The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Eco Beat

Smalley Foundation offers guidance in pipeline safety, PVFD participates

Citizens for Safe Pipelines

On August 24, 1996, Danielle was packed and ready to go. The next day, she would start college. Unfortunately, no one had ever told her or her family anything about the pipelines that ran through their community. That afternoon, when they smelled gas, Danielle and her friend jumped in the car and went to warn neighbors. That decision had tragic consequences.

A nearby pipeline had ruptured in the road. Neither young person recognized the Old Faithful-style gusher for the butane that it was. The car’s engine ignited the cloud of butane and the fire destroyed fifteen acres around it. Danielle and her friend died.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the accident. In addition to criticizing the company for failing to maintain its pipeline, the NTSB concluded that if there had been better community education about pipelines—how to recognize when there was a leak and what to do (and not to do) in the event of a leak—neither Danielle nor her friend might have died.

In response, Danielle’s father created the Danielle Dawn Smalley Foundation. The foundation’s purpose is to educate rural communities, schools, and first responders about pipelines and to promote safety around pipelines. Their services are free of charge.

The Danielle Dawn Smalley Foundation will be coming to the East Mountains and Sandoval County to hold community education meetings about pipeline safety. On November 19 at 7:00 p.m. there will be a meeting for community members and first responders at Placitas Elementary School.

If you don’t live near pipelines, should you still come to the meeting? Yes, for two important reasons.

First, pipelines are in many places that you may not even know about. In addition to the corridor of five hazardous-liquid pipelines that traverses our area, there are pipelines along I-25, beneath some of the bridges we use, and near many public facilities. They traverse quietly beneath subdivisions where you may visit friends. If you think you’re never near a pipeline, you’re probably wrong.

Second, liquid pipelines can have impact zones that are very different from where the pipelines are. In a rupture, the liquid flows downhill just like any other liquid. As a result, impact zones can be miles long and miles away from the pipeline. In addition, some liquids form gas clouds that fill low-lying areas rather than stay next to the pipeline.

In short, someday you may be—like Danielle—driving down a road and seeing something unusual. Come learn what it might look like and what to do or not do.

Does this mean pipelines in our area are unsafe? No. Pipeline accidents are infrequent. Think about school fire drills. The fact that your school has fire drills doesn’t mean your school is unsafe. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means that people who care about you care enough to plan for your safety even if something unexpected happens. Come and learn how to keep yourself safe if an unexpected pipeline accident happens.

Has an accident ever happened near here?

In Sandoval County, there have been four hazardous liquid pipeline spills in the last five years. The spills were: 250 gallons of propane, twenty-five hundred gallons of jet fuel, five thousand gallons of diesel, and twenty-five thousand gallons of crude oil.

Fortunately, no one was hurt in any of these accidents. Let’s keep it that way!

What government organizations are participating in this effort? The overall effort is being coordinated by Sandoval County. Other participants include the New Mexico Pipeline Safety Bureau, Bernalillo School District, Zia Pueblo, City of Albuquerque Open Space Division, and the Bureau of Land Management. On November 19, you will meet Paul Bearce, chief of the Placitas Fire Brigade, as well as other volunteer fire brigade members, and learn more about what they do.

If you can’t make it to the meeting, there will be another evening meeting scheduled for the East Mountain area. Watch your mailbox and newspaper for more information.

The Web site for the Danielle Dawn Smalley Foundation is The NTSB report on the accident that led to the formation of the foundation can be found at (Scroll down to Pipeline Rupture, Liquid Butane Release and Fire, Lively, Texas, August 24, 1996.) Clark “Sparkie” Speakman, Sandoval County Fire Marshall, can be reached at 867-0245 or Questions can also be e-mailed to Citizens for Safe Pipelines at

Please come to the meeting on November 19 at 7:00 p.m. at Placitas Elementary School. Enjoy refreshments with your neighbors, meet your volunteer fire brigade, and acquire some useful information. We hope to see you there!

Our thanks to Las Placitas Association, the Placitas Recycling Center, and the Signpost for helping with our community education efforts.


The Milagro Beanfield War revisited

Carl Hertel

Recent headlines suggest what we all know, but don’t want to talk about. The Milagro Beanfield War of John Nichols novel of the same name about struggles over water rights in New Mexico is about to reappear in a new and devastating 21st century form. In a Sunday New Mexican, we find a banner headline: “Water Woes” which could have just as easily read “Water Wars.” The story was about disparate conflicts between the El Pueblo Acequia Association and the Army Corps of Engineers over management of scarce water resources along the Pecos River. Another banner headline read: “Growth vs. Water.” The story outlined battles between developers and no-growth proponents which are the seed for yet another kind of water war. Water woes and growth vs. water issues plague Placitas, Bernalillo and northside communities, as well. In fact, as a result of drought and the population explosion, the entire Southwest is struggling with water woes. Sadly, these local and regional conflicts are small reflections of catastrophic international problems over water which make the current focus on going to war over oil pale by comparison—because there are substitutes for oil, but none for water.

In 1998, Senator Paul Simon published his landmark book titled Tapped Out: The Coming World Crisis In Water And What We Can Do About It. In his book, Simon points out some simple realities about water throughout the world. For example, he notes that 97 percent of the world’s water supply is in salt water. Of the remaining three percent, about two percent is in the form of ice and the remaining one percent is unequally distributed as fresh water throughout the globe. While the U.S. has four percent of the world population, Simon notes it enjoys holding eight percent of the world’s fresh water supply. Unhappily for us, relatively little of that fresh water is found in the arid Southwest. Simon also points out that while only (sic ) 300 million worldwide were without adequate water in 1998, by 2013 about 3 billion will be without adequate water. As a result of this, it is certain that regional wars will be fought over water in the near future.

Indeed, violence over water has been happening already in several parts of the world. For example, in Bolivia—where World Bank & International Monetary Fund (IMF) schemes have fostered the privatization of water distribution by the Bechtel Corporation—the urban poor in Cochabamba have battled Bechtel in the streets over access to water and martial law had to be declared.The crucial issue over who has the right to control essential resources will be at the center of violent confrontations over water in many countries in the next five years. Protesters at the World Bank/IMF Conference in Washington D.C. in late September emphasized that they will fight over privatization of water in their war against what they see as the evils of globalization with corporations reaping profit from essential services. Speaking to that group under the banner “Mobilization For Global Justice,” American Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader cited the injustices of privatization saying “multinationals have no allegiance to country or community” thus they cannot be trusted with something as vital to human existence as water.

Closer to home, Santa Fe developers have put forth plans to desalinize and transport water out of the Estancia Basin to Santa Fe under a privatization scheme. West Texas ranchers holding water rights to the Oglalla aquifer are proposing to “farm” that water and ship it out of region to the city of San Antonio. In both cases, locals claim “bioregional rights” to keeping the water on the land from which it comes. They thus raise another issue about what “water rights” actually mean and who can “own” a vital natural resource. Old-timers, of course, find nothing new in all of this since wars over water rights have characterized the “winning of the West” for two centuries. The difference this time around is the urbanization of the West and the enormous growth in the populations involved—not to mention the astronomical amounts of money and profit at stake.

For all that, Simon raises many other points about how critical the world water problem is. Not the least of which is water quality. He notes eighty percent of the diseases found in developing countries are water born. Recent revelations in the U.S. demonstrate that water pollution is also a significant danger in our own country. Simon is particularly keen on desalinization technologies and tapping the world’s enormous salt water resources.

Lastly, and very germane to our own backyard water woes, Simon focuses on the importance of conservation. Even this meets with resistance in some quarters today. For example, the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste recently attacked Senator Pete Domenici’s work to acquire millions for acequia restoration projects as “pork-barrel spending.” According to a story in the New Mexican,  the senator says of these projects that “. . . acequias are the ‘lifeblood’ of many New Mexico communities.” Domenici seeks 5.2 million for acequias, but the Bush administration has budgeted only 1.5. million. Thus it seems the Milagro Beanfield War is being revisited all over the planet.


(Left) Placitas Recycling Center board members John Knapp (left), Frank  Hawks (center), and Len Stevens (right) loading the bales of recycled  plastic that were taken to the landfill on October 8.

Recycling Center dumps plastic

Karen Crane

The Placitas Recycling Center suffered a severe setback last month when board members were forced to dump over thirty-four hundred pounds of recycled plastic into the Sandoval County Landfill.

On Tuesday, October 8, board president John Knapp and members Len Stevens and Frank Hawks hauled bales of compressed mixed plastics to the landfill, cut the baling wires, and let loose the material that Placitas residents thought they were recycling.

"It's just unreal," said board member Fran Stevens, secretary-treasurer and volunteer coordinator for the recycling center. "We're losing our contact for recycled plastic."

The process for recycling plastic at the Placitas Recycling Center had improved in the last year. Until September 2001, the center had been able to take only HDPE (#1) and PETE (#2). It was compressed and baled at the center and subsequently collected by Sandoval County to be taken to the City of Albuquerque's landfill, Cerro Colorado. This landfill has a Materials Recycling Facility. When possible, Cerro Colorado recycled it, but due to market fluctuations, sometimes it wound up in the landfill.

In August 2001, alert board members of the Placitas Recycling Center noticed an article in the Albuquerque Journal that caught their interest. It was about an innovative company called TEWA Corporation, in the city of Albuquerque.

TEWA, an acronym for Technology, Energy, Waste, and Asphalt, uses an innovative technology that puts recycled plastic to good use. Recycled plastic is shredded and put through a reactor that changes the molecular structure of the plastic so it can be combined with asphalt. This treated recycled plastic aggregate, called “plasphalt,” reduces the amounts of petroleum products, sand, and gravel used in standard asphalt. The result is a paving material that five-year-old test sites have shown lasts longer and requires less maintenance than standard asphalt. An important key to the story of plasphalt is that it has been approved by the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department for use on New Mexico's roads.

TEWA Corporation was a great find for the Placitas Recycling Center. The company accepted all types of plastic, including plastic caps and grocery sacks. By contracting with TEWA in September 2001, the Placitas Recycling Center board members were able to expand the collection policy. For the last thirteen months, community members have been able to deposit unsorted plastic materials of all types in the trailer that serves as a collector for used plastics at the center.

The last time Fran Stevens called to arrange a drop off of baled plastic at TEWA Corporation's warehouse, she was told by company president Eric Bowers that they would no longer be able to accept the plastic. Due to the inability of the company to convince most paving contractors of the benefits of plasphalt, TEWA is filing bankruptcy.

It takes only two collection days to fill the four-by-eight-by-sixteen-foot trailer at the recycling center in Placitas. This 512 cubic feet of plastic is compressed into two twenty-cubic-foot bales weighing approximately 215 pounds each. On that fateful Tuesday when board members moved the plastic from the overcrowded recycling center, sixteen bales were released into the landfill.

The Placitas Recycling Center will continue to accept all plastics while the board members research an alternative source for recycling it. If a solution isn't found by December, members of the community will again be able to deposit only #1 and #2 type plastics beginning in January of 2003.

Fran Stevens is disappointed that New Mexico contractors don't support more use of plasphalt in paving the state's highways. Not only is TEWA affected, but the county landfill, currently reaching its capacity, is strained by the disposal of more materials that could be recycled.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plastic comprises 27 percent of all materials dumped in landfills. "If we (Sandoval County) could recycle all this plastic, it has the potential of extending the life of the landfill by eight years. It’s just a shame we have nowhere to take it," Fran mourned. "This plastic will be in the landfill even when the cockroaches are all dead and gone."

Currently the board members of the Placitas Recycling Center are drafting a petition to urge local and state government agencies to assist the people of New Mexico to find practical ways to recycle plastic. They hope to have it available for registered voters to sign by the beginning of December. Information regarding the petition will be reported in next month's Signpost.




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