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State delays filling conservation vacancies

—Bill Diven

Vacancies on the troubled area conservation district remain unfilled after state officials decided packing it with people from Placitas wouldn’t reflect the diversity of Sandoval County. Instead, the New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation Commission put off appointments until its March 11 meeting to allow more outreach to pueblos, Bernalillo, and other communities.

“Land and soil need attention,” Commissioner Gabe Estrada said. “We need a capable board that will get in there and do the right thing. This is serious business.”

Estrada, who is from the Las Vegas-area district, said he is familiar with the sandy soil in Sandoval County and how vulnerable it is to erosion. “My concern is real deep,” he added.

At a January 16 meeting three members of the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District resigned, citing concerns over possible personal liability should the Piedra Liza Dam fail. The dam just east of Interstate 25 blocks a major arroyo flowing from the Sandia Mountains and protects the town of Bernalillo.

The rebuilding of State Road 165 at Interstate 25 has blocked proper access to the dam for maintenance, and discussions with the state Department of Transportation, Dam Safety Bureau, and the town of Bernalillo did not resolves the concerns, the trio said.

That left three district supervisors—Lynn Montgomery, Jon Couch, and Gary Miles—on the board, whose charge includes preventing erosion and preserving watersheds in a district that takes in southeastern Sandoval County and much of the Sandia Mountains. Current efforts include aiding Placitas acequia associations and working with the U.S. Forest Service on forest thinning and reducing wildfire threats around Placitas homes.

The district also is in the thick of controversy after ordering the state Livestock Board to round up the wild, stray, or feral horses wandering Placitas.

At an emergency meeting on January 21, and with Miles absent, Montgomery and Couch elected Montgomery as interim chair. Miles, who opposes the horse roundup, was absent.

In Santa Fe at the February 11 meeting of the state commission Montgomery recommended two applicants, both from Placitas, for appointment to the board. He and Couch contacted the pueblos in the district but possible nominations from them were still churning through the tribal governments, he said.

“It does take time for these things to happen,” Couch told the state commission. “The outreach has been there. It’s been there all along. The fact that we come from Placitas doesn’t mean that we don’t have sensitivity for the rest of the district.”

Commissioner Duston Hunt said contact with the town of Bernalillo had produced three names of people who might be willing to serve but had yet to be contacted.

The commission voted to reduce the size of the Coronado district board from six members to five with an eye toward expanding it to seven in the future. It also set February 24 as the deadline for additional applications.

New Mexico has 48 SWCDs as part of a federal program dating to Dust Bowl days when drought, wind, and poor farming practices created massive dust clouds that stripped soil from the plains and drove farmers from their land. The Coronado SWCD describes itself as the only government agency that interfaces directly with landowners on collaborative resource-protection projects.


Commission okays PNM solar project

Signpost Staff

A nearly eighty-acre site west of Rio Rancho called the Sandoval County Solar Energy Center is planned to be up and running by winter. With an estimated 82,350 solar panels moving with the sun during the day, the project carries a price tag of $16.1 million.

"This is one of the most expensive of our solar projects," Laurie Moye of PNM told Sandoval County commissioners as they considered a zoning change needed for the project. The panels will generate enough energy to power about 2,400 average homes, according to PNM figures.

The site is one-half mile from the nearest home in an undeveloped area platted as Rio Rancho Estates along Encino Road north of Northern Boulevard. Some nearby lot owners, however, objected saying the zoning change will affect the resale value of their properties. "We bought lots with pristine views of the Jemez and Santa Fe mountains," Les Vallejos said. "No one wants to have a rural-residential estate with 8 feet of chain link and solar panels in their backyard."

Ultimately the commission approved the zone change 4-1 with Commissioner Orlando Lucero voting no.

The county imposed several restrictions, among them not stringing barbed or razor wire along the top of the perimeter security fence. Moye said PNM prefers to place in on the ground against the fence if needed because that's where copper thieves tend to break in. The site will be monitored and operated remotely and generate an estimated $152,000 in annual property taxes.

County Commission notes

During their Feb. 6 and 20 meetings, the Sandoval County commissioners also:

  • Heard a plea for financial help from C.A.S.A. Sandoval County, which supplies advocates for children taken into foster care. Executive Director Dr. Tammy Hanks said the program grew to the point it was required to hire a volunteer coordinator and is now expecting a 21 percent cut in state funding. C.A.S.A. is currently helping 67 children with its caseload recently reaching 80.
  • Named as a Community Hero Lucy Gutierrez, who, as a single mom with five kids, earned a master's degree and worked with the Head Start program for 25 years.
  • Heard officials of Rust Medical Center, supported in part by county property taxes, announce an $80 million expansion expected to begin construction this summer and open in winter 2015-16. An outpatient cancer center is among the additions.
  • Heard officials of UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center, also supported by county taxes, detailed the growth of their services and patient counts and outlined plans to address the shortfall in nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians and community health aids in the state.
  • Heard applications will be taken beginning later this month for 100 slots in the Summer Youth Employment Program through the county's Human Resources Division.
  • Approved an application for a non-dispenser liquor license for a distillery in Algodones. The license permits production but not sales at the residential site, and county staff will require a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing before allows any special events.
  • Deferred action on the Rio Rancho Estates Area Plan covering more than 43,000 acres west of Rio Rancho pending a workshop meeting with other local governments and further presentations on details of the plan.

Placitas Sage workshop

Architect Bryan Bowen works on a site plan with Leland Bowen, Joyce Thompson, Janice Langdale, and Betty Milstead. Photo credit: —Bunny Bowen

Placitas Sage cohousing update

—Placitas Sage Cohousing group

Placitas Sage Cohousing group traveled to Denver in mid-February to attend a two-day “Getting It Built Workshop” led by Katie McCamant and Jim Leach, leaders in the national cohousing movement. The workshop furthered our knowledge of how to create a fun and functional “pocket neighborhood” for aging in place.

Hosted by Bryan Bowen, our architect, and other residents of Wild Sage Cohousing in Boulder, Colorado, we also visited Harmony Village, a Southwest-style community in Golden, Colorado; Nyland Cohousing in Lafayette, Colorado; and Silver Sage, a senior cohousing community in Boulder, Colorado. Our goal was to experience the congeniality and functionality of existing cohousing communities—and we did.

Bowen, son of long-time Placitas residents Bunny and Leland Bowen, brings not only his architectural acumen and cohousing expertise, but also his familiarity with “Placitas style.” With him and our local builder/developers Jim Madueña and Gail McGough-Madueña, we spent an additional exciting day moving little blocks around a layout of our projected site, planning the design for twenty “casitas in Placitas” grouped around a Common House for community activities. With the majority of the site devoted to open space and wildlife corridors, the plan will include walking trails, a residents’ arts and crafts studio, workshop, and community garden. J. G. Madueña Homes specializes in green and environmentally sensitive building, which fits our goal of creating a sustainable community with a small, light footprint on the land and in harmony with our neighbors.

We hope to be able to announce our site location in April, when we will invite those interested in joining Placitas Sage Cohousing to a site visit and open house. For further information, call Joyce Thompson at 505-404-8553, or visit PlacitasSage.org.

 
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