Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
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Photo credit —Bill Diven

Breaking ground on new Bernalillo High School project

Ceremony kicks off Bernalillo High School construction project

Bernalillo officially began construction of its new high school to the sound of the Spartan fight song and a loader tearing up the parking lot.

By the time the $38 million dollar project is done—in about two-and-one-half years—only the gymnasium will remain from the current campus.

“It’s exciting to know this project will make the school a better place,” student body President José Monclova said during the March 27 groundbreaking.

Future students of Bernalillo High School donned hardhats and joined district, community, and pueblo leaders in wielding shovels for the ceremonial flinging of dirt to mark the start of construction.

The project includes new classrooms, offices, library, cafeteria, and career and ed-tech centers with state-of-the-art technology, enhanced campus security, and new access routes onto the campus. HB Construction of Albuquerque is the prime contractor on the job.


NMDOT sticks with current Placitas-Bernalillo Exit 242

—Bill Diven

It appears that, for the time being, Placitas residents will have to get used to their exit from Interstate 25 and do without an acceleration lane while climbing the grade on State Road 165. Some residents have complained about that continuation of the exit lane being dropped from the project that overhauled the I-25/U.S. Highway 550 interchange. Northbound traffic exiting the freeway now faces a tight right turn and an immediate merge into the two lanes heading east.

In March, those complaints led to a gathering along the highway that included the New Mexico Department of Transportation, the Bernalillo Police Department, and members of the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association. NMDOT agreed to conduct a traffic study of the interchange, and department spokesman Phil Gallegos said the work was assigned to an outside contractor late in April. The study will include not only traffic movements but sight distances, speeds, signage and other issues, Gallegos said.

In dropping the acceleration lane, traffic engineers opted to avoid what they saw as an unsafe merge, particularly involving gravel trucks heading for the Lafarge quarry on the I-25 frontage road north of NM165. With an easier turn and an acceleration lane, the big rigs could come off the freeway at higher speeds intent on jumping across eastbound traffic to get to the turn lane to the frontage road.

Gallegos said with improved sight distances from the new layout of the interchange, traffic often only slows briefly as it turns toward Placitas. “It’s a minor inconvenience to yield, rather than accelerate given the traffic,” he said.

That new layout is generating additional complaints, particularly from drivers coming east through Bernalillo and trying to spot the turn lanes to go north on I-25. The new configuration, known as a single-point urban interchange, is generally found in cities where it moves high volumes of exiting and entering freeway traffic across the middle of the overpass.

Gallegos said that contributing to the confusion is the project contractor’s grinding operation, smoothing out the new surface, which leaves patches of different colors until final paving is done.
“Once it’s freshly paved and striped, things should settle down,” he said.

That final paving of the special finishing layer has yet to be scheduled. Gallegos said that work requires temperatures of at least sixty degrees, with seventy preferred. While daytime temperatures might support that now, Gallegos said project managers may wait until it’s that warm at night to affect the fewest motorists.



Photo credit: —Ty Belknap
Seven impounded free-roaming horses are transported by the New Mexico Livestock Board
to a corral down the road in Placitas.

NMLB impounds seven Placitas free-roaming horses

—Ty Belknap

On April 11, about a dozen free-roaming horse advocates gathered on Camino de la Rosa Castilla to protest the impoundment of seven horses by the New Mexico Livestock Board. Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office deputies were there to keep the peace. The protesters had spent several hours outside the gates to Susan Blumenthal’s property when the NMLB personnel arrived on the scene and took about twenty minutes to load the horses into a livestock trailer.

The protesters held up signs and photographed what they said was evidence of animal abuse while NMLB loaded the horses and drove out of the driveway. Led by a representative of the Wild Horse Observers Association, some of the protesters jumped in their vehicles and followed the trailer, recording the event on an I-Pad. The NMLB deposited the horses at Diamante Riding Stables, about a mile down the road.

If Gary Miles of Placitas Animal Rescue (PAR) took these horses, he, by his own count, will have taken possession of 65 estray horses during the last year. PAR bulk-mailed a newsletter to Placitas residents in March, seeking donations to care for the impounded horses. It alleged, “Wild Horse Haters rounded up eight of Our Wild Horses that were not causing any trouble and turned them over to the NMLB.” The newsletter noted that WHOA had filed suit against the NMLB for blocking the use of PZP animal contraceptive and treating wild horses as livestock.

Free-roaming horse advocates hope a task force report, which will be presented at a public meeting on May 3, will support the continued presence of free-roaming horses in the Placitas area. The protesters contended that impounding the horses is illegal, immoral, and divisive.

Inside the gates to Blumenthal’s property, several members of an ad hoc committee that has taken it upon themselves to deal with the horse problem sat under a cottonwood tree talking. They countered charges leveled by the free-roaming advocates by saying that the status quo allowed the horse problem to get out of hand at the expense of the environment, public safety, and property rights. They told the Signpost that impounding the horses is not only legal and moral, but also necessary in the absence of government agencies providing a solution to the problem. They say that the horses have overgrazed Placitas in the midst of the drought, and that removal from public and private land is the only solution. They say that photographs of the entire NMLB process of loading the horses proves that it was done humanely, and that they don’t hate horses.




Photo credit:—Bill Diven
Free-roaming horses graze in Placitas

Placitas horse problem returns to public agenda

—Bill Diven

The continuing saga of horse herds roaming Placitas enters a new chapter this month with the release of a task force report and a separate attempt at community organizing by free-roaming horse advocates.

After months of work, mostly behind the scenes, the report by the Free Roaming Horses of Placitas Task Force was to be posted on April 26 on the New Mexico First website (NMFirst.org). A community forum on the results and recommendations is scheduled for May 3, from 9:00 to noon, at the Placitas Presbyterian Church. Seating will be limited to the size of the church sanctuary, and attendees will be admitted on a first come, first served basis. All are welcome to attend this free-of-charge forum.

Sandoval County contracted Balas’s nonpartisan organization late last year as herds of wandering horses led to safety issues on roads and highways, raised questions about damage to land and landscaping, and pitted neighbor against neighbor over how to manage the problem. Even New Mexico First altered its plan opting for interviews instead of more public meetings after the first meeting November proved contentious.

“It took longer, but we feel it produced a better, healthier product for the community,” New Mexico First President Heather Balas told the Signpost. “Community members, all of them, feel passionately about this issue. None of these are bad people. They’re trying to do what they think is right, and that’s what makes the issue so challenging.”

At the May 3 forum, New Mexico First plans to split the audience into small groups to go over the task force report as neighbors, and then regroup to discuss reactions to the recommendations.

Meanwhile, a few members of the task force and others are working to form an organization to keep the horses roaming free. The effort is the outgrowth of a recent presentation in Placitas by Karen McCalpin, who runs a nonprofit, protecting wild horses on a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. McCalpin is executive director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a nonprofit corporation currently responsible for about one hundred horses roaming 7,500 acres of public and private land that includes seven hundred homes on an island.
“There just isn’t any reason to round up wild horses,” McCalpin said in a later interview.

A group to be called Placitas Wild is now forming but faces a daunting task, according to Joan Fenicle, a member of the horse task force. “Unless we have some management control over the horses and the ability to do birth control, it’s just one more organization chasing its tail,” she said. The video of McCalpin’s talk and later discussion will be posted on PlacitasWild.com once the website is launched, Fenicle said.
In February, the Wild Horse Observers Association of Placitas filed suit against the New Mexico Livestock Board. They allege that the state agency is blocking the use of the contraceptive PZP for use in controlling the horse population. The lawsuit also wants the horses treated as wild, instead of as stray livestock to put them under federal jurisdiction.

NMLB officials say that management control of the horses is required by the NM Department of Agriculture before it will approve organizations to administer of PZP.

About twenty-five horses have been corralled by private citizens on private land. These horses were reported as stray livestock and removed by the NMLB. Gary Miles of Placitas Animal Rescue has been credited with removing as many as thirty horses away from State Road 165 after several collisions. PAR has taken possession of over sixty horses—including all that have been impounded in the Placitas area.

“We cannot take any positions,” said Gary Mora, the NMLB supervisor for northwestern New Mexico. “We’re a neutral state agency mandated by state statute to do what we do. We’re just responding to estray livestock.”
The NMLB goes through its process of advertising the horses as estray before putting them up for auction if no owners come forward. New Mexico is a fence-out state, meaning property owners must put up their own fences to keep out grazing livestock, but NMLB can still corral animals considered to be strays.

Meanwhile Gary Miles of Placitas Animal Rescue, who held seven recently impounded horses  for the NMLB, said as with previous roundups that he will buy the horses at auction and place them outside of Placitas. "These horses belong to us New Mexicans, and I will not let any one of these horses end up on someone's dinner plate," he said.

The horse population, once estimated in excess of one hundred, is down to forty to sixty, which is not a viable genetic pool for the herd given the likelihood of inbreeding, Miles said.

Separately, the city of Albuquerque said its complete fencing of the 560 acres of open space that it controls in Placitas was not a reaction to the WHOA lawsuit, as some have complained. Most of the four-mile perimeter already was fenced. The fencing project, already in the planning stage, spurred forward after reports that all-terrain-vehicle riders were tearing up the property, Open Space Superintendent Matt Schmader said. Liability concerns also popped up when a hiker called to report being frightened by horses stampeded by an ATV, he added.

Free-roaming horses and ATVs are now fenced out. The Open Space Division is looking into restoration projects and supporting low-impact uses of the property, including riding of domestic horses, Schmader said

 
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