An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Las Placitas Association to host BLM land-use forum

—REID BANDEEN

Las Placitas Association (LPA) will host a public forum on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Resource Management Plan (RMP) revision on Saturday, May 3 from 1:00 - 4:30 p.m. at the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church.

As written in last month’s issue of the Signpost, the BLM’s Rio Puerco field office oversees lands extending over six New Mexico counties, including Sandoval. Three tracts of BLM land adjoin or are included in the Placitas area: 1) Approximately five thousand acres just north of the Placitas Open Space; 2) Approximately two hundred acres north of the Overlook Subdivision; and 3) the newly acquired Crest of Montezuma area, just east of the Village of Placitas. The Resource Management Plan defines allowable and non-allowable land uses for all lands in the management district. The previous RMP for this area was written in the mid-1980s. The BLM is now inviting public scoping input regarding preferred uses of these lands, which could include making the land available for “disposal” or trade to another agency jurisdiction; mineral extraction (most likely gravel mining); special conservation area (based on special cultural/historical, scenic, or other natural resources); or recreational uses. Inclusion of these lands within the proposed west-wide energy corridor system (also discussed at length in previous Signpost issues) is also up for review. The period for receiving public comment to include in the “Public Scoping Report” ends on May 30, 2008.

The Las Placitas forum will include BLM staff, various elected officials or their representatives from Sandoval County up to the U.S. House of Representatives. This is an excellent opportunity to become educated on the RMP process, the pertinent land use issues for the Placitas area, and how you can effectively participate to influence the final plan.

For more information on the RMP process, please refer to the BLM web link at http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/fo/Rio_Puerco_Field_Office/rpfo_rmp_revision.html. Please refer to the LPA website at http://www.lasplacitas.org/issues_blm.php for more information on the May 3rd forum and LPA’s other activities on federal land issues.


Capo Escondido

Artist rendering of Capo Escondido superimposed over satellite image of Bernalillo historical district, including El Zócalo complex and Calle Escuela

Bernalillo faces residential density issues

—TY BELKNAP

Density issues have dominated the business of the Bernalillo Town Council this spring. At the March 21 meeting, Planning and Zoning Director Kelly Moe and the developer of the Piedra Lisa townhouse development presented the case for changing the zoning of property near the Rail Runner station on US 550. The Planning and Zoning commission had recently voted to deny the zone change because of density, drainage, and access issues. P & Z decisions are recommendations only. Moe and the developer urged the council to disregard this decision and change the zoning to Transit Oriented Development (TOD)/Mixed Use in order to allow the townhouses.

Bernalillo passed the Transit-Oriented Development plan on October 30, 2007, as a supplement to the town’s comprehensive land-use plan that was adopted in 2004. The TOD plan contained guidelines for increased density near the Rail Runner stations. Resolution 10-30-07 included clauses which stated that the TOD plan would not affect the town’s existing eminent domain powers and replaced numbers with the vague term “traditional village center densities.” It stated that the TOD plan does not have the force of law and shall be considered a “work in progress” and a “living document which shall be continually reviewed and revised as appropriate with public input and participation.” Opponents of the plan feared that crowded areas around the stations will serve as a precedent for the development of the town as a whole.

Moe told the council that the Piedra Lisa development, at 11.23 units per acre, was actually less dense than it could be within the guidelines of the TOD plan. He pointed out that the developer was paying for infrastructure improvements and that the town should consider trading density for affordability. The thirty-four paired townhouses were to be priced from $185,000 to $220,000.

Developer Mike Davis said that his company specialized in urban infill building projects in difficult locations. He said that proposed roads were adequate for fire and rescue and that homeowners’ associations would maintain common areas. He also said that the development was designed to attract younger people with active lifestyles, as well as commuters from Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Bernalillo residents Steve and Margie Amiot questioned the legality of building a residential development in areas designated as mixed-use zoning, the number used by Moe to calculate density, and the capacity of public services to handle the increase population.

Town councilors also had “too many unanswered questions,” and voted to table this matter until they could conduct a workshop with the Planning and Zoning commission to work out unresolved issues concerning the TOD plan.

At the workshop, Town Administrator Stephen Jerge forbade resident Margie Amiot from tape recording the proceedings, prompting Amiot to file a complaint with the Foundation for Open Government (FOG). FOG sent a letter to the town stating that Jerge’s action constituted a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

At the following Town Council meeting held on April 14, the council reconsidered the TOD zone change, but not until they had heard arguments regarding another zone change. This change, from Single-family Residential (R-1) to Multi-family Residential (R-2), was designed to allow for the sixteen-unit Campo Escondido townhouse development on two acres off Calle Escuela, right behind the historic El Zócalo complex. The townhouses will be priced at about $300,000 per unit.

Kelly Moe was again working with the developers to sway the Council’s opinion in favor of a zone change designed to allow increased density. He told the council that a slight increase in gross density would allow for limiting the height of most dwellings to one story, reduced visual density, more traditional architectural style, increased amenities, and preservation of tree lines. He said that if the council denied this zone change, the developers would be within their rights to bulldoze the property, cut down all the trees, and build fourteen single-family units, potentially three stories tall, with an unsightly mosquito-breeding drainage pond. When calculating density, Moe said that he used “gross density” which includes roads, drainage, and common space as part of the required minimum six thousand square feet per lot.

This time there were twenty residents, all speaking against the zone change. Their objections included Moe’s method of calculating density, creation of an “eyesore” next to the historical district, setting a precedent for the development of adjoining property, traffic impact—coupled with the Flying Star development and buses to Carol Elementary School, unaffordable housing, and impact on traditional agriculture.

Bernalillo School Superintendent Barbara Vigil-Lowder said that Calle Escuela was already designated a “hazardous walking area” for school children.

Councilor Sisneros moved to deny the zone change. Councilor Jaramillo seconded the motion. Councilors Montoya and Torres voted against the motion. Mayor Chávez broke the tie, siding with the nay votes. Then the councilors tied along the same lines to implement the zone change. Before casting the deciding vote in favor of the zone change, Mayor Chávez implored the developer, JR Montalvo, to reduce the development by a unit or two. Montalvo said that this was not possible without affecting the “balance” of the development that had been carefully planned in conjunction with the P&Z Department.

This seemed to set a precedent for the vote on the mixed-use zoning change for the Piedra Lisa development, but the councilors, still not convinced of its legality, denied the change.

Stephen Jerge later told the Signpost that the town administration was not pushing for increased density, but was “abiding by the guidelines specified in the TOD plan.” Jerge also said that he and the town’s legal counsel disagreed with FOG’s interpretation of the Open Meetings Act and did not expect any legal action on the matter of Margie Amiot’s tape recorder. He said that specific questions regarding the density issue need to be answered by Kelly Moe. At press time, Moe had not returned phone calls to the Signpost.

A group of residents are forming a community action committee called Take Back Bernalillo in a grassroots effort to gain some control of development issues.


Acequia workers

Acequia members demonstrate the hauling and maneuvering required to start shoveling.

Acequia workers

Shovels are distributed at the top of Highway 165, near the right-of-way to Las Huertas Community Ditch.

Youth and acequia members team up for spring cleaning

—KEIKO OHNUMA

Vandalism is a big problem for Las Huertas Community Ditch, a conduit that directs irrigation water from the Sandia Mountains to farms on the north side of Placitas. Kids divert the flow to cause mini-waterfalls that erode the hillsides, said Bruce Maclachlan, a member of the acequia. No sooner is the problem patched, another pops up.

“At this point, it’s every week,” said Maclachlan, still reeling from the discovery of a large dam on the ditch that members weren’t sure how to dismantle without washing tons of silt downstream.

Fighting water with water, so to speak, the cooperative last month invited two groups of youth from the city to help with their annual spring cleaning of the acequia, to demonstrate the importance of the centuries-old ditch system.

This wasn’t just any group of kids, but an antidote to the kind who build dams and wreck ditches. The Bosque Youth Conservation Corps is a mostly high-school-age group that does environmental and community work after school every day during the school year. Members are paid $7.50 an hour to work on projects such as recycling, tree-planting, and bosque restoration.

The group has strict requirements on keeping up grades and practicing teamwork— providing tutors and training sessions to fill the gaps—while offering “opportunities they normally wouldn’t get,” said Margy Hernandez, associate director of the sponsoring United South Broadway Corp.

Placitas was a new venue for nearly all the kids who arrived for day one of the work project. A group of twenty piled out of a caravan of vehicles at the top of Highway 165 one day over spring break, ready to earn $45 and a free lunch.

Will Ouellette, chairman of the Soil and Water Conservation District, had spotted a win-win situation when he met a friend of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) at a banquet. A ditch member for twenty-five years, Ouellette saw a potential project in the group’s spring cleaning.

Heavy snows and flooding left an especially heavy cleanup job this year, Ouellette said, filling the ditch with debris and large rocks. Normally the twenty landowners who get water from the ditch are assigned a section of the four-mile span to clean each spring. This year they had fresh muscle power, which drew a few members to the task out of sheer curiosity.

Acequia mayordomo Mary McDonald asked the city kids if any had ever heard the term “acequia” before. One raised his hand.

The new relationship quickly turned hot and heavy, however, with the handing out of shovels and the trudge up the steep hillside at the right-of-way, where acequia members recently hid the ditch in a soil-covered culvert to ward off vandalism.

John Salazar of Amy Biehl High School got right to work digging. He said he doesn’t mind the daily commitment required at the YCC, because it helps to further his knowledge of the environment while he gets paid to spend time with friends.

“You have to be dedicated,” he noted, since the work is sometimes gritty—in previous years, the group has cut trail, and this year they are planting thousands of trees in the South Broadway neighborhood.

Uncertain where to join the crowd shoveling in the narrow ditch, Tiffany Bazan of Albuquerque High was free to talk. She said a cousin introduced her to the YCC, which pays a $1,500 scholarship toward college after two years. Bazan, 17, is in her fourth year with the program, and shrugs off lost opportunities to play video games. “It keeps me busy,” she said, and teaches teamwork as a matter of course.

After a few hours’ work, the group broke for a barbecue lunch catered by the Piñon Café, courtesy of the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), along with a history talk. Rejecting dainty middle-aged notions that put barbecue in a sandwich, the kids tucked in to lunch, prompting a larger order of meat for work day number two.

After the project was done, Ouellette rated the cooperative deal between the YCC, SWCD, and acequia members to be a success.

“Everything went off almost perfect,” he reported, having heard from the YCC that the kids gave the project a thumbs up. “They want to come back next year, and we want to have them,” he said.

The grizzled acequia farmers learned a bit about working with teenagers, Ouellette noted, “that we old stinkers forgot.” Splitting the group into small parties and keeping them on task were key to efficiency—as was presenting a chance to show up their very-elders.

Toward the end of day two, when Ouellette could see his team sagging, he bet the kid next to him a dollar they couldn’t finish their section full of rocks and trash that day. Other kids asked to get in on the bet, and “then they kicked into high gear,” he laughed. “Until then, they were dragging—and so were we,” he chuckled, several dollars poorer.

Acequia member Maclachlan believes there is something about the cooperative structure of the ditch that offers an exercise in pure democracy. “The water is what holds the community together,” he said. Sweating for an institution that has existed since the late 1600s, he said, “gives you a neat feeling.”

The kids apparently agree.


Three Sandia Pueblo railroad crossings get new gates and safety lights

The residents of Sandia Pueblo may soon be hearing less train noise, thanks to some upgrades being made at the three railroad crossings on the pueblo. Each of the three crossings will be outfitted with a four-quadrant crossing gate system that will make the surrounding area eligible to be designated a “quiet zone.” The Federal Railroad Administration approved construction that allows communities to minimize noise impacts by investing in safety features designed to protect pedestrians and drivers from collisions at railroad crossings. Unlike the traditional crossing gates which block traffic with one crossing arm on each side of the track, the four-quadrant gates barricade all four lanes in both directions, preventing motorists from trying to beat a train through the crossing.

The three crossings at Sandia Pueblo will be equipped with the four-quadrant systems at both the North and South Sandia Loop crossings, as well as at the North Farm Road crossing near the Pueblo’s northern boundary. Once the work is complete, an application will be made to have the area designated an “official quiet zone.”

Back in January, the stretch of track between Menaul and Osuna Boulevards in Albuquerque’s North Valley was the first area in the Rail Runner corridor to be designated an official quiet zone, and the crossing at Aragon Road just north of the Belen Rail Runner station which was recently upgraded with a Quad-gate is now awaiting federal approval.

Construction work on the Pueblo started in April. An actual quiet zone designation could come as soon as sixty days following completion.

More information on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express can be found at www.nmrailrunner.com.


Joshua Madalena

County Line

—JOSHUA MADALENA, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION

Residents across Sandoval County and all of New Mexico have the opportunity to shape our state’s future for decades to come by voting in the state’s primary elections on June 3.

Voting is the most effective way to make a difference in our communities, our state, and our nation. It’s the one process in our democratic form of government that determines the quality of our leadership locally and nationally—and our future—for years to come.

And, each and every single vote does make a difference.

Selecting candidates for office is a right, a privilege, and an obligation of our democratic form of government. Or, looking at the reverse, if you don’t vote, then don’t complain about the candidates or the results.

But time is short. If you haven’t already registered to vote, do so before the May 6 deadline in order to vote in the June primary. The registration process is easy and can even begin with a phone call to the County’s Bureau of Elections at 867-7577 for more information.

Elections Bureau Director Eddie Gutierrez has overseen hundreds of elections in his thirty-three years with the County. He and his knowledgeable and helpful staff are making it more convenient for all of us to avoid Election Day lines and headaches common in other parts of the nation.

County residents have a range of options to vote for the candidates of their choice even weeks before Election Day on June 3. You can even cast your votes without leaving home.

Absentee voting by mail will begin on May 6 at the County Courthouse at 711 Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo. Early and in-person absentee voting, meanwhile, will also start May 6 at the County’s Election Warehouse at 800 South Hill Road in Bernalillo. Both offices will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Beginning on Saturday, May 17, registered voters can vote early at the County’s three alternate voting locations—the Meadowlark Senior Center at 4300 Meadowlark Lane SE in Rio Rancho, Rio Rancho City Hall at 3200 Civic Center Circle NW, and the San Ysidro Village Offices Public Safety Training Room at 398 Highway 4. The three alternate voting locations will be open Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Early and absentee in-person voting will end on Saturday, May 30, and the County’s Bureau of Elections will stop accepting applications for mail-in ballots at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 30.

To request an absentee mail-in ballot, call the County’s Bureau of Elections at 867-7577 or stop by the office on the second floor of the Courthouse to request an application. Once an application is completed and returned to the office, a ballot will be provided so that voters can mark their selections and return it to the County by no later than 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, June 3.

The process is so simple that residents wishing to vote by absentee can make their request at the County Election Warehouse, sign the application, and then cast their votes all in a matter of minutes. Or, if you wish, you may return the ballot by mail.

The option favored by many voters, of course, is to participate in the traditional Election Day process and go to neighborhood polling places. If you wish to wait until Election Day, remember that polls will be open on June 3 from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

Your vote does matter. In fact, some recent elections in Sandoval County have been decided by just one vote. Your vote can—and will—make a difference.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Madalena can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.


Bernalillo first in arsenic removal

On April 1, the Town of Bernalillo became the first community to use ARS advanced technology for arsenic removal. A ribbon-cutting launched the treatment system for two well sites in Bernalillo, making them the first community in the world to take advantage of this highly efficient and safe arsenic removal technology. The Bernalillo system will treat 680 gallons of water per minute per well site. This purification is achieved with virtually no water loss in the process. It is highly energy-efficient and environmentally safe because the process is chemical free. What’s more, the resulting waste is stable and can be disposed of in an ordinary landfill, rather than in a toxic waste facility. The second installation is planned for completion in the month of April and both installations will supply one hundred percent of the town’s potable water.

“We are very proud to be the first in the nation to use this new technology that will give our users not only a better water product but will save taxpayers money over the life of the system,” said Town Manager Steven Jerge.

This patented technology brings Bernalillo into compliance with the new, more stringent federal arsenic standard. The ARS system is NSF-61 certified and US EPA/NSF Environmental Technology Verified (ETV). The company plans to expand first in New Mexico, its home state; however, talks are presently taking place with other areas of the nation. Many other western states face the same circumstances that make the ARS system a desirable technology.

Through an agreement with the Town of Bernalillo, ARS began a successful pilot project for the treatment at a municipal water well site in April 2005. Bernalillo entered into the project with ARS after EPA’s approval of a new arsenic standard for drinking water of 10ppb (ten parts per billion) in 2001, which their current water treatment systems (as well as thousands of other systems nationwide) did not meet.

On October 1, 2006 ARS USA, LLC received Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) for its Arsenic Removal System for drinking water. EPA’s standard for arsenic in drinking water was established to protect public health from potential effects of long-term exposure to low concentrations of inorganic arsenic. These effects may include cancer of the skin, bladder, lung, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate, as well as cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological, and endocrine (e.g., diabetes) effects.

Water systems must have complied with the new standard by this year unless they received an extension. Unlike most water treatment systems, the ARS system does not use chemical additives. Instead, the patented technology used by ARS employs electro-coagulation to remove arsenic from groundwater. This technology is the first of its kind to be approved for arsenic removal from drinking water in the United States. Compared to chemical water treatment systems, the patented German-born technology refined by ARS results in a process that is much more cost-effective, environmentally safe, and easy to maintain and operate. The continuous-flow technology also requires no pre-treatment, results in virtually no water loss, and can be designed to process millions of gallons of water per day.

ARS USA, LLC is privately-held and based in Bernalillo. The company has been carrying out research and development since 2001. For more information, visit www.arsusa.com.


Placitas Flea Market reopens

The Placitas Flea Market will be in operation again this year on the second Saturday of the month, starting in May and running through October. The booth fees paid by vendors will help fund art projects, field trips, and the purchase of art supplies for students at Placitas Elementary School (PES) through the Art in the School Program.

Art in the School is a private, nonprofit organization that trains parent volunteers to provide art education in the classroom. Art history, art criticism, aesthetics, and art studio are part of each interdisciplinary lesson. The program addresses a variety of learning styles to make sure every child benefits. It teaches students that art is an integral part of the human experience. PES has been a participant in this program for more than twenty years, and students have explored a variety of art forms, including Pueblo pottery, Hispanic tin-smithing, Navajo weaving, African mask-making, Impressionist painting, scientific illustration, printmaking, and photography.

Scheduled dates for the Placitas Flea Market are May 10, June 14, July 12, August 9, September 13, and October 11. Participants can bring items for resale, arts and crafts, and other treasures to set up in the field on the west side of the Merc parking lot. The Merc is located in Homestead Village, one mile east on SR 165. The cost is $10 per twelve-by-sixteen-foot space. For $15, artists selling original work may set up under the Merc portal. Vendors of all kinds are encouraged to participate. However, no hot foods or sandwiches are permitted. Bake sales and lemonade stands are welcome.

A parent volunteer will collect vendor booth fees during the day of the event. For further information, call Linda at 867-0027.


Commission Watch

—SIGNPOST STAFF

During the April 17 meeting of the commission, Chief Jon Tibbetts of the Sandoval County Fire Department presented plaques to the Pueblo of Santa Ana and to Southern Sandoval Investments, Inc., recognizing the Pueblo’s commitment to fire protection and successful efforts in securing legislative funding to purchase a seventy-five-foot ladder truck.

The commission approved a memorandum of understanding between the County and the Pueblo of Santa Ana, authorizing lease of the 2007 Rosenbauer Spartan seventy-five-foot ladder truck to the County for $1 per year for the useful life of the truck. The vehicle is to be used for fire suppression services to the pueblo and surrounding areas as needed.

Moira Gerety, chair of the Sandoval County broadband oversight committee, presented an update on the county wireless broadband project. She said that the backbone of the project should be up by August. The costly project has been delayed by mismanagement and alleged fraud. The county is currently suing to recoup $850,000 from a contractor it hired to build the county’s still-incomplete broadband project.

The county is also seeking to recover the money through a claim on an insurance policy covering the project.

Sandoval County filed the lawsuit in October alleging that contractors intentionally deceived the county about their ability to complete the project and that they took county money without providing the services they promised.

Division of County Development Director Michael Springfield withdrew a request for approval of a resolution to place a moratorium on land subdivisions and zone map amendments in the eastern portion of the Placitas area. Springfield told the Signpost that his division originally sought the moratorium because of controversy over development of the area.

The Development division plans to begin a long-range development plan for the Placitas area in May, to be completed in December. Plan issues include population growth, water issues, preservation of Placitas Village, acequia issues, infrastructure improvement, open space, transportation, subdivision, and proposed commercial amenities. Community meetings will begin in July.

The Division of Public Works presented a status report on the Sandoval Easy Express (SEE) Transportation Program. Special Programs administrator Gino Rinaldi touted the success of the program, citing increased routes and public use. SEE buses provide transportation to Cuba, Cochiti, Jemez Springs, Bernalillo, and Rio Rancho. He said that there was no funding to extend the service to Placitas.

The division also presented a status report on the ongoing Northwest Loop project, which is designed to connect I-25 and I-40, bypassing Albuquerque. The loop could eventually reconnect to I-25 south of Albuquerque. Gravel roads are being built to preserve the right-of-way. Highway construction will proceed when funding is available. Regional and county officials view the loop as crucial to the development of lands west of Rio Rancho and to the relief of freeway congestion through Albuquerque. The loop begins at the intersection of US 550 and I-25. Division of Public Works director Phil Rios said that the state is doing impact studies on the already congested intersection. He opined that by the time the loop is completed, the problem will be taken care of. He said that Santa Ana Pueblo has been approached regarding an alternative route.


‘Women in Black’ war protest Thursdays noon, Corrales Village Hall

On the first day of the Corrales Women in Black peace vigil in front of the old fire station, March 20, Poppy Ballantine arrived first, a few minutes before noon.

Dressed in black, she was confident others would be joining her in the first of what she hoped would be ongoing public demonstrations in Corrales against the war in Iraq and violence against women.

Just at noon, two more Corrales women, dressed in black, arrived with anti-war signs. They were followed by another woman who dismounted from a bicycle, and then two more came by truck.

By ten past noon, their numbers had grown to fifteen; by 12:30 p.m., twenty-one Women in Black stood shoulder to shoulder, across the entire front of the old fire station, now the Village Council Chamber and Municipal Court Room.

As passers-by honked encouragement, the women waved and cheered. They gained yet another member by the time their first vigil ended at 1:00 p.m.

“We will continue to gather from noon to 1:00 p.m. each Thursday,” Ballantine said after the first event. “What a beautiful way to greet the spring with so many wonderful friends and comrades for peace and justice!”

She and her sister, Taudy Smith, helped form the Corrales group.

Several had previously joined together to demonstrate against the war by standing along Corrales Road with anti-war signs and vigil candles in front of the Corrales Recreation Center. Now they and others have joined as a local, independent chapter of the international Women in Black movement.

More can be learned about the movement at its website, www.womeninblack.org.

The movement’s history goes back to demonstrations by women in South Africa who wore black sashes to protest the violence of that country’s apartheid system. Women in Black also trace their heritage to the “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo” in Argentina who stood to bear witness to the atrocities of that country’s dictatorship.

But the current Women in Black group began in Israel in 1988 when Jewish women began standing in weekly vigils in public places, such as busy intersections, to draw attention to the Palestinians’ plight. It is now in more than thirty countries.

This article was originally printed in the Corrales Comment, April 5, 2008 edition.

 

 

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