The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

THE GAUNTLET

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letters, opinions, editorials

The Signpost welcomes letters of opinion to encourage dialog in the community. Letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, libel, and other considerations.

re: correction to Placitas Flea Market starting date

The first Placitas Flea Market to benefit the Placitas Art In The Schools program will be on May 13. Flea markets will then be held on the second Saturday of each month in the parking lot of Homestead Village, in Placitas.


re: oblivious driver trashes landscape, threatens homes

Who are these people? Having been residents of Placitas for fifteen years now, I like to think that as newcomers we've been pretty responsive to the lessons that living in a fragile natural place has taught us. Lately, we've seen some pretty stupid behavior, but yesterday we saw something that made us very angry.

We had finished up a run to the landfill and heading home were following a late model white Chevy Suburban up the hill from Bernalillo. As we approached our turn, the woman driver ahead of us flipped a lit cigarette butt out of her window and continued up towards the S-curve. The smoldering butt slid off into the gravel at the side of the road but if the winds had been just a little stronger at that moment it would have rolled into the brush and started a fire.

With the dead remnants of burned cottonwoods in the bosque, a 350-person fire crew trying to contain the Ojos Fire up north, a county-wide fireworks ban, and a ban on open fires in our national forests, isn't it pretty clear that everyone has to exercise caution and consideration to preserve our community's safety? Tossing a lit cigarette may be o.k. back in whatever city that woman came from or she may have been raised to be careless about trashing other people's property, but in any case there is no excuse for this kind of behavior. Living in New Mexico is a gift and a privilege—it's about time that everyone realizes how much is at stake and does their part to protect our homes.

—TRASHED IN PLACITAS

re: religious-science policy amended at Rio Rancho schools

The big win was the federal court opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, on December 20, which greatly changed the Rio Rancho situation in our favor. On Monday night, by virtue of a sensible compromise, we gained a small but significant policy advantage that may require occasional effort to sustain. We could not have achieved more at this time, while three fundamentalist Christians dominate the Rio Rancho school board.

Arising from sectarian religious motives, Rio Rancho’s Science Education Policy 401 was adopted by the school board last summer for the purpose of undermining classroom instruction in biological and astronomical evolutionary science. Faced with determined opposition by the district’s science teachers and by many others over the last eight months, the school board amended its policy on Monday night to bring it into conformance with New Mexico’s science-education standards. While the policy serves no beneficial purpose, and needs to be repealed, the amendment closed a loophole that was designed to admit “intelligent design” and other forms of religious creationism into public-school science classes, in derogation of the scientific theories of natural evolution and the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

I should like to see the errant threesome out of office, even if they cause no more trouble for a while. Science Policy 401 cannot have been their only misdirection to the school district.

—NAT GIFFORD, Corrales


re: county-wide high speed Internet available yet?

Dear Signpost,
When will we have access to broadband which is now being set up throughout Sandoval County? Evidently the Placitas Community Center and the Placitas Fire Brigade are now set up. Sooner or later it will be available to the public and I hope it's sooner rather than later. For all of you as frustrated as I am with the molasses of dial-up networking, perhaps it's time to urge the County to get this project truly "off the ground." You can check out http://www.ollagrande.net and there's an email address there.

Anxiously awaiting being able to be part of this,

—LARRY GOODELL, Placitas


re: poison kills more than rats and mice—dead owls and hawk found

I found two dead great horned owls. The owls have lived in the arroyo for the past fourteen years. All of us who have known these wonderful birds will miss them and the families they raised each spring.

The two owls and a red-tailed hawk I found the week before probably died as a result of secondary poisoning. I discussed the matter with New Mexico Game and Fish and their representative came to the same conclusion.

Many Placitas residents use poison to control the rats and mice who love our area as much as we do. I urge everyone to choose alternate methods to control the rats and mice. They can certainly be a nuisance in the immediate vicinity of the house, but they are part of our ecosystem. Please, before using poison, think about the consequences of its use on our local wildlife and pets.

It really was very sad finding the owls. They had become part of our lives, and I saw at least one of them virtually every day. When we had visitors, I loved to bring them to the edge of the arroyo and point out the owls. They were very predictable and roosted in the same places at the same time of day. No one who ever saw them wasn't moved.

My fondest memory was the spring ritual when the mom or dad introduced his kids to us. When the dogs and I walked in the arroyo and the young were in the trees for the first time (the nest was in a nicho in the side of the arroyo), they became a little excited. Mom or dad made a soft sound almost like a dove's cooing, and the babies calmed down immediately. I'm hoping that some of the young owls in the nearby arroyos move back into the territory.

Even if you are not that concerned about wildlife, when using poison outside, think of yourself and your children. When rat poison and other toxic substances are used above ground, they seep into the aquifer. It takes a while, but the toxins eventually get into our water.

—MICHAEL MILONE, Placitas


re: longer life—dream or nightmare?

My friend Lali Sing was telling me over Easter that scientific studies show we will be living longer lives. And that people living to be one hundred and fifty will not be surprising in the near future. Lali was pretty excited about all this.

I'm not so sure (I'm not even going to talk about overpopulation). First of all, who is going to pay for all these life-extending operations, replacements, and procedures? If we had some kind of national health system then maybe this would be a good thing. But we don't. And given the fact that we probably will never be as enlightened as the rest of the world in terms of taking care of our elderly citizens, it's a real concern. And then the current national debt that this administration has run up is so serious that if and when they finally decide to do what Clinton did and balance the budget, it is going to come at the expense of things like health care, social security, and education (god forbid we should do anything like eliminate the tax breaks that have bankrupted the country).

So, while living longer lives may be a fantastic dream to some, to me it's a nightmare. Eighty or ninety will be just old enough for me, thank you.

—GARY W. PRIESTER, Placitas


If you’ve got some nuke waste, you can WIPP it

—LAURA PASKUS
Things could get a lot hotter at southeastern New Mexico’s nuclear waste storage facility if the state carries out plans to relax its rules.

Opened in 1999, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) stores radioactive waste, such as contaminated equipment and soil, from as far away as the Idaho National Laboratory and Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Now, the U.S. Department of Energy and the facility’s private contractor, Washington TRU Solutions, want to accept hotter waste that must be handled robotically. They also want the state to allow for temporary aboveground storage and to eliminate a testing practice that ensures waste doesn’t exceed the facility’s environmental standards.

Despite blocking such requests during WIPP’s initial permitting process, the state is now poised to accept them. What the decision boils down to, according to Adam Rankin, communications director of the state Environment Department, is whether the changes comply with federal law regulating hazardous waste. “And we think they do,” he says.

But New Mexico’s new stance marks a “total reversal” of its position during the initial permitting process, says Don Hancock of the citizens’ advocacy group Southwest Research and Information Center. He adds that the proposed changes could expose WIPP’s workers, and people along waste transportation routes, to more dangerous levels of radioactivity in the event of an accident.

The state will hold public hearings from May 31 to June 6 in Carlsbad and from June 7 to 9 in Santa Fe. For more information see www.nmenv.state.nm.us/wipp/.

High Country News (www.hcn.org) covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.


Editorial

New Mexican Cable customers need economic freedom

—PAUL J. GESSING
It is a widely known economic fact that in the absence of competition, consumers are stuck paying too much for too little in the way of goods and services. Nowhere is that truer than it is in the cable television market. New Mexico consumers are stuck with over-priced, inferior-quality video services because federal and state regulations have failed to keep up with fast-changing technologies. Unfortunately, New Mexico is not alone in not keeping up—almost every state in the union regulates cable providers under outdated statutes written when the industry was in its infancy, before the word “Internet” even existed.

But we live in a much different world today. High-speed broadband service can give consumers access to video, voice and data communications, all wrapped in a single package. New technologies promise to completely revolutionize home entertainment, education, business, and healthcare in ways that we can only imagine. But if current regulations are left unchanged, it will be years before these technological benefits are available to consumers and states and nations that fail to update their laws will be left behind.

The U.S. is losing ground in the percentage of households with broadband service as we sit at a lowly 19th in the world. Slovenia is expected to surpass the U.S. in broadband penetration by 2007.

The problem is simple—our outdated laws make it almost impossible for new companies to enter the market. Companies could offer high-tech Internet, TV, phone and more video services over new cables but they must wade through quite a process to obtain a franchise for video service. They are required to negotiate individual contracts with every city government in each service area. It is estimated that this cumbersome process will slow the deployment of broadband services in the U.S. by as much as fifteen years.

We shouldn’t expect any real relief from rapidly-rising cable bills until regulations are rewritten to allow for a competitive market. We need New Mexico’s elected officials to push forward with franchise reform as well. Our monopolistic system has run its course; let’s try a competitive market for a change.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.


Jand Braxton Little

Jane Braxton Little

This land is my land—really

—JANE BRAXTON LITTLE
President Bush wants to sell my land to fund rural schools. I mean my land—not the vast tracts of federal forests and grasslands I co-own with the proverbial New York cabbie, the Seattle widow and all other American citizens. My private land—the 12 acres I own with my husband. We bought it through a Forest Service land exchange in 2000 and have paid taxes on it ever since.

Yet there it is, a tiny green polygon on the maps described in the Feb. 28 Federal Register. There it is, part of the president’s plan to sell 304,370 acres of Forest Service land to raise $800 million to fund the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, a popular county payments program established in 2000.

If our speck of land in rural northeastern California were the only mistake in the president’s funding plan, we could all laugh it off as another bureaucratic blunder. But the proposal is replete with errors. Some are like the inclusion of our property, mere slip-ups in a sloppy process done in haste. Others are far more troubling, suggesting a strategy that veers from simply incompetent to irresponsible.

Take California’s Plumas National Forest, where agency officials have listed 700 acres that are already under contract to the Maidu stewardship project. This first-of-a-kind program was approved by Congress to demonstrate traditional Native American management techniques on national forest land. At best, the listing is a thoughtless error. At worst, it is a cynical response to an innovative undertaking.

Forest Service officials say the lands proposed for sale nationwide are difficult and expensive to manage. They insist the parcels are not environmentally sensitive or protected scenic areas. But the list includes 730 acres in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Washington and Oregon, archaeological sites in Alaska, and two parcels at the head of Swan Lake within a wildlife refuge in Montana.

A mile-long roadless area near Eagles Nest Wilderness is among the 21,000 acres for sale in Colorado. So are two popular rock-climbing areas in Boulder Canyon and a snowboarding site around St. Mary's Glacier. For spelunkers, Pluto Cave in California is part of a sale tract with spectacular views of Mount Shasta.

The list includes 1,300 acres of a rare low-elevation old growth forest in Washington's Sultan River Canyon. In Montana's Bitterroot Valley, Bush wants to sell the Willoughby 40, an outdoor classroom painstakingly restored to native pines and sagebrush and maintained by the Ravalli County Resource Advisory Committee, Forest Service employees and Lone Rock school kids. So much for collaboration.

Agency spokesmen admit they threw the parcel list together in a rush aimed at producing enough property value to come up with the funding commitment in the president’s budget. They acknowledge that they used computer data that looked primarily at the size of the tracts and whether they were separated from the main body of the forest, not whether they played a role in recreation or other forest uses.

Clearly, no officials at any level went out on the ground to review the properties they have proposed to abandon. It they had, they would have discovered the wildlife, watershed and aesthetic legacy they are sacrificing for a pot of cash. They would have confronted a funding scheme that values maximizing short-term income over preserving public treasures. They might even have realized that the tiny 12-acre parcel listed for sale in the remote Sierra Nevada is in private ownership—mine.

The president’s proposal to sell national forest land to raise revenue for a one-time payment is the land-management equivalent of his strategy for leaving Iraq. It shows a profound lack of foresight. Resolving the mistaken listing of my land will likely require little more than a telephone call. It will take Congress to resolve the more significant errors of this foolish proposal.

The Forest Service has extended the comment period on the administration’s land-sale proposal to May 1. Write USDA Forest Service, SRS comments, Lands 4S, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Mailstop 1124, Washington, D.C., 20250-0030 or e-mail SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us.

Jane Braxton Little is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). She lives in Greenville, California, and writes about forests and natural resource issues.

 

 

 

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