Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

NMDOT plans tweaks to I-25 interchange

—Signpost Staff

Lingering questions about the new Interstate 25 interchange at north Bernalillo will result in adjustments to lane striping on one of the freeway entrances and additional signage.

The restriping involves the southbound ramp to I-25 from U.S. 550, which also carries Placitas traffic off State Route 165 headed toward Albuquerque, according to the New Mexico Department of Transportation. The work will be done at night before the end of June.

The Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association, which met with NMDOT during the construction and since, had questioned the striping of the ramp where two lanes from Bernalillo merge with two lanes from Placitas.

“We had pointed out a couple of things,” ES-CA President Bob Gorrell said. “The solid white line (separating Bernalillo and Placitas traffic) is not long enough and people were cutting off people from 165 and pushing them into the wall… They agreed to extend that line.”

ES-CA also expressed concern that the painted merge arrow on the NM 165 lanes moved traffic to the right when the Bernalillo lanes are trying to merge left to get on the interstate. NMDOT declined to make that change, Gorrell said.

A NMDOT spokesperson said the changes that will be made are intended to add clarity to the striping for an optimal merge point.

ES-CA has also lobbied for additional signs on the signal bridge that straddles the middle of the overpass for travelers uncertain about which lanes lead to the onramps. NMDOT said it already has added signs designating lanes and routes but is planning a few more for emphasis.

Upcoming in early June, NMDOT plans to resume work on the U.S. 550 bridge over the Rio Grande. That project, which follows up repair to the concrete deck last fall, involves lane closures while an epoxy deck sealant is applied and given time to cure.

So as not to conflict with May events in Bernalillo and Rio Rancho, the work is currently scheduled for the weekends of June 5 and June 12, the NMDOT spokesperson said. The lane closures, one in each direction, each weekend, will begin at 9:00 p.m. Friday and end by 5:30 a.m. on Monday.

Updated information on road conditions and construction can be found on the NMDOT website

Bernalillo to host Memorial Day parade, ceremony

Bernalillo has announced plans to honor the country’s war dead with a parade on Memorial Day. The parade begins at 11:00 a.m., on May 25, and follows a route from Camino del Bosque on the south end of town up Camino del Pueblo to Loretto Park, near U.S. Highway 550.

The town is currently accepting applications from groups wanting to participate in the parade, requesting only that the entries be patriotic. Town staff and volunteers working on the parade also have been contacting veterans and other groups.

Applications are available in the Events section of the town website and at town hall. Town officials say the parade will end in time for participants and viewers to attend the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Sandoval County Vietnam Veterans Memorial. That ceremony begins at 1:00 p.m. outside the former Sandoval County Courthouse at 711 S. Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo.

County maps show one corner of the Buffalo Tract extending up and along Las Huertas Creek from just below the Camino de las Huertas crossing.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Feds halt sale of public land as private property

—Bill Diven

A land dispute in Placitas hardly qualifies as an Old West range war, although the federal government does wonder how twenty of its acres came up for sale at a tax auction in March.

The land along Las Huertas Creek near Camino de las Huertas is part of a 3,100-acre parcel under control of the Bureau of Land Management. The parcel is commonly called the Buffalo Tract since it resembles the profile of a standing buffalo facing west.

The hind leg extends southward into residential areas with the land in question in the hoof.

“It’s the toenail, if you will,” said John Brenna, acting field manager of the BLM’s Rio Puerco Field Office. “There are a lot of clouded titles. We find them all the time because we’re land managers.

The Buffalo Tract already is a hot topic in Placitas as the BLM prepares to release a management plan that would guide whether the land is kept as is or made available for commercial or other purposes. The plan is now expected to be released in August, Brenna said.

Placitas Realtor Dave Harper spotted the twenty acres when he looked over the list of 63 properties to be sold for unpaid taxes at a state auction in Bernalillo on March 31. Harper said he first learned of the property 15 or twenty years ago when a member of the family that claimed it asked about offering it for sale.

“We did list the property, but I did more research and found it was public land,” Harper said. “So we took it off the market.”

It’s turned up at tax auctions periodically ever since, this time with a minimum bid of $20,900, potentially a deal, if the title were clear. A developed one-acre lot in nearby Wild Horse Mesa is currently listed at $49,000 dollars.

Harper called the BLM, which then contacted state Property Tax Division. By the time Harper got to the county courthouse, the property and two others had been pulled from the sale as “uncollectable.”

Property owners retained three properties by paying the taxes, bidders won 36 parcels, and no one bid on the remaining 21.

Harper’s research led him to Cipriano Lucero, born about 1881 in Peña Blanca. An active Democrat, Lucero held numerous state jobs, served one term in the state House of Representatives and was as a translator for U.S. Sens. Bronson Cutting and Clinton Anderson and Govs. A.T. Hannett, John Dempsey and Tom Mabry, according to his obituary published in the Albuquerque Journal in 1965.

He was survived by his second wife and 13 children, and Harper thinks, that at some point, the kids going through family records came up with some type of deed.

“How they came to the conclusion it was in Placitas is beyond me,” Harper said. “But at some point they got a surveyor out there and surveyed twenty acres… If he ever had land, it was out by Peña Blanca and the bottom of La Bajada.”

Page-by-page research in county records showed Lucero owned property there many decades ago although he said some property descriptions bordered on gibberish.

BLM Property Specialist Connie Maestas said her recent research of government records produced an 1895 survey showing lots numbered one through four covering the twenty acres. There is no record of the property being sold into private hands, she said.

“Somewhere down the road a deed was filed,” she said. It’s not the first time these title issues have arisen, she continued. “There are some deeds floating around out there, and taxes were being paid, but they have a different legal description than we have.”

Brenna said that the BLM, the state, and the county are working together to sort out the problem.

“We’ve gone back and forth a little bit but in a friendly way,” he said. Any land sold by the government would come with a patent rather than a deed, and in this case, there is none.

“They say we have to prove it to them, but it’s the other way around,” Brenna added.

Both Harper and the BLM warned of problems buying land at tax sales and the nightmares that result when someone, after paying taxes for many years, finds out they don’t own the land and can’t get a refund.

“I hope the state can realize they shouldn’t keep trying to sell this land so they don’t take someone’s money,” Harper said. “Someone is going to think they own the land and maybe do site work, maybe drill a well, and then the BLM is going to come along and say, ‘What are you doing?... If you’re going to buy land at a tax sale, you better have all the documents in the ownership chain.”

Las Placitas Fire contained

—U. S. Forest Service

A small brush fire located in Las Huertas Canyon called the Las Placitas Fire was reported on April 23, 2015. The fire burned an estimated five acres and has been one hundred percent contained. The cause is under investigation.

The Cibola National Forest wishes to emphasize the excellent interagency cooperation that resulted during this fire. The Sandoval County Fire Department assisted by providing water tenders so that the Forest Service engines could pump water, and Bernalillo County assisted by providing two helicopters. Bernalillo’s Metro I provided aerial reconnaissance and Metro II provided bucket work all afternoon to put out the fire.

The Cibola National Forest would also like to remind the public that New Mexico is still suffering from several years of drought and that fire danger is high. Officials ask that if you are camping on the Cibola National Forest to make sure you bring a shovel and plenty of water to extinguish your fire and don’t leave the area until the coals are cold to the touch. 

Fire restriction information can be found at:

Pedro Villegas (left) and Lance Bernal of Forest Fitness load branches into a wood chipper funded by the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District during last year's Wood Chipper Day at Placitas Community Library.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Free-roaming horses in background of conservation election

—Bill Diven

It’s a little-known government agency tackling big conservation issues while finding enough controversy to draw challenges to the incumbent supervisors now up for election.

After flying below radar for decades, the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District in 2013 joined the dispute over horses running free in Placitas. The district, citing damage to land and vegetation, called on the New Mexico Livestock board to round up and remove horses.

The NMLB declined, but has since taken and auctioned scores of horses corralled by individual landowners. Meanwhile, the horse issue occasionally overshadows the work Coronado pursues in wildfire prevention and land-and-water issues.

Now, three of the five seats on the district’s board of supervisors are set for election on May 5. Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the gymnasium of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church (301 South Camino del Pueblo in Bernalillo). Incumbents Gary Miles and Lynn Montgomery of Placitas can continue to serve on the board until 2017.

Voters will be asked to produce any document showing proof of residency in the district. The district covers southeast Sandoval County, east of the Rio Grande, plus much of the watershed west of the river from U.S. Highway 550 into the eastern slopes of the Jemez Mountains.

In the Position 1 contest, incumbent Patricia Bolton is opposed by Patience O’Dowd. For Position 2, incumbent Marvin Mendelow faces Renee Sposato. And in Position 5, incumbent Alfred Baca’s opponent is Jami Watson. Mendelow and Baca are residents of Algodones, while Bolton, O’Dowd, Sposato, and Watson live in Placitas.

One former Coronado supervisor said she hopes the election doesn’t turn into a referendum on the free-roaming horses since the three challengers are among the horse advocates in Placitas.

“There are lots of issues out there that are not horse-related that people need and want to focus on,” said Judith Hurley. “We need supervisors who want to focus on the big picture.”

Hurley, appointed to fill a vacancy last year, said she agreed to serve only until the election but resigned after six months because the workload was interfering with her business. Board members go through training and are expected to take on and lead projects, she added.

The state’s 48 SWCDs trace their roots to the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s and began as a program to help farmers and ranchers improve their land and prevent erosion. Since then, many have expanded into wildfire prevention and other land issues and seen populations expand into formerly rural areas.

The districts also are unusual among government agencies in their ability to work directly with individual landowners. Coronado’s projects alone, and with other agencies, include improving reservoirs for the three community acequias in Placitas, helping homeowners and the Placitas land grant association reduce wildfire risks, pursuing a pilot project in water-harvesting, and maintaining the Piedra Lisa Dam, which protects part of Bernalillo from flash floods.

In the Position 1 contest, Patricia Bolton told the Signpost that she accepted the appointment to the board through exploring community organizations after retiring to Placitas three years ago. She irrigates her land in the Placitas village and said she began attending Coronado meetings after learning of its work through the acequia association.

“I really like the notion of restoring these watershed areas,” Bolton said. “The drought is going to make it hard… I do think there’s a carrying capacity on the land, and the horses are a big user of it. They can’t be kept at a carrying capacity without management.”

Bolton, who got her undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico, said she rode jumping horses as a kid. Retired from a research-and-development firm, she described her background as including studies of organizations and emergency preparedness and response.

She has served on the board since June.

Patience O’Dowd, who’s running for Bolton’s position, is a retired chemical engineer, longtime Placitas resident, and president of the nonprofit advocacy group Wild Horse Observers Association. She declined an interview request from the Signpost and instead submitted a platform statement.

“The Coronado District needs to: 1. Start Service to the Pueblo Farming Communities. 2. Start supporting 85.7 percent of the people and the environment in Placitas by supporting PZP contraception for the Wild Horses of Placitas. 3. Stop supporting grants of taxpayer $ for a Gravel Miner to graze cattle along the banks of the Rio Grande as they did in 2014. 4. Stop trying to raise taxes without informing the public.”

Position 2 supervisor Mendelow, a director of the Algodones water association, has lived in the community since 1983, holds a degree in accounting, and is a former tax preparer and union projectionist and lighting technician. He was appointed to the board in February.

“I was attending (Coronado) meetings, and I took an interest mostly because of water issues,” he said. “Coronado is trying to work with the Forest Service to get more water down into Placitas by cleaning up watersheds and reducing fire hazards and making the wilderness more accessible… It’s mostly about protecting ourselves while we’re alive from stupidity. It’s keeping our world precious.”

Mendelow said free-roaming horses have not been an issue in Algodones, and that he’s letting Placitas residents work it out. The watershed is being destroyed by the lack of water, not the horses, he added.

His opponent, Renee Sposato, said the project management in her professional background provides some of the skills needed to be a Coronado supervisor. Her work for AT&T included working with local governments and in community forums to site cell towers, she added.

Sposato has lived in Placitas about 18 months, and after researching Coronado, felt she could bring a new and open mind to the board.

“I’m willing to listen to all sides,” she said. “I can learn from scratch and maybe come in without a skewed view on anything.”

Sposato also said she looks forward to engaging the community in conservation practices, fire protection, and especially working with children. A horse owner fond of riding on the public land and in northern Placitas, Sposato said she doubts the damage to the watershed is the result of the free-roaming horses and that, after the various roundups, there aren’t many left. One of her three horses once roamed Placitas but was adopted from Gary Miles, the founder of Placitas Animal Rescue and a current Coronado supervisor.

Alfred Baca, a Sandoval County native and Algodones rancher, is running to retain his seat as the Position 5 supervisor. He was appointed to the board in March 2013 and notes a lot of changes since his previous four years on the board around 1980.

“It’s gotten a lot more formal, and there are a lot more programs out there for the rancher,” he said. “We have a mission statement to protect the land.”

Baca entered the horse controversy by asking the Livestock Board to remove horses from the federal land he leases for grazing. While he and his brother rotate their herds to give various tracts time to replenish, the horses were overgrazing the land, he said.

“My big concern right now is trying to get something done with the flooding in Algodones,” Baca said. “It’s causing a lot of problems for the people and isn’t good for the soil.”

In the short term, Baca has asked the operators of a gravel quarry on his land to create retention ponds to slow runoff heading for the community.

Baca’s opponent is Jami Watson, who did not respond to Signpost requests for an interview. Online profiles list her as a volunteer with Placitas Animal Rescue and a member of the Wild Horse Management Team where she assists in caring for adoptable horses.

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales

Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park

Placitas legislators assess ups and downs of 2015 session

—Signpost Staff

Fallout from the 2015 Legislature continues six weeks after the session ended, although there’s an apparent upside to failed bills aimed at protecting Placitas from gravel miners violating zoning regulations.

A second issue—a quarter-billion dollars for local projects statewide that died in the session’s closing minutes—remained in limbo at Signpost deadline as legislative leaders tried to cut a deal so the governor can call a special session to pass it. The capital outlay bill allocated more than five million dollars to Sandoval County, its municipalities and pueblos.

The gravel bill, jointly sponsored by Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, and Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, would have raised the three hundred total fine for zoning violations at quarries to one thousand dollars a day. The bill cleared its first House committee but died in the second.

A related bill the pair sponsored to move sand-and-gravel mining under the tougher regulation of the state Mining Act also died.

Even though the bills failed, they may change the dynamic of relations between the new owners of the former Lafarge pit and Placitas residents who’ve complained long and loud about dust, water use, and digging outside agreed areas. New owner Vulcan Inc., which bought Lafarge properties in September, inherited a lawsuit filed by Sandoval County alleging Lafarge was in violation of a 1988 zoning agreement.

Company lawyers have rejected the claim saying later documents nullified that agreement. Separately, however, Vulcan has agreed to meet with Placitas residents to see what can be worked out, Sapien and Smith said.

“The businesses that would be impacted by those two pieces of legislation are now aware of the challenges being created and are now willing to sit down with the community to facilitate that bringing together so it’s not a war of letters and complaints but a conversation between business and the community,” Sapien said.

“That was a good outcome,” Smith added.

Neighbors of the quarry, however, are waiting to see what will happen.

“Clearly our concern is we’ve been around the table with them three times, and local management hasn’t changed,” said Dick Ulmer, chairman of the Placitas-based Land Use Protection Trust. “We are hearing higher-ups in Vulcan may have a conscience and have a concern of public welfare we didn’t sense from Lafarge.”

Sapien said he included Fisher Sand and Gravel in his comment because the company worked to compromise with the Placitas-based Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association on annexing its 43-acre property into Bernalillo. Town councilors approved the annexation about a week before the Legislature convened in January adding time limits and other restrictions for mining the site.

Fisher’s quarry is east of Interstate 25 near the Avenida Bernalillo exit. The Vulcan pit, also east of I-25, is about a mile north of State Route 165. Both have residential developments nearby and downwind. Two other large quarries are located north of the two-thousand-acre Vulcan property.

The $264 million dollar capital outlay bill generated continuing post-session finger-pointing with House Republicans accusing Senate Democrats of taking too long to approve its version of the bill and then not being willing to compromise. Senate Democrats respond by noting House Republicans made eighty million dollars in changes to the Senate bill, approved it with 18 minutes left in the session and sent it back to the Senate with no time to debate the changes.

“There’s another billion dollars in capital outlay already authorized and not spent over the last five years,” Sapien said. “It’s up to the governor’s office to follow through and make sure that money’s spent.”

Central to the conflict is a package of highway projects pushed by Gov. Susana Martinez. The House, where Republicans are in charge for the first time in more than sixty years, voted to fund the projects though bond debt. Democrats in the Senate favored raising the gas tax or tapping cash reserves.

The final bill included $5.3 million dollars to be spent in Sandoval County for projects ranging from a fire station on U.S. Highway 550 at Zia Pueblo to arroyo flood control in Rio Rancho and acequia improvements in Jemez Springs.

Sandoval County cited in particular the loss of six hundred thousand dollars for purchasing land to preserve the corridor for Paseo del Volcán, an existing road in northeast Rio Rancho projected eventually to connect with Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque. Another two hundred thousand dollars was set aside for Bernalillo’s long-sought second water line across the Rio Grande, connecting the east and west parts of town.

Bills that did pass included banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The bill contained an emergency clause, meaning it took effect as soon as Martinez signed it, but that left Bernalillo police scrambling for guidance.

“Nobody knows,” Mayor Jack Torres said. “We’re just trying to get a handle on what our role is in enforcing it.”

Three of Sapien’s bills with bipartisan support made it to the governor’s desk, but two of them—increased accountability in state child-care reimbursements, and letting brewers share brewing facilities—died without explanation when Martinez didn’t sign them. The third, expected to save university money in certifying online courses across state lines, was signed into law.

Another bill to delay using the results of a new student test in teacher evaluations survived two committees but was not voted on by the full Senate.

While Sapien continued to lead the Senate Education Committee, the shift in control of the House moved Smith up to chair the new Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee.

“It was exciting, and it was a learning experience,” Smith said. “It was a lot of fun and a lot more work… When you’re in the minority, your task is just to show up.”

Still, none of Smith’s bills—from requiring voter IDs, to reducing the use of student tests to evaluate teachers—ever made it out of the House. His one bill to reach the Senate, a change in regulations intended to increase Internet broadband in rural areas, died in a committee there.

Sapien also was the subject of two mailings to his district by a political action committee supporting the so-called right-to-work bill to end a union’s ability to collect fees from nonmembers it represents for bargaining activities. The slick-paper fliers urged calls to Sapien to support the bill that passed the House but stalled in the Senate without a floor vote.

“Surviving and thriving in a fifty-fifty district, those are part of the opposition’s game as things go,” Sapien said. “I just continue to listen to my constituents and not base my work on the pressure of a mailer.”

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