Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

c. Joan Fenicle

Manzanas de Placitas, fine art photography, by Joan Fenicle. See story in Sandoval Arts, this Signpost.

Open Space sign

Sign at west entrance to Placitas Open Space

Sapien requests Placitas Open Space funding

—Ty Belknap

State District 19 Senator John Sapien has requested $100,000 in capital outlay for fencing and maintaining the Placitas Open Space (POS) which is managed by the Albuquerque Open Space Division (AOS). Sapien also requested $145,000 to purchase 34,000 acres of land adjoining the POS from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to create a state park for recreational use and a horse sanctuary. This request must now pass through several committees before it goes to Governor Martinez for final approval. Sapien’s requests were prompted by Placitas residents Mike Neas and Marty Clifton. Neas pointed out to Sapien that the POS was being overgrazed by feral horses and required fencing to comply with AOS agreements with the BLM. [See letter of support in Gauntlet, this Signpost.] Clifton proposed the horse sanctuary (See Clifton letter in February 2013 Gauntlet,]

Las Placitas Association (LPA), whose primary purpose has been to protect the POS, has endorsed the planned fencing project, but does not take a position on the horse problem. Neas sought LPA endorsement for fencing the POS to control the horses when he addressed their board of directors last December to bring their attention to the growing problem of overgrazing. He told them that the horses were destroying the POS, including 280 acres of riparian area as a direct result of the missing fence. He warned that because of a reversionary clause, the BLM could take over management of the POS. Neas also told them that he had received assurance from the AOS that the fencing would be done and that he had been in touch with Sapien regarding funding.

Professional plant ecologist Bill Dunmire told the LPA that he had been involved with the POS since its inception. He said, “I am deeply troubled by the explosion of so-called ‘wild horses’ in the Placitas region, particularly as they have affected the native grasslands on the Placitas Open Space. They should properly be called feral horses, since they are the offspring of domestic horses first brought to New Mexico by Spanish colonizers in 1598 and thus are neither native, wild, nor part of the natural ecosystem that the Las Placitas Association has been trying to preserve.”

Dunmire spent much of 1997 conducting a vegetational survey on the 560-acre Placitas Open Space that resulted in a report titled, “Biological/Environmental Survey—Placitas Open Space: A Report on the Environmental Condition of the City of Albuquerque Open Space Land, Placitas, New Mexico, 1997.” In 2007, he conducted a resurvey of the Placitas Open Space that resulted in a follow-up report to the Las Placitas Association, titled, “10-Year Reevaluation of Vegetational Conditions and Vegetation Restoration Design Recommendations: Placitas Open Space, Placitas, New Mexico.”

Dunmire is a recognized authority on the history of domestic livestock in New Mexico. His years of research on this subject have resulted in a book that will be published by UNM Press in March, 2013, titled New Mexico’s Spanish Livestock Heritage: Four Centuries of Animals, Land, and People, the first and only book on this subject to be published. A chapter on “Impacts upon the land” discusses New Mexico’s feral horse problem and includes a statement about organizations like the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) lobbying for legislation to recognize the free-roaming feral horses.

Dunmire told LPA, “My position is that all feral horses should be removed from the POS as quickly as possible and that the area should be fenced immediately to preclude reentry of these domestic animals.” He characterized the LPA Board of Director President’s statement in the Signpost regarding the positive effects of grazing grasses to ground level as ridiculous.

Matt Schmader of AOS told the Signpost that AOS would hire a contractor to fence the POS. He wrote, “Open Space has a limited amount of funding for fencing and protecting all of our properties; we had offered to do the fencing and gating in any case pending the outcome of the senator’s funding request. The project may not cost as much as the full $10,000.

When asked if he acknowledged that feral horses are damaging the open space environment, Schmader answered, “From photographs that have been sent, it is clear that areas have been denuded and subject to erosion. These photos have not been completely field-verified. While horses may be contributing to these conditions, it is not possible to say whether they are the only source of damage at present. I cannot, for example, rule out whether domestic horses or other animals or people are contributing as well.”

He said that AOS would not be fencing the horses out of the POS. “Open Space will be taking reasonable measures to protect the integrity of the native landscape. We are acting to protect the conditions of the environment and not necessarily doing this as an action targeted at any one particular species. There is still some analysis needed as to what constitutes “grazing” in relation to the BLM’s definitions, and of the City’s land management responsibilities in coordination with the BLM. I would add that we are going to install gates along the property boundary to allow for more flexible access and land management procedures.”

Schmader went on, “We require more community agreement, as it is clear there are differing desirers and differing opinions. What we would like to see is all sides agreeing on rational strategies to manage the land in general and the horses in particular. We have been getting input from various sources and will likely keep getting public comments, but Open Space does plan to act very shortly to protect the land. We do not have the expertise necessary to remove horses and thus that issue remains, separately from the matter of proceeding with fencing and gating. We also reserve the right to manage the land as we see fit in the future, and want to preserve all options without making any irreversible decisions when much information is needed, much community agreement is needed, and much interagency problem-solving is needed.”

He concluded, “This whole issue is much larger than, simply, Open Space’s management of 560 acres as an isolated parcel of land.”

Bernalillo Town Council addresses fatality at train tracks, future accident prevention

—Karen Lermuseaux

All councilors were present for the February 11 Town Council meeting. There were many people who attended the meeting, and lots of information was presented.

Mayor Torres spoke with regard to the recent fatality of one of our youth, 15-year-old José Angel, who was hit by the train on his way home from school. Torres expressed condolences to the family, as did the council, for the tragedy of their loss, saying that although they cannot undo what has happened, they will work to try to prevent it from happening again. Torres has spoken with the Council of Governments (COG) executives, the Department of Transportation (DOT), Amtrac executives, Rail Runner executives, and Burlington/Northern executives regarding the safety of our citizens along the railroad tracks and what they might be able to do to help the town of Bernalillo. He mentioned that both Los Lunas and Santa Fe have rail trails along the railroad tracks through their communities, and that is what Bernalillo needs. He and Maria Rinaldi, Bernalillo's director of community development and capital planning, have worked on an application to the legislature for approximately $255,000, which would provide for a fence along the tracks from the High School to the southern border of Bernalillo, with a four-foot fence that would have four pedestrian crossings. A paved footpath would also parallel the railroad tracks. These changes would encourage people to use the footpath and only cross at the specific pedestrian crossings. The council unanimously agreed to support this request.

Further action by the council included a few changes to the Ordinance on water conservation #198 from 2005. Maria and Alice Darlick (who was recommended by the Bureau of Reclamation to assist with the work) summarized the changes that they have been working on for almost one year, which included sections addressing responding to drought conditions and when water use is reduced. Specific triggers were identified for all three stages (identified by the water levels that can be maintained in the storage tanks for a specific number of days), increased fees were listed for each violation, specific plumbing codes for new and remodeled houses were made, and times for watering during various levels were set. An education campaign will include the restaurants (with water provided upon request) and hotels (no daily linen change for multiple night stays unless guest requests it). The council approved the new ordinance unanimously.

The community block development grant application by the town will request funds to rehabilitate water well #2 at highways 165 and 550. This would provide for a back up for water with the town’s contribution being about $94,000. This was approved unanimously.

A new license for a fiberoptic cable by the company Zayo Group LLC was approved by the council.

The library board requested an update to the bylaws, which was unanimously approved.

Mayor Torres has spoken with Tom Church at DOT about the delays caused by work along highway 550, and asked anyone who has problems with the traffic to bring it to his attention so those traffic delays can be reduced.

c. Rudi Klimpert

State Engineer allocates water to Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District

—Lela Hunt

Scott Verhines, the New Mexico State Engineer and Rio Grande Compact Commissioner for New Mexico, will allocate 20,000 acre-feet of water to the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) to protect farmers, water users, and our environment during the continued drought.

New Mexico is entering the third drought year in a row. El Vado Reservoir is almost empty and storage restrictions determined by the Rio Grande Compact are in effect. These conditions place great stress on the entire Rio Grande corridor. New Mexico is currently working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to secure an agreement for storing the allocated water in El Vado Reservoir. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District will then be able to store water in El Vado when river flows are sufficient and release it later in the summer to support our farmer’s irrigation needs.

“We recognize the importance of MRGCD having about 80,000 acre-feet of water in storage to meet farmer’s irrigation needs this summer. The allocation of 20,000 acre-feet of water to MRGCD will help provide water to farmers through August,” said State Engineer Verhines. “This water supports the goal of meeting flow targets for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow and assists the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s surface water diversion operations.”

The New Mexico Compact Commissioner Scott Verhines will consider providing the MRGCD an additional amount of water later this spring depending upon the drought status at that time. The 20,000 acre-feet currently allocated to MRGCD was generated by New Mexico’s past over-deliveries of water to Texas under the Rio Grande Compact.

“Our goal is to keep our communities intact. We are working with water users statewide to stretch a limited supply of water as far as possible during this third year of drought,” said Interstate Stream Commission Director Estevan López.

The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission is taking numerous actions statewide to mitigate continuing drought conditions where possible. The Elephant Butte pilot channel is maintained in part by the Interstate Stream Commission saving about 20,000 acre-feet of water per year. The water saved in the pilot channel supports New Mexicans living near and south of Elephant Butte Reservoir. Additionally, the NMOSE and the NMISC work with northern New Mexico acequias on the Rio Chama to craft a water sharing agreement allowing farmers to use the natural river flows while still protecting San Juan Chama water destined for the middle Rio Grande.

Still no federal prisoners at Sandoval County Detention Center

—Ty Belknap

In February, the Sandoval County and the United State Marshall Service jointly agreed to stop housing federal prisoners at Detention Center (SCDC), according to Sandoval County Spokesman Sidney Hill. The county has reduced the facility’s projected $8.3 million operating budget by $1.3 million for this fiscal year. That included $963,991 in salaries budgeted for correctional officers. As a result, 11 officers are being laid off, and 12 positions will remain unfilled.

On February 7, the Sandoval County Commission voted to spend $65,000 to hire a consultant with PRE-OFDT Certification Services to help Sandoval County Detention Center meet federal requirements to house prisoners.

Last year, the suicides of three inmates prompted the United States Marshal Service to pull all federal prisoners out of SCDC; two inmates hanged themselves in December of 2011. SCDC initiated new suicide prevention policies—regarding shoelaces in particular—in February, but on March 4, nineteen-year-old Dario Panteh, of Zuni Pueblo, died after hanging himself with a bed sheet. Two of the deaths involved federal prisoners.

“We thought we had figured it out. We passed some things with flying colors, but there were other areas we needed to work on,” SCDC Director Casamento told the Commission.

Commissioner Don Chapman voted against the new expense, saying, “I find it ludicrous to hear that we need to spend $65,000 to have someone tell us how to do this. It tells me that we’re not quite up to snuff on what we need to do to run the jail.”

Since last March, SCDC has revamped policies and procedures, and the county commission has authorized spending about $178,000 on a contract for mental health services. The county has also spent $500,000 on maintenance, infrastructure improvements, and hiring to ensure the jail would comply with requirements to house the federal prisoners. 

The jail houses up to 386 prisoners and was averaging between 150 to 170 federal prisoners daily at a reimbursement rate of $67 per inmate, averaging four million dollars of the annual 8.6 million dollar annual budget. County Manager Phil Rios said the county covered the loss and the other expenses from cash reserves.

SCDC agreed to add a mental health nurse practitioner and mental health professional to the staff for twenty hours a week. They will also be available by phone or pager twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Casamento told the Commission that the psychiatrist, registered nurse, and medical doctor who currently work at the jail will now make referrals for inmates in need of mental health services, therapy, or medication.

The new procedures involve treatment and care of prisoners considered to be a suicide risk, including a round-the-clock, “line-of-sight” watch, as well as mandatory confiscation of shoelaces. More information will be required of the staff when conducting suicide and medical screening when inmates are booked into SCDC.

Federal inmates starting coming back to SCDC on August 1. At that time, Casamento said that he expected to continue receiving them until they are back to the full complement of roughly two hundred.

Hill said that SCDC still has a contract to hold prisoners booked on federal charges until they go to trial or until charges are dropped. Hill also said that SCDC needs the consultant (who has not yet been hired) to bring clarity so that they don’t fall out of compliance with federal standards, and that this approach was deemed better for all concerned. There is currently no timeframe established for this process.

According to Hill, the county had to reduce the budget for SCDC because the projected budget was based on staff requirements for federal prisoners. He said that the $500,000 spent last year went toward improvements needed at SCDC regardless of federal requirements.

Bernalillo Town Council notes

—Karen Lermuseaux

All councilors were present for the January 26 Town Council meeting. Public attendance was again sparse, possibly due to the inclement weather. The hiring of two people for the town planning, zoning, and building inspection was one of the important issues discussed at the meeting.

Ty Jameson had been acting zoning administrator since last fall and applied for the position of Planning and Zoning Administrator. His promotion was unanimous and most likely based on his interaction with the council and mayor and his prior experience with the city of Albuquerque. Congrats to Ty Jameson.

Charles Bratton applied for the position of building inspector and was unanimously approved for the position. He brings with him more than twenty years in the building industry. He has experience in the private sector as well as in the military. Welcome Mr. Bratton.

Bernalillo had signed a MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the city of Rio Rancho for them to provide inspector services for a short time until the Town could fill the position and both benefitted from that MOU. Apparently, on January 25, the Construction Industries Division (CID) of Santa Fe summoned Rio Rancho personnel to a meeting in Santa Fe to discuss the agreement and advised that they were not to do any inspections for Bernalillo. The CID later cancelled that meeting.

Chief Carroll just returned from Louisiana with a new rescue pumper for the Town. It will be housed at Station Two after it is completely stocked. It has a 1500 GPM (gallons per minute) pump, a one-thousand-gallon tank, and foam, which is primarily used for hazardous materials. I can’t wait to see it…

Mayor Torres mentioned that the capital requests had been submitted to the NM Legislature, and it is too early to know what will be approved. Also, Torres talked about Sandia Pueblo having submitted two trust applications to the State of NM for property, one piece that is located east of I-25 at the northern pueblo boundary and one 21 acre piece that is located at the corner of I-25 and 165 (the NE corner). Councilors questioned whether it is possible for the pueblo to submit requests for property within the town limits, and Mayor Torres advised that it could be possible. All city property had been researched and deeds were all up to par at this time, per Torres.

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