An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


George Silva

A portrait of George Silva has hung on the walls of Silva’s
Saloon for most of the 74 years since his murder in 1932.
Read about El Corrido de George Silva in Community Profile..


C. Rudi Klimpert, Sandoval Signpost Cartoon

More gravel mining in Placitas?

—J. PATTERSON
On Sunday, October 8, local residents overflowed the pews of the Placitas Presbyterian Church to express their concerns on the proposed mine-expansion request of Lafarge's gravel-mining operations on BLM land in Placitas. Carol Parker, Kate Nelson, and Judy Hendry, of Las Placitas Association, pointed out some drawbacks to the pit expansion at the meeting.

The mining proposal is in its earliest phase of study under BLM's land-use process. The 1986 BLM Resource Management Plan still allows mining despite residential development in the vicinity. Lafarge, a French-owned corporation, is already operating two strip mines in the area. The first is the Placitas mine, and the second is the Santa Ana and BLM mine, north of Placitas. There is also the privately owned Baca mine near the Algodones exit. The Lafarge expansion would cover the space that lies between the currently operating mines, leaving a strip less than a mile wide in several places. The expansion would cover three half-sections, or roughly one and a half square miles close to several new subdivisions in Placitas. Residents are concerned that the mining will reduce property values in the area.

BLM is required by law to conform with local land-use regulations. Officials and LPA members have met with BLM representatives on land-use issues in the past months. The surrounding area is zoned residential and many consider mining an incompatible use for the land. There are alternatives to strip-mining, such as open space to ride off-road vehicles and horses, or residential development.

“We must do more than just convince BLM that it must rewrite its land-use policies for this area and similar areas. The plan must be compatible with local culture and environment,” said Sandoval County Commissioner Bill Sapien.

Members of Congress Heather Wilson, Tom Udall, Pete Domenici, and Jeff Bingaman have in the past been supportive of updating the BLM plan. “BLM told the community as well as a Federal Judge that it would not accept any more mining applications until the Resource Management Plan is updated. BLM should live up to its promises,” states an LPA fact sheet. Additionally, sand and gravel mining is not even considered mining under the New Mexico Mining Act.

“The National Environmental Policy Act studies are naturally biased toward the corporations who are required to pay for them. Once the process is that far along, it's pretty much a done deal,” said Carol Parker.

The proposed site encompasses Las Huertas Creek watershed, which is home to threatened species of plants, birds, and animals that would be catastrophically impacted by the heavy machinery. The BLM report says Las Huertas is not a creek, but a “dry wash.” “This summer all of us who live next to it know it's not a creek,” Parker said, “it's a river.” Erosion from the site will add to the pollution of the Rio Grande by mud and tailings. Dust plumes and erosion really stem from the same problem: loose topsoil.

New Mexico leads the nation in airborne particulate pollution. This is because of the dry windy weather when smoke and dust are stirred up. These particulates are a health problem, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. Clean air is one of the joys of Placitas. “We have to arrest the momentum of environmental damage to the area.” Kate Nelson of LPA said. The proposed expansion would make dust pollution much worse for the area.

In addition, Lafarge is not required to restore the land when they are finished mining, and that will mean a lot of erosion. Cultural sites in the area would be threatened as well. Several studies have been done in past years and have found numerous sites throughout Placitas which would be affected.
Gravel trucks are another problem for residents, and a portion of the meeting was spent discussing the dangerous driving habits and the cracked windshields caused by the trucks. There is heavy congestion at Exit 242 in the morning. Mr. Cotton, a Placitas resident of three years, suggests that people send copies of their mine-related repairs to LPA as evidence. Sheriff J.P. Trujillo commented that the intersection is the most dangerous in the county, and that law enforcement monitors it every day. If it were not for this consistent diligence, more accidents would happen.
“What has been done to alleviate the problem?” Commissioner Sapien asked, “maybe a Band-Aid, a little cosmetic.” If there is no mine, there are no trucks to worry about, and the area would be converted into residential traffic alone.
“The only way to make a difference is to present unified public support against the pit.” Parker said. “The most important thing is for people to come to the meetings and write letters. Membership is vital; the more people we represent, the more weight we have when we lobby. Volunteers are always needed because of a high burnout rate. Nothing runs without a cost, so we need money for the fight as well.”
Amongst the many people in attendance were state Representative Kathy McCoy, democratic challenger Janice Saxton, county commissioners Don Leonard and Bill Sapien, county commission candidates Orlando Lucero and Pete David Salazar, and a representative from Patricia Madrid's office, Jacque Belding. Representatives from BLM, Lafarge, the Department of Interior, the Land Use Board, Senator Pete Domenici, and Congresswoman Heather Wilson did not attend the meeting and have yet to comment.
Letters can be written to your representatives and senators about concerns regarding the pit expansion. LPA asks for a copy of these letters so they can keep a running tab of the number sent. Addresses can be found at www.lasplacitas.org or by writing to Las Placitas Association, P. O. Box 888, Placitas, NM 87043.
To find out more about Las Placitas Association, log onto www.lasplacitas.org.


Notes from Bernalillo Town Council Meetings

—BEN FORGEY
In its meeting on Tuesday, October 10, the Bernalillo Town Council approved measures to accept $1,085,000 in funds from the New Mexico Environment Department for improvements to the town's waste-water-treatment plant. Town manager Stephen Jerge also proposed that the town purchase 2.075 acres of land adjacent to the plant for outbuildings, vehicle storage, and other future use.

Planning and Zoning director Kelly Moe presented for discussion an ordinance that would prohibit the parking of commercial vehicles on residential streets or on private property zoned residential. Mayor Patricia A. Chávez suggested that a special work session between the Planning and Zoning Commission and town councilors Ronnie Sisneros and Marian Jaramillo convene and report back to the full council within forty-five days. Consideration and public discussion of this possibly controversial ordinance would come after the council would approve such discussion.

Santiago Chavez, town treasurer, has taken over the job of public-housing director on an interim basis. Former director Duc Germain was taken to task for sloppy and tardy work in the town's proposal for HUD moneys at the September 25 town council meeting. Chavez re-presented a resolution for adopting a corrected Management Assessment Sub System for public housing forms. The resolution passed unanimously. While the town stood to lose approximately $57,000 in HUD funding for submitting the form late, Chavez said that the HUD officials have accepted the resubmitted form without monetary sanctions. At the October 23 meeting, Councilor Jaramillo commended Chavez for his “diligent and clear” service.

Newly hired IT (information technology) administrator Jon Guenther, offered a PowerPoint presentation concerning the “out of control” state of the town's current computer system and his proposal for its efficient update. He plans to put in place a central network server for the town's sixty-five-plus computers and reduce the paperwork for town forms by January 12, 2007. He reported that these and other measures would save the town a considerable amount of money and make communication between employees more secure and efficient. By the second quarter of 2007, he plans to redesign the town Web site and include a page where citizens can pay their water bill on-line.

In his miscellaneous updates at the October 23 meeting, Jerge indicated that the town was pursuing the possibility of constructing four dams on the face and foothills of Sandia Mountain in order to protect the south end of the town from flash floods. The estimated cost of the dams is $32 million, or $8 million each. Jerge plans to approach the Army Corps of Engineers for consultation and funding.


County commission embraces development

—TY BELKNAP
Imagine a new city of eighty thousand residents in Sandoval County. Then imagine the master plan for this planned community gaining unanimous approval from the Sandoval County Commission with no public comment whatsoever. Things have sure changed since the nineties, when rowdy crowds protesting new Placitas subdivisions prompted heavy use of the gavel and forced the commission meetings to a larger venue. County staff and elected officials cohesively make big decisions for our booming county.

The only excitement at the October 5 commission meeting was Commissioner Sapien’s birthday cake (Happy seventieth, Bill!) County development director Michael Springfield presented the master plan of Rio West, a community planned by Scottsdale-based Recorp Partners Inc. that Commissioner Bency described as “another Rio Rancho.” It consists of 11,676 acres.

Springfield described this “soft zoning” as an indication to Recorp that the county is interested in the plan and a green light to go ahead with further planning. He said that Recorp would be required to prove water resources, meet other zoning regulations. and gain subdivision approval before any building permits are issued.

Springfield attributed the absence of drama at the meeting to the fact that this project has been in the works since the year 2000 with the involvement of his office, in conformance with the Mid-regions Council of Governments Focus 2050 Regional Plan, which identifies western Sandoval County as an anticipated location for planned community development.

The plan “envisions a mix of commercial, industrial, residential, and institutional uses ... with the ultimate goal being the eventual development of a sustainable community with a stable employment base and enough services to support its residents.” The plan proposes between 23,352 and 29,434 new dwelling units, with high-density units centered around neighborhood and commercial centers and moving out toward medium- then to low-density residential lots, schools, and parks. Extensive planning is designed to avoid a “haphazard” appearance. It is even planned to avoid the “cookie-cutter” appearance of planning.

The first of four phases is the largest, including the airport, industrial, warehousing, and higher-density housing to support these employment areas. The concept is driven by the eventual Northwest Loop Road, from US 550 to I-40. Springfield says that roads will be extended to meet Northern Boulevard and Southern Boulevard in Rio Rancho, but that these roads will bring traffic out to the employment and commercial centers in Rio West as much as increase traffic in Rio Rancho. He said that Phase One could stand alone, but expressed confidence that the community will fill in as planned over a thirty-year time frame. He said that places like this actually exist in Arizona, and “If we build it, they will come.” Construction is projected to begin in three years.

The bottom line is, of course, water availability. Developers plan either to purchase water rights and draw from the Santa Fe group aquifer that supplies the surrounding area, or drill deep wells into brackish water that would require desalination. The state engineer is charged with the responsibility of protecting existing water supplies that might be impacted by new development. Springfield said that exploratory wells are being drilled to depths down to seven thousand feet to confirm huge aquifers that are thought to lie below the Rio Puerco. He also said that hydrologists think that there is a geological barrier that would prevent depletion of the Santa Fe aquifer.

Other than the impacts of another eighty thousand people on life around the Albuquerque area, the plan is not all bad. Rio West would be located in the beautiful high desert of the Rio Puerco Valley, preserve 17 percent of the land for open space, be bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, and create a “sustainable community where dwellings, shops, parks, and employment areas are located within close proximity to one another.” They plan to look into wind generators, utilizing gas from the landfill, preserving dark skies, and irrigating the golf course with treated waste water. It sounds almost too good to be true.

The final item on the agenda was approval of the relatively tiny forty-one-lot Wild Horse Mesa subdivision in Placitas. Attorney Tim VanValin protested that the subdivision did not meet country specifications requiring a fifty-foot access road. Economist Bill Patterson asked the commission to deny approval because, he said, the subdivision was the result of an illegal common promotional plan that abused county subdivision regulations. County attorney David Matthews assured the commission that everything was legal, and approval was unanimous.


Albuquerque may buy canyon land

—KEVIN BEAN
A corridor that is being called "critical" to wildlife crossing between the Sandia and Manzano mountains is for sale, and an Albuquerque city councilor wants the Duke City to buy it.
Councilor Martin Heinrich introduced a resolution at a recent council meeting to spend up to $650,000 to purchase the 67-acre property north and west of Dead Man's Curve on Route 66 and preserve it as open space. The bill was referred to the council's Finance and Government Operations Committee.
Heinrich said he sponsored the resolution at the request of the Tijeras Safe Passage Coalition and the New Mexico Land Conservancy.

"They were very concerned that if developed, it would cut off one of the last places where wildlife can cross between the Sandias and Manzanos," Heinrich said. "This is very important."
Coalition steering committee member Jeannie Wagner-Greven agreed: "I think this is very critical because it's one of the few available undeveloped pieces to enable this crossing."
As part of the current reconstruction of I-40 through Tijeras Canyon, the state Department of Transportation will install fencing to keep wildlife off the freeway and redirect it to culverts and highway underpasses. Wagner-Greven said the land immediately west of Dead Man's Curve is needed to provide wildlife with access to potential underpass crossing points in Carnuel.

"None of the areas east of it works because of the interstate," she added "There are only going to be some small culverts that predators like mountain lions or bears might use, but deer won't use those. This is a key passageway."

Hawkwatch International, a non-profit that operates raptor monitoring sites in the Sandias and Manzanos, owns the property. Executive director Thom Benedict said his preference is to sell to someone who will keep the land undeveloped. "Our priority is to see the property maintained as a wildlife crossing." Benedict said. He added, however, "Depending on what happens with the city, our board of trustees will look at other options if this doesn't pan out."

Reprinted from The Independent, October 4-10, 2006.

 

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