The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


The mighty Las Huertas Creek flows to the Rio Grande

The mighty Las Huertas Creek flows to the Rio Grande.
Water is flowing in several Placitas arroyos and creeks this Spring
due to above average snow melt.

Mariposa to be new home to 20,000 residents in northern Rio Rancho

What began as ten square miles of ruggedly beautiful terrain marked with juniper-and piñon-covered hills, winding arroyos, and incredible 360-degree views is changing.

Tucked between the northern boundaries of Rio Rancho and the southern borders of the Zia and Santa Ana pueblos, nearly sixty-five hundred acres is now Mariposa.

Just off Unser Boulevard and U.S. 550, Mariposa will be minutes away from Rio Rancho's new downtown. Over the next twenty-six years, the community will encompass as many as sixty-eight hundred residences and become home to twenty thousand or more New Mexicans.

Estate home lots have been designed to match the land and maximize views, with “envelopes” built in to preserve the natural terrain. More than one-half of Mariposa will be natural open space, and one-third of the new community will be devoted to a twenty-two-hundred-acre open-space preserve with a network of thirty-nine miles of trails.

Construction is now beginning on Phase I of Mariposa East, which will include single-family homes, small parks, and ten miles of trails for walking, jogging, and cycling. Mariposa East will be connected to Mariposa West by the open space. Ultimately, the community will include activity centers, including a clubhouse for residents, employment centers, shops, schools, and public gathering places.

Currently, roads are being graded, sewer pipes crisscross the ground, and construction is about halfway complete on a five-hundred-thousand- gallon-per-day wastewater treatment and reclamation facility. The plant will produce high-quality impotable water that can be reused on parks and community landscaping. There will also be water-harvesting facilities to collect rainwater for plant life and water stations for wildlife such as antelope and deer. Most arroyos will be maintained in their natural state, with drainage managed to provide beneficial use of runoff.

Lots in Mariposa East range from a half acre to three-quarters of an acre to one and one-half acres. For more information on Mariposa, call 823-9360 or visit


Norbert Barcena

Norbert Barcena

ARS USA head engineer Andy Polnicki (left) describes the arsenic-removal process
 to Rep. Heather Wilson and Bernalillo Mayor Charles Aguilar.


Bernalillo tests arsenic-removal system

—Signpost staff

Bernalillo town leaders are hopeful two events may help to resolve expensive problems with water and wastewater.

On April 15, the town unveiled a test program to remove naturally occurring arsenic from its water without the use of added chemicals. If the small-scale test works, a larger system could meet a federal mandate for considerably less than the estimated $4 million.

On the same day, Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) announced she was requesting an $8.5 million appropriation to upgrade the town wastewater plant. Again under the gun of federal requirements, town consultants estimate plant improvements will cost $13 million.

“Any kind of mathematician looking at $17 million knows we don't have it,” Mayor Charles Aguilar said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the arsenic test. “When you don't have money, you look to your friends.”

For the arsenic problem, Aguilar had to look no further than Placitas, home of Norbert Barcena and his firm, ARS USA. Barcena told the Signpost he was introduced to German arsenic-removal technology at a mine in Mexico and, after additional research, bought the U.S. rights for its use.

Since then he has received two patents, with a third pending for improvements to the process, he said. While the process has proved successful in removing arsenic from tanks of water, this is the first attempt to remove it from a continuous flow at a wellhead, he added.

The test will treat fifty thousand gallons a day and gather data on effectiveness and operational costs. The town pumps about one million gallons a day, with early estimates for chemical treatment of the water topping out at $100 a month per household.

“We'll be below any numbers that have been publicized,” Barcena said.

The system uses an electrolytic process in which arsenic bonds to a material that then can be removed and cleaned. Current methods add arsenic-collecting chemicals to the water, which then must be removed, increasing operating and cleanup costs.

Wilson told the Signpost she'll include the $8.5 million for the wastewater plant in a Department of the Interior appropriation bill now being drafted in Congress. She and her colleagues, working through Interior and Department of Energy bills, have recently helped to upgrade systems in Tijeras and Albuquerque's South Valley.

“We've been pretty successful over time,” she said.


Dino Chavez at work at Camp Cooke

Dino Chavez at work at Camp Cooke with one of the Iraqi civilians
he supervised during prison construction.

Iraq vet returns to Placitas

Bill Diven

Dino Chavez is still shaking off the jet lag as he bounces his seven-month-old daughter on his knee.

Barely two weeks earlier, he was in Iraq dodging an occasional mortar shell and supervising crews of local men building a prison near Baghdad. Today that seems more than a world away from his Placitas home where Staff Sergeant Chavez is on leave from the New Mexico Army National Guard.

“I realize how much we have it made here compared to that country,” Chavez says. “What opened my eyes was when we got attacked.”

On his first day in Iraq, his convoy from Kuwait came under attack, with a Humvee in front of him taking a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade. The New Mexico troops had hardly settled into Camp Cooke, twelve miles north of Baghdad, last spring when a predawn mortar barrage on April 24 killed four soldiers in a neighboring unit.

Chavez, a technician with the 3,631st Maintenance Company, was one of twenty-six Guard personnel plucked from that Santa Fe unit and attached to the 642nd Maintenance Company, based in Las Cruces. The unit suffered no fatalities during its three weeks in Kuwait and eleven months at Camp Cooke.

Before leaving the United States, the New Mexicans train for urban warfare, practicing house-to-house searches. Once in the combat zone, however, Chavez spent seven months following his specialty as a truck mechanic.

Others found themselves guarding Iraqi prisoners at a small, aging prison known as The Rock. With a new prison under construction, Chavez was asked to take over supervision of the project and found himself directing as many as eighty Iraqi men who entered the camp daily.

While not all the men appreciated the American presence, Chavez said most did and were working at considerable personal risk to rebuild their county and provide for their families.

“One day the fence crew didn't come to work,” he said. “I was told they had been threatened and that nine were beheaded and the rest quit.”

Chavez kept in touch with his wife, the former Patricia Taraddei, and three-year-old son, Raymond Jr., through e-mail and twice-weekly phone calls. A fifteen-week leave brought him home three days after the birth of daughter Deandra Nicole.

“It feels real good to be home with loved ones,” he said. “I still have a hard time with the time change waking up at 1:00 a.m. and wanting to sleep at three in the afternoon.”

Bits of New Mexico filtered into Camp Cooke as well, including a crock pot of posole and a week-long visit from journalist Bob Martin of KRQE-TV. When the troops returned to Fort Bliss, an El Paso TV station featured Dino and Patricia in its coverage of the family reunions.

After nineteen years in the Guard, the last eight as a full-time soldier, Chavez found his first deployment to a war zone built his confidence even if the experience is not one he's anxious to repeat.

“I know that I can go out there and do it again if I have to,” he said. “I've been there and done it and know what it takes to survive.”


Hearing scheduled for county landfill, composting expansion

Signpost staff

Sandoval County is preparing to expand its landfill and with it the new composting project that was to produce its first fertilizer at the end of April.

But first the state Environment Department has to approve permit changes allowing the site off Idalia Road to grow to 170 acres and to accept wastewater sludge for composting. A public hearing on the permit changes is scheduled for May 11 at 1:30 p.m. at the county courthouse in Bernalillo.

The landfill currently is permitted to use sixty-seven acres of its 114-acre site for disposal and is estimated to hold two million tons of waste. The composting project, designed to reduce wastes buried at the site, mixes green waste, yard trimmings, manure, and water within sealed vessels to produce fertilizer.


Notice of proposed adoption of ordinances

The Governing Body of the Town of Bernalillo, at its regular meeting held on Monday, April 25, 2005, considered the adoption of two Ordinances entitled “Ordinance #203–Amendment of Ordinance Number 195: Municipal Environmental Serives Gross Receipts Tax” and “Ordinance #204–Amendment of Ordinance Number 196: Municipal Infrastructure Gross Receipts Tax.”

Copies of these ordinances are available at the offices of the Town Clerk, Town of Bernalillo.


No conditional use permit for Southwest Tire Disposal

Signpost staff

The Bernalillo Town Council has told a tire warehouse to close up and move, while acknowledging zoning problems with its downtown property.

In a separate action, councilors reauthorized the Main Street Overlay ordinance setting architectural guidelines for downtown properties. The action removed a sunset provision that had been included to allay resident fears about how the ordinance would work when it was approved in February 2004.

Robert Hough of Southwest Tire Disposal said his firm bought the former Bargain Basket grocery property on Oak Street with the understanding it had industrial zoning. However, planning and zoning director Kelly Moe reported the grocery had been grandfathered into a residential zone as a nonconforming use.

In 2003 the property owner requested a zone change to light industrial which the Bernalillo Planning and Zoning Commission approved. However, the zone change for some reason never reached the town council for final approval.

Hough already was using the property to collect and sort used tires, some for resale but most being shipped to Texas to be burned as fuel for cement plants. Neighbors objected to the tire business, citing fire and traffic hazards, and the council unanimously denied Hough's request for a conditional use permit.

Hough was not available at the Signpost deadline to comment on whether he would appeal to district court.

Councilors also voted to removed the sunset clause from the Main Street ordinance after Moe and community development director Maria Rinaldi said that the law had not hindered residents wanting to improve their properties. Of seven applications for fences, a new roof, and a building addition, only one project suffered a delay, and that was from a procedural problem, not a conflict with the ordinance.


Public meeting on I-25 improvements from Tramway to US 550

On May 5, at 6:30 p.m., the New Mexico Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration will hold a public information meeting. NMDOT, in cooperation with the FHWA, is evaluating alternatives to improve I-25 from just north of the I-25–Tramway Boulevard interchange to the I-25–US 550 Interchange, a distance of approximately eight and a half miles.

The purpose of the proposed improvements is to enhance operations and safety along this section of the interstate. Possible improvements may include an additional driving lane in each direction, correction of geometric deficiencies, additional acceleration and deceleration lanes, and other transportation strategies to reduce projected traffic volumes. The facility would be designed to provide adequate capacity along I-25 and at the interchanges.

The I-25–US 550 interchange is being evaluated through a separate access-management study along US 550, and needs associated with the interchange will be identified and addressed as part of this study.

The meeting will include:

  • Presentation of the initial project scope, purpose, and findings
  • Opportunity for public comment on the project
  • Discussion of pedestrian, bicycle, and equestrian issues
  • Discussion of cultural resource issues

The meeting will be held at El Zócalo, 262 Camino del Pueblo, in Bernalillo.

Requests for disability-related accommodations for this meeting should be directed to John Taschek, Taschek Environmental Consulting, (505) 821-4700. Written comments will be accepted at the meeting or may be mailed to 8901 Adams NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113.


Legislature was generous to most Sandoval projects

—Signpost staff

Sandoval County will receive at least some funding for all but three projects submitted to the 2005 Legislature, according to county public information officer Gayland Bryant.

Bryant's analysis shows the county requested $12.5 million in funding for capital projects and was awarded just under $6 million. Most of the rejected funding would have gone to begin construction of the Northwest Loop Road from US 550 to I-40, extend the Bosque sewer, and design and construct Lincoln Road in Rio Rancho.

Among the largest projects receiving funding are $750,000 for a warehouse and store for a need-based food program, $695,000 toward the third phase of the Health Commons complex at NM 528 and Idalia in Rio Rancho, $300,000 to furnish and equip the new Justice Complex next door to the Health Commons, and $405,000 to expand the Ponderosa water system.

Legislators also approved a second magistrate judge for the Bernalillo district, where current Judge Mary Humphries is reported to have the largest caseload of any magistrate in the state.

Also funded were Placitas projects including:

  • $165,000 for a twelve-hundred-square-foot addition to the Placitas Senior Center and additional money for repairs to the existing building
  • $165,000 to pave Camino de San Francisco
  • $50,000 to improve the Placitas village water system
  • $50,000 for planning and design of the Placitas library

Money to pave Camino de San Francisco is immediately available under an emergency clause in the legislation, Bryant said. About half of the remainder will come from the state general fund, with the rest waiting for the sale of bonds in the fall.


Bernalillo traffic studies advancing

Signpost staff

Three separate traffic studies now underway all meet, as do thousands of vehicles each day, at the convergence of I-25, US 550, and NM 165 in Bernalillo.

Only one, however, is far enough along for the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to hold a public meeting. That is the proposed upgrade of 8.5 miles of I-25 from the Tramway interchange in Albuquerque to the north Bernalillo exit to US 550 and NM 165.

The meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m., May 5, at El Zócalo, 263 Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo, will discuss options for improving and expanding the road and strategies for reducing projected traffic volumes. Also on the agenda is discussion of pedestrian, bicycle, and equestrian issues.

The Mid-Region Council of Governments last year amended its transportation plan to move the project up to the four-year period beginning July 1. At the time, MRCOG estimated that rebuilding the Tramway interchange, reconstructing the existing freeway, and adding a third lane in each direction would cost $39.5 million.

The project does not involve work on the north Bernalillo interchange.

Complaints from Placitas residents about traffic congestion and gravel trucks on NM 165 prompted a second study, now completed by NMDOT traffic engineer Tony Abbo. Late in April Abbo told the Signpost his report and recommendations still needed an internal NMDOT review before being released.

He did say, however, that congestion during the morning commute was such that gravel haulers using the I-25 frontage road lost little if any time by going north to the Algodones interchange instead of south to NM 165. He also said a review of citations issued by the Sandoval County Sheriff's Office supported citizen complaints about gravel trucks rolling through stop signs, blocking intersections, and failing to cover loads.

Once the recommendations are published, NMDOT will meet with Sandoval County officials to discuss future action.

“It will be all the jurisdictions working together on this one,” Abbo said. “We will not do any contradictions to what Sandoval County wants in that area.

“We'll all come up with one recommendation.”

The third study, by NMDOT consultant Harwick Transportation Group, Inc., is evaluating access and safety issues in the US 550 corridor from just west of NM 528 in Rio Rancho across the Rio Grande and through Bernalillo to just east of the I-25 interchange. Engineer Nevin Harwick said he is currently gathering traffic, driveway and accident data and is asking local governments to join a technical advisory committee.

A public meeting also will be held, likely in late June. Harwick said his study will look at short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions, which could include a new roadway and river crossing.

“We know we can make it more efficient than it is now,” he told Sandoval County commissioners at their April 21 meeting. Studies have shown replacing center left-turn lanes with raised medians can reduce accidents by as much as 30 percent, he added.

Harwick told the Signpost he has been driving the five-mile corridor himself and was surprised to find traffic moving as well as it does.

“Even though there are backups that occur, it's really not all that bad,” he said. “Average speeds end to end were in the mid-twenty-mile-per-hour range—twenty-four to twenty-six miles per hour. I thought it would have been below twenty.”


Representative Kathy McCoy

Representative Kathy McCoy

2005 Legislature pace was nonstop for Rep. McCoy

Bill Diven

After working two legislative sessions as an aide to her predecessor, state Representative Kathy McCoy thought she knew what she was getting into.

Then it came time to vote.

“When you're pushing that button, it's very different than just knowing about something,” the Cedar Crest Republican said. “You know you're having an effect on people's lives.”

McCoy, whose District 22 includes Placitas, previously worked for Representative Ron Godbey, who did not seek reelection. She outpolled two Republicans in the June 2004 party primary and faced no Democratic opposition in the general election.

Appointed to four House committees, she found the pace of the sixty-day session to be nonstop. The Appropriations Committee was busy as expected, she said, and approved money for various projects in Placitas and Sandoval County.

The Voters and Elections Committee, normally a quiet body, became the center of election reform and the fight over voter identification. The reform bill ultimately became law, but McCoy said she voted against it because Democrat provisions requiring voters to produce identification were so broad they did little to prevent election fraud.

While evidence is mostly anecdotal, “fraud is out there,” she said. “Everybody wants confidence in elections and wants to know their vote is real.”

The Rules Committee also attracted unusual attention when it took up and then put off impeachment of Public Regulation Commissioner E. Shirley Baca, who was arrested on marijuana-related charges at the Albuquerque Sunport.

McCoy said her finest moment was passage of Scooby's Law and witnessing its signing by Governor Bill Richardson, even though he signed the Democrat version introduced in the Senate rather than her House bill. The law, named for a Bernalillo dog killed by antifreeze poisoning, requires a bittering agent be added to antifreeze.

The bill died in the 2004 legislature, largely because of industry concerns about liability for the bittering agent.

“We got the industry on board, and in fact they worked very diligently with us to get it through,” McCoy said. “We're hearing noises the law may go federal.”

McCoy said she received abundant feedback during the session, with the highest level per capita coming from Placitas. Constituents generally were conservative on the need and expense of forming a Placitas County, an issue that largely disappeared after McCoy said she couldn't introduce a study bill but only an up-or-down vote on the new county.

Opinions tended to be liberal in supporting repeal of the death penalty and legalizing medical marijuana and in opposing the definition of marriage as being solely between a man and woman. None of those bills reached the governor’s desk.

McCoy said she was leaning toward support of the death-penalty repeal, due mostly to the cost of capital cases being “off the charts.” The prospect of substituting a life sentence without parole also was appealing, but she said she voted against the bill because a governor could still commute life without parole to a lesser sentence.

The definition-of-marriage law died in the Senate and never reached the House. Such divisive issues are tough on Republicans, she added.

“A lot of the wedge issues is not what we're here for,” McCoy said. “Morals are so subjective. We have so many critical issues that have to do with the running of the state.”

As the 2005 session wrapped up, political commentators suggested McCoy might be challenged in the June 2006 primary by Placitas attorney Karin Foster, a former member of U.S. Representative Heather Wilson's staff, who has served as a legislative aide for the past two sessions. However, Foster, who said Placitas should have its own representative in Santa Fe, told the Signpost her interest in running for office had been misinterpreted.

“Kathy is a fabulous lady; her heart is in the right place,” Foster said. “I will not run against an incumbent Republican.”

Jim Moran, newly elected Democratic chairman of Sandoval County, said McCoy or the survivor of a Republican primary battle is unlikely to get a free ride next year.

“Them Republicans always want to eat their young,” Moran said. “We'll be recruiting candidates for all offices here.”






Front Page   Up Front  Animal News   Around Town   Business   Community Bits   Classifieds   Calendar   Community Center   Community Profile   Eco-Beat   Fire and Rescue   Featured Artist - L. Heath   Gardening   The Gauntlet   Community Links   My Wife and Times   Man of the Street   Movie Reviews   Night Skies   Sandoval Arts   Schoolbag   Sheriff's Corner   Time Off   Ask Uncle Duffy   Back Issues   Ad Rates   Contact Us