to tell them is that the Scriptures can show them a better way… an easier way. Some guys laugh at my Bible because it has all kinds of notes written in the margins, and it looks really beat up. Several years ago, I was talking to a guy who must have been seven-two, 500 pounds. It was the first time I felt apprehensive about what I was doing. His arms were like country hams, and he was covered with tattoos, but he was a marshmallow. He stood in the back of the room and listened to what I had to say, then said it was exactly what he needed to hear. That made me feel really good.

“I’ve also worked with incarcerated teenagers at CYFD. Those kids were really hard core. Most of them never had a dad or a role model, so I used to joke around and laugh with them. Like the guys at the correctional facility, I talked to them about the Bible. Some listened, some didn’t. I’d like to think that maybe one or two were able to stay out of prison because of learning about the Bible.

“The thing I enjoy the most is visiting the elderly. I grew up in Bernalillo and went to school here, so I got to know a lot of wonderful people, and I always admired what they did and how they treated people. Most of them are gone now, but there are still one or two around, and when I talk with them, I learn from them. One of them told me about an old dance hall that used to be here in town. I guess one night someone got the idea to drag it down the highway with horses, so they set it on rollers and had about fifteen huge horses pulling it. Isn’t that amazing?

“I’m also looking at helping the elderly with their yards and maybe even getting them to plant vegetable gardens. It’ll get them out in the sun, it’ll help keep them physically active, and it might help them feel more useful. It’s cheaper than buying a lot of exercise equipment, and the food they grow will be healthy for them.”

Lucero considers his volunteer work as part of his community involvement.

“Last year, a lady called me and said she didn’t have a roof on her house. When I went to look, I found out the roof was actually there, but it was full of holes. She was a widow and didn’t have the money to repair the roof, so I started making phone calls and got some donated materials. Then I ran a notice in the local church bulletins, and about 15 college kids showed up to work on that roof. Some of them were on community service and complained that they never did anything for free. But I told them, ‘What goes around comes around. If you don’t give, you don’t get. Life has a way of paying you back.’ Everyone worked together, and we roofed that house in one day.”

There’s an old saying: You have to give before you get. You must plant your seeds before you reap the harvest. The more you sow, the more you’ll reap. If all that’s true, Orlando Lucero must be reaping a very rich harvest.

     

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