Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front
 

Deadline extended for completion of I-25/US 550

—Ty Belknap

New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) Public Information Officer Phil Gallegos told the Signpost on October 24 that the November 6 projected completion date for the I-25/US 550 interchange rebuilding project has been extended. He said that a new date had not been set at that time—that he would have a better idea in November, after some details had been worked out with the contractor. According to the contract, the contractor can be fined up to $8,300 per day after November 6 until the project is completed. The actual amount is being negotiated.

Gallegos said the project was complicated by all the utilities involved and the lack of adequate alternative routes that would allow the highway to be shut down. All phases of the project from I-25 to NM 313 (Camino del Pueblo) are incomplete at this time. Driving through the construction is challenging and sometimes dangerous. As the winter season approaches, temperature related issues might delay final paving until Spring, but, prior to then, the project could be completed and used as designed.

The delayed completion of this project puts a strain on commuters and the NMDOT officials that are also impacted by the project at Paseo del Norte. Gallegos said that the NMDOT has awarded the contract to an engineering firm that is scoping the next phase of US 550 construction from NM 313 west to NM 528 in Rio Rancho. He said that the ongoing project would help traffic congestion, but there would continue to be a bottleneck at NM 313 until NMDOT figures out a way to improve the flow of traffic to the west.


c. Rudi Klimpert

Pipeline safety issues continue to concern residents

Signpost Staff

Pressure is mounting to put the 57-year-old Tex/New Mex pipeline back in service. You may have seen the recent construction activity at the Western Refining pumping station on Camino de las Huertas, and on Tecolote Road in Placitas. Chris Frye of the Las Placitas Association contacted Western Refining by phone and was directed to their right-of-way contractor Sharon Kennedy. Here’s what he learned from her:

Western is in the process of re-activating their 16-inch, crude-oil pipeline through Placitas, that runs westward across Tecolote Road, along Camino de las Huertas (passing six-hundred feet from Placitas Elementary School), through the Open Space, and westward to the San Ysidro pumping station. Their entire 325-mile pipeline is being hydrostatic (water pressure) tested in segments, as required by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The pipeline will carry crude oil from wells in the Carlsbad area to Western’s refinery in Gallup. The refinery has a capacity of 23,000 barrels (966,000 gallons) per day, but Kennedy was unable to provide the actual daily flow through the pipe or its operating pressure.

Western also installed “smart pig” launch and retrieval tubes at their pumping station on Camino de las Huertas. These pigs are electronic inspection devices that travel inside the pipeline to spot pipe defects.

Western’s pipeline was constructed in 1956 by the Texas-New Mexico Pipeline Company and has passed through the hands of Shell, Equilon, and Giant Oil, before being acquired by Western Refining in their purchase of Giant Oil in 2008. Kennedy said the engineer told her that the pipeline in Placitas had never formally gone out of service and that Western had kept up with monthly maintenance, including the cathodic protection (CP). CP technology induces a small electric current in the pipe to reduce natural corrosion.

The Signpost has been covering the Tex-New Mex since 2001 when the Shell Pipeline Company, LLC, proposed to reactivate the pipeline for the transport of refined petroleum products, including gasoline.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversaw the required Environmental Impact Study (EIS). A BLM representative said at the time that, among other things, the age of the pipeline was being looked at very critically. In April of 2003, the BLM released a Draft EIS, which consisted of two large volumes, containing information about the proposal and the existing pipeline, as well as a summary of potential impacts and alternatives for actions that might be taken by the BLM in the regulatory process.

Shell sought to reverse the direction of flow and to transport gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Population has shifted closer to the pipeline over the years, especially in the East Mountains, Bernalillo, and Placitas. The pipeline would initially transport thirty thousand barrels a day; it has the capacity to transport eighty-five thousand barrels per day. The pipeline was originally part of the Aspen Pipeline Project proposed to terminate in Salt Lake City, but Shell modified the proposal to terminate in Farmington, presumably to streamline the regulatory process. The project could be expanded later to supply a large part of the Intermountain West.

Later in 2003, a public meeting held at the Bernalillo High School Gymnasium was attended by about seventy-five residents who came to express their concerns and ask questions about the DEIS. Upon arrival at the gymnasium, they were disappointed to find that the BLM had chosen a “hearing” format, which would include no dialogues, questions, answers, or any spontaneous speaking whatsoever. Those wishing to speak were required to sign up in advance and limit their comments to five minutes. No elected officials or representatives from Shell were present.

L. Duran Nestor, speaking for the Bernalillo School District, said that the district was “against any kind of pipeline near any school or public facility. The EIS is seriously flawed. Public safety is compromised because it presents the best-case scenario rather than the worst.”

Carol Parker, president of the grassroots group Citizens for Safe Pipelines (CSP), called the EIS “fatally flawed,” and “an insult to the public.” She said that the BLM had minimized the impact of pipeline spills, had not considered Shell’s poor safety record, and had presented misleading information about the safety of new vs. old pipelines. She said, “If you had done your homework, you would know that weld failures in old pipeline, such as this, account for one-third of damages caused by ruptures.” She said that the time required to shut down a leaking pipeline was far underestimated and that an accident could cause hundreds of deaths and hundreds of million dollars worth of damage to property.

Roger Likewise, also of CSP, commented that among the photographs included in the EIS, there were none showing the proximity of the pipeline to residential areas. “If a picture tells a thousand words,” he said, “it seems to me that you left out several thousand words.”

Several members of the Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade stated that the danger of this proposal could not be overstated and the limited response capability of their small brigade would be further compromised by the fact that the pipeline bisects the community, and that they would not be able to access many parts of the community in the event of a spill or explosion.

Tony Lucero, president of the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant (settled in 1765), voiced his concern about potential destruction of ancient acequias and cemeteries if a leak occurred anywhere over the one-thousand-foot drop to the bottom of the canyon. “But I’m most concerned about the living,” he said.

The project was put on hold until August of 2005 when the Signpost reported that the governor’s office had announced that the long-dormant Tex-New Mex might be revived to carry crude oil.

“That sleeping giant is awake again,” said Bert Miller, then president of CSP. “I’m not surprised. Shell is not going to let that asset sit on its books without doing something.”

Giant Industries confirmed it was in negotiations to buy the Shell Pipeline Company line. “Crude in the San Juan Basin has declined strongly in the last ten years,” Giant executive vice president Leland Gould told the Signpost. “We need a crude source for our refineries in Bloomfield and Gallup. Both are running at 55 to sixty percent of capacity. The governor’s office got involved because closing the Bloomfield refinery, beyond driving up area gasoline prices, would cost hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue.”

In June of 2006, pipeline workers who came to Placitas to pressure-test the old Tex-New Mex that had now been bought by Giant Petroleum. The pipeline was exposed to the elements in three hundred places over four hundred miles where it had to be buried or lowered. This entire process was expected to take months to years to complete.

A resident on Camino de las Huertas refused to allow pipeline personnel on his property. Giant field representative Brad Ray said that people encroach upon the easement when they forget that the pipeline right of way exists. Many residents bought property under the impression that the abandoned pipeline would remain abandoned.

CSP had, by this time, struggled for years to convince industry and government powers to leave the pipeline abandoned. They argued that the fifty-year-old pipe was made with outdated and unsafe technology, had not been maintained properly, and passed through a high-consequence area. Spills, fires, or explosions could be devastating to the village, the community center, and the nearby elementary school. Residents throughout the entire area would be devastated if a leak were to contaminate the aquifer.

CSP proposed a number of measures to mitigate the danger, including moving the pipeline to the pipeline corridor just to the north, or, at least, using new pipe and safety technology in high-consequence areas. CSP founding member Carol Parker said, “Safe operation is vastly cheaper in the long run than legal settlements and environmental cleanups.” These proposals were “taken under advisement.”

Brad Ray told the Signpost on May 25, 2006, that hydrotesting in the Placitas area was successful and complete. He said that only one leak had been detected.

After that, Citizens for Safe Pipelines called it quits as an organization. Some former members continued being active as individuals, and the Las Placitas Association promised to become more involved in the issue.

The Signpost staff erroneously assumed at that time that the pipeline was put into service. Seven years later we know different.

Another pipeline project may also threaten this area. Chris Frye wrote in the June 2013 Signpost that Enterprise Products Partners of Houston, Texas, planned to increase the flow in its Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) pipeline that runs through Placitas, to a capacity of ten-million barrels per month:

This 233-mile-long pipeline connects natural gas fields in Colorado and the Farmington area with refineries in west Texas, and carries NGL, a heady brew of propane, butane, and liquid petroleum products at pressures of well over one-thousand pounds per square inch.

Much of the pipeline expansion project will require the burial of new pipes, but no new construction is planned for the Placitas area. The local pipeline (actually two parallel 16-inch pipes) would experience an increase in pressure necessary for the higher flow rate.

Since this three-hundred-million dollar pipeline upgrade is a Federal project, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is required to complete an Environmental Assessment to permit the project to proceed. BLM’s draft environmental document does a nice job analyzing the effects on the usual things like wildlife, archaeological resources, and weeds, but completely ignores public safety.

BLM has typically excluded safety considerations from their environmental permitting process, although Federal laws require them to do so. California ordered BLM to include human safety aspects of projects in their environmental permitting process. Based on that court order, the Las Placitas Association (LPA) and the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) have formally challenged BLM’s Environmental Assessment for this pipeline project, since their Environmental Assessment does not include any public safety aspects.

Six months later, the Feds have not provided LPA and ES-CA a single scrap of safety information about this pipeline over its decades of operation, despite repeated letters and even a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for safety records.

Many residents here recall the summer flood of 2006, which scoured out and exposed the pipelines in Las Huertas Creek, something that is never supposed to happen to a hazardous material pipeline. This event is proof of a pipeline safety failure that could not be hidden. Was the pipeline properly armored after the accident to prevent another excavation? LPA and ES-CA have repeatedly asked the Federal agencies this and other questions—only to be met with stony silence.

Dozens of similar pipelines have ruptured and exploded over the past twenty years, causing deaths, hundreds of injuries, wildfires, hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental and property damage, and contamination of groundwater. All of these pipelines were subject to Federal safety regulations, but every one of the failures were due to the operator not complying with these safety rules. So, rules alone are not enough—only carrying out those safety regulations makes pipelines safer.

To keep abreast of the latest developments, go to the Las Placitas Association’s website at www.lasplacitas.org/pipeline. The pipeline issue will also be discussed at ES-CA’s general meeting, on November 2, at 2:00 p.m., at the Placitas Community Center.


Bernalillo briefs

The Town of Bernalillo is conducting their 2nd Annual Coat Drive for Children. They are accepting donations of new or gently used coats at Town Hall which will then be distributed to local nonprofit organizations for distribution in the town. This winter, some people in the Town of Bernalillo will have to make a difficult choice between buying a warm coat for their child and taking care of some other basic need; putting food on their table, paying their rent on time, or keeping the lights on.

Toys can be dropped off in the reception area at Town Hall or a cash donation payable to the Children’s Christmas Fund can be made at the Water Department.

Coronado Optimist Club is sponsoring a Thanksgiving Food Drive to benefit Bernalillo residents. Donation boxes are located at Town Hall, the US Post Office and other locations through- out town. Donations will be accepted through November 18th

Sandoval County is working on a “Bosque Land Use Plan” for the residential Bosque area on the western border of Bernalillo currently served by Town of Bernalillo utilities. Officials will soon schedule public meetings to gather citizens’ input before drafting the plan. Dates and times for those public meetings will be published in various places including the newsletter. Questions can be directed to the Sandoval County long range senior planner, at 867.7656 or mhill@sandovalcountynm.gov .

The Rio Grande Youth Art Show is an annual event showcasing the art of the youth of Sandoval County. An opening reception is scheduled for November 16, from 12:00 to 5:00 pm at Sandoval County Administrative Building D 1500 Idalia Road. The show will remain on exhibit through November 29.

This project is a highly collaborative project between local non-profits, the Sandoval County Juvenile Justice, local artists, residents and art teachers in the public school system of Sandoval County. It is an all-volunteer, community effort.


ES-CA highway cleanup

—Irene J. Gale

It’s again time for the “Adopt-a-Highway” cleanup, and ES-CA needs help. This next cleanup is planned for November 9, at 10:00 a.m. Eight to 12 volunteers are needed. Our assigned cleanup area covers only the first mile of State Route 165. With a good turn out of volunteers, we could all be home by noon. Consider helping out and keeping our main street clean and beautiful. To volunteer, contact Irene at irene_gale@comcast.net—include your name and phone number.


E-recording makes clerk’s office user-friendly

—Sandoval County

On October 14, the Sandoval County Clerk’s Office adopted a system that allows land records to be recorded electronically. The new system will save time and money for title companies, banks, attorneys, and others charged with ensuring that land transactions are properly recorded.

It’s a web-based application developed by Simplifile, one of the nation’s leading e-recording services providers. The application will ease the process of filing deeds, mortgages, and any other documents related to sale or transfer of real property within Sandoval County.

“We have been privileged to work with the Sandoval County Clerk’s Office and are excited to see them up and running with e-recording,” said Paul Clifford, president of Simplifile. “It makes the overall recording process so much simpler and more convenient for both parties on the submitting and receiving end.”

The system will reduce costs in the clerk’s office by eliminating much of the manual work now associated with recording documents. It will reduce the county’s postage and mailing expenses because the system allows for returning copies of recorded documents to customers electronically.

Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni noted that this system marks the first step toward fulfilling a campaign promise to modernize the office’s operations. Garbagni became county clerk in January 2013, following her election the previous November.

“We are excited about savings in time and money that this system will provide, but the most important part of this project is the improvements in service to the public,” Garbagni said. “We are moving in the direction of being a more user-friendly office.”

The next step in that progression, Garbagni added, is a project to allow the general public to review and access documents remotely.


County declared eligible for federal reimbursement of flood damage costs

—Sandoval County

On October 1, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that local governments in Sandoval County could begin applying for reimbursement of costs incurred to repair damage from flooding that occurred in July of this year.

The announcement came in the form of a Major Disaster Declaration that was signed by President Barack Obama on September 30. The declaration covers the period of July 23 to July 28.

All local entities that issued disaster declarations for that period can now submit applications to FEMA for reimbursement of any funds expended to repair flood damage. Those entities include Sandoval County Government, as well as Cochiti, Kewa (Santa Domingo), San Felipe, and Sandia Pueblos.

Local government officials also are awaiting a second FEMA declaration, allowing them to seek reimbursement for costs associated with responding to flooding during the week of September 9 through 13.

A separate disaster declaration signed by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez allows local governments, including Sandoval County, to apply for state funds to recoup costs associated with any flooding that occurred between July 1 and September 30.


NMACD passes feral horse resolution

—Jon Couch, Supervisor, Coronado SWCD

After having its feral horse policy adopted by the seven soil and water conservation districts of Region 1 of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts (NMACD) in June, the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District took its resolution to the state meeting of the NMACD. At this October 10 meeting in Raton, a version of this resolution was approved. The resolution calls on the NMACD to assist soil and water conservation districts in working cooperatively with other SWCDs, and with relevant State and Federal agencies, to pursue managing the free-roaming estray horses throughout the State. Estray horses are defined by state law as those running at large on public or private land, fenced or unfenced, whose owner is unknown.

Concerns over feral horse damage to the environment, worsened by the drought, prompted the Coronado SWCD to issue its order to the New Mexico Livestock Board to remove the horses on June 10. The Board of Supervisors passed its feral horse policy resolution supporting removal in August almost unanimously. Supervisor Gary Miles opposed the measure. He spoke against the resolution to the Supervisors assembled in Raton representing the 48 soil and water conservation districts in New Mexico. Miles also passed out leaflets during the meeting.

The resolution now becomes policy for the state organization and steps will be taken to enact legislation to return jurisdiction over feral horses as well as feral hogs to the New Mexico Livestock Board.

 
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