An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Maglev to town, Illustration ©Rudi Klimpert

Bernalillo, Rio Rancho investigate maglev for commuters

While the state looks to proven twentieth-century methods for its commuter railroad, Bernalillo and Rio Rancho are exploring futuristic technology to get people across the Rio Grande and to and from the trains.

The initial goal is a 1.2-mile maglev line connecting a park-and-ride station at the new Sandoval County complex at NM 528 and Idalia Road with the still-to-be-built commuter-train station in downtown Bernalillo. The system then could be expanded about four miles to the west to the new Rio Rancho City Center, the future home of City Hall, a sports arena, and other major projects.

Maglev, short for magnetic levitation, floats passenger cars on a one-inch cushion of magnetic energy within a dedicated guideway. The urban maglev system under consideration requires less right-of-way than a traditional railroad and can be elevated on pylons with a footprint about four feet square, according to its promoters.

That light footprint could make it an attractive option in the coming debate about widening US 550 or building a second bridge across the Rio Grande in less than the twenty years it took to build the last one in Albuquerque.

“The concentration of jobs is on the wrong side of the river,” Rio Rancho Mayor Jim Owens said at a recent maglev meeting in Bernalillo. “Anyone who is here in the early morning or late afternoon knows that 550 has failed.”

For Bernalillo, the issue is what to do with commuters wanting to ride trains into Albuquerque later this year or from a second station if the service expands to Santa Fe in 2008, as the state is proposing.

“Bernalillo is not going to be a parking lot,” town administrator Lester Swindle said. “This is a residential community. It's going to stay that way.”

Long term, maglev has the potential to provide a mass-transit system within the burgeoning city of Rio Rancho and could expand throughout the metro area, Owens added. Or beyond the urban area, according to state Senator Steve Komadina.

“A natural extension would be through Placitas as the most ecologically friendly way to connect to the East Mountains and Tijeras,” Komadina said.

The project is not without its skeptics, however, including Kevin Collins, a civil engineer with transit experience, who attended the Bernalillo meeting.

“I agree now is the time to address the transit problems in this region,” Collins told the Signpost. “I don't necessarily agree that unproven technology not in use in this country is the way to address it.”
Currently the only urban maglev vehicle in the United States runs on a four-hundred-foot test track at the General Atomics plant in San Diego, said David O'Laughlin, president of the Urban Maglev Group of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With the recent passage of the federal transportation bill, construction of a three-mile demonstration project serving California University of Pennsylvania is expected to begin next spring, he said.

Heavy maglev trains with cars weighing thirty-five to fifty-five tons already operate in Germany and China, O'Laughlin continued. Urban maglev cars are twelve tons each, reducing guideway construction to about $20 million a mile, he added.

The local project has attracted the attention of the state, whose trade missions to Japan have interested JR Central, operator of Japan's bullet train, in exploring projects here. Bernalillo and Rio Rancho representatives have now been invited to join state and JR Central officials at a meeting on superconducting magnets, scheduled later this month at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

New Mexico Academy of Science statement on Rio Rancho Science Policy 401

The New Mexico Academy of Science recommends that the Rio Rancho School District take prompt action to rescind Science Education Policy 401, which was adopted on Monday, August 22, by the Rio Rancho Board of Education. This policy is unfair to science and to Rio Rancho's public school students and teachers, and could be detrimental to Rio Rancho's science- and technology-based business community. The policy says it adheres to New Mexico's current Science Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Performance Standards. However, a clear reading of those standards reveals the new policy is not based on them, but is instead a subtle loophole for the introduction of non-scientific ideas like “Intelligent Design” and unscientific “evidence against evolution” into public school science classrooms.

For those who have not followed these arguments closely, Intelligent Design is, despite its supporters' public denials, a faith-based view of the creation of life; its advocates reject all or much of evolution. The Academy is not opposed to any religion, but our position is that religious topics such as Intelligent Design are better suited to comparative religion or philosophy classes than to science classes. Furthermore, the National Academy of Sciences has also stated that “No body of beliefs that has its origin in doctrinal material rather than scientific observation, interpretation, and experimentation should be admissible as science in any science course.” (
The Academy opposes Policy 401 because it proposes a completely inaccurate definition of science itself. Saying that “reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data” obscures the fact that, in science, all ideas and observations are not created equal. Alternative ideas are tested in science every day—but if they fail, they are discarded for better explanations and conclusions.

Science is not an ideology, but rather a way of understanding the natural world. It is very different from other ways of decision-making. In everyday pursuits such as legal hearings or newspaper editorials, advocates can peruse available knowledge, and end up with a handful of facts that appear to support their particular argument. In science, however, inconvenient facts cannot be casually discarded. Scientists must choose among various explanations, looking for those that best handle all relevant data. Explanations that don't work must be replaced with better ones. This process has resulted in a handful of powerful and general explanations that bring sense to the universe, including the theories of chemistry, electromagnetism, relativity, quantum mechanics, and, yes, the theory of evolution.

If scientists simply agreed to disagree about “the meaning and interpretation of data,” scientific progress would cease. Science is about testing ideas and claims, not pretending that all “interpretations” are equally valid.

If the new Rio Rancho Science Policy “has been taken directly from the State Content Standards,” why isn't the Academy taking this issue up with the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED), instead of the Rio Rancho Public Schools? The answer is that Policy 401 adds new language to the standards, and changes the definition of science itself in the process.

Intelligent Design has no explanations of its own other than “These things are so complex, there's no way they could have developed naturally.” The “alternative explanations” provided by Intelligent Design “theorists” bring confusion to science, not clarity. They have been reviewed extensively by the scientific community and found to be without merit. Some biological phenomena remain unexplained, of course, but there are currently no scientific data that contradict the theory of evolution.

Rio Rancho's students and teachers deserve real science in their classrooms, not the anti-evolution spin of Intelligent Design's many pundits and lawyers. The New Mexico Academy of Science urges the Rio Rancho School Board to reconsider this unnecessary policy that has no basis in science.

This statement was approved by the board members of the New Mexico Academy of Science on August 25, 2005.

Placitas residents file suit against Sandoval County

Sandoval County approved a four-lot subdivision of just over three acres of land in November 1999. This led to the approval of building permits, water-well drilling permits, and septic tank and leach-field permits over an old landfill site within Placitas Trails subdivision.

On June 30 of this year, a group called Placitas Trails Concerned Citizens filed suit against Sandoval County in the Thirteenth Judicial District Court. The plaintiffs allege that Sandoval County failed to enforce its own subdivision regulations, failed to regulate the dump closing, permitted the dump to be reopened, disturbed, modified, burned, and used as a building site without requiring suitable notice or requiring environmental evaluation as to the hazards of the use of a solid-waste fill as a construction site and water-well site, contrary to state and federal laws.

The plaintiffs contend that the water wells and septic leach fields will allow contamination to infiltrate into the water supply of Placitas. They have asked the court to order Sandoval County to permanently seal the wells and remove the septic tanks and leach fields, replacing them with contained sewage treatments.
Sandoval County referred the case to Kevin Brown, an attorney for the New Mexico Association of Counties. The county’s answer was presented to the court on August 5. All allegations were denied. Brown told the Signpost that the New Mexico agency that regulates solid waste approved a June-July 2000 cleanup of the dump. He also said, “It is our information that a geologist looked at the site and determined that there is no threat for groundwater pollution.”

The concerned citizens were reportedly not well received by everyone at the Placitas Trails Homeowners Association or the water board at a recent meeting.
During the upcoming discovery phase, older area residents will testify about the use of the dump and what kinds of trash was buried there.

Wayne Connell, president of Placitas Trails Concerned Citizens stated, “We have talked to old-timers and they have told us that between 1952 and 1971 they dumped everything in this dump. This included tires, car parts, glass bottles, household trash, paint, solvent, construction trash, batteries, ash, and lawn waste.”
He said that the former owner was denied permission to develop the property in 1990 by a state agency for the same reasons stated in the lawsuit.

Connell told the Signpost, “My question and the reason for the lawsuit is, what changed between September 1990 and November 1999 that allowed Sandoval County Planning and Zoning to approve a summary plat for a subdivision over the old landfill?”

Tramway interchange reconstruction will rev up in October

An eleven-month project to replace the I-25 Tramway interchange shifts into high gear this month, after the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, according to the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

Preliminary work on the $15 million job by contractor A. S. Horner already has begun but is not affecting traffic, NMDOT spokesman Phil Gallegos said. A groundbreaking to officially launch the project was scheduled for September 30, he added.

The work will replace the 1960-era overpasses and widen them to accommodate the anticipated expansion of I-25 to six lanes between Tramway and Bernalillo. Signals will replace stop signs at the Tramway intersections on both sides of I-25, and the acceleration lane from Tramway to northbound I-25 is to be lengthened, with its sight distances improved.

Gallegos said the first work after the balloon fiesta will be to build a temporary two-lane bridge between the existing bridges, for use by detour traffic, while the first overpass is razed and rebuilt. Then traffic shifts to the new and temporary bridges while the second overpass is replaced.

The contractor is required to keep two lanes open in each direction during construction and can earn a $250,000 incentive bonus for completing the project a month early, he said. The project will be posted as a double-fine zone for traffic violations, he added.

The schedule calls for Tramway to be totally closed overnight twenty-five to thirty times during the project, he said.

Gallegos produces a report on construction projects and schedules in the Albuquerque-based DOT District 3 and distributes it as an e-mail attachment. To subscribe to the free report, e-mail him at

Road-construction information and weather-related traffic advisories can be found on the DOT Web site,

Miriam Greenwald, New Orleans evacuee

Miriam Greenwald evacuates New Orleans, lands in Placitas.

Hurricane rescues


With barely time to recover from one hurricane, Eddie Torres III found himself back on the road guiding an eighteen-wheeler toward another.

The Bernalillo town councilor, a second-generation firefighter, got the call in his role as a driver and acting lieutenant with the Albuquerque Fire Department. He was one of twenty AFD personnel assigned to New Mexico Task Force One and dispatched to San Antonio, Texas, to await the results of Hurricane Rita.

Two weeks earlier he had spent eleven long days driving, boating, and wading through the ruins of New Orleans, delivering relief supplies to residents caught by the rising waters and joining in search, rescue, and evacuation. It is the rescues, evacuating as many as 186 people in his two-and-a-half-ton truck in one day, that stick in his mind.

The babies, the kids, the look they would give you when you helped Mom and Dad out of the house and into the boat,” the father of three said. “The gratitude, the hugs, and the handshakes.

“It always touches you, and the kids make you think about what you have at home.”

Rescuers looked for signs that a flooded home might still be occupied, announcing themselves by yelling, whistling, and shouting into bullhorns. Torres pounded on one roof and was about to leave when he heard an elderly man call out, after spending a week in his attic unable to attract rescuers attention.

Other memories, the stench, the devastation, and the darker side of human nature, also remain.

“Our boat was shot at,” Torres said. “You would think they would want to be helped.”

No one suffered injuries during the deployment, although Torres said one boat sank in the fetid water. That crew went through a decontamination procedure before returning to work.

“It was an eye-opener,” he said. “Mother Nature is amazing.”

As a child, Miriam Greenwald lived through the great Mississippi River flood of 1927, the benchmark of New Orleans disasters before Hurricane Katrina.

Even Hurricane Betsy, in 1965, which broke every window in her home, didn't force her to flee. But when Katrina came calling, Greenwald moved at 2:00 a.m. from her twelfth-floor apartment into the hallway, and then to the eleventh floor, as windows shattered, before evacuating to Baton Rouge on two-hours' notice when the levees broke.

Within five days after Katrina hit, the New Orleans native arrived in Placitas with one change of clothes in a borrowed suitcase.

“It's unbelievable what people have done for me here,” Greenwald said. “You talk about Southern hospitality ...”

She has received flowers, shoes, and workout clothing, has found a bridge game; a hairdresser has volunteered her services and the Jewish Community Center has waived its dues. In return, the retired medical-records librarian and long-time hospital volunteer has been working at El Pueblo Health Center with her son-in-law and grandson, Dr. Alan and Josh Firestone, and at the Sandia Prep School library with her daughter, B. J. Firestone.

Since arriving here, Greenwald has accounted for close friends separated in the evacuation and for her ninety-two-year-old sister-in-law, who was feared lost during the week she waited for rescue by canoe. Greenwald also received a call from the owner of the kennel where she boarded her dog.

“I lost my dog,” she said. “The rescue people came by in a canoe but didn't have any room for the animals.

“She would have been eleven in December.”

It is a small but personal loss amid the human devastation, she said.

Greenwald's senior-living center suffered minimal structural damage and she is optimistic about returning by November 1. Still, she recognizes much of the center's support staff is dispersed and that may be a bigger problem than repairing the building.

Despite New Mexico friendliness, she is anxious to return to her home.
“Absolutely,” she said. “You all drive like crazy here.

“We don't go over forty miles an hour in the city.”

County construction costs expected to soar

Sandoval County commissioners have been warned to expect increased construction costs for county building projects.

County planning director Mike Springfield told commissioners overall costs have been rising about 5 percent every six months. The addition to the Health Commons, pegged at $175 a square foot, now is estimated at $185, and the application for funds to build the county transit center next year will be based on $200 a square foot, he said.

“Concrete is out of sight,” he said. “Asphalt has doubled this year.”

At the same meeting, Bob Wesseley, of Placitas, questioned the planned paving of two and a half miles of Camino San Francisco for less than $200,000. The 1996 paving of the mile of Camino Tecolote from NM 165 to San Francisco cost $50,000 but had to be redone two years later at ten times the cost, he said.

“The obvious question is whether Sandoval County is prepared to pay $2 million for the factor-of-ten redo of San Francisco two years from now,” Wesseley said.
Commissioners, as is their policy during the public-comment period of their meetings, did not respond to Wesseley's question.

Decision on MAPCO pipeline expansion in Placitas expected after January 1

A decision on whether to allow Mid-America Pipeline Company to expand its pipeline in Placitas is not expected before January 1, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The last of the endangered-species reviews has been completed, but the resulting biological assessment still must be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its review, BLM spokesman Danita Burns said in a statement to the Signpost. The USFWS response likely won't be ready until after January 1, she said.

BLM managers also still are addressing public comments received after the draft environmental assessment was released in June, Burns added.
Mid-America already pumps natural-gas liquids through Placitas in a multi-pipeline corridor running along Las Huertas Creek and Diamond Tail Road, on its way to Hobbs from gas fields in Wyoming. The company proposes to increase the pipeline capacity by building parallel segments at a dozen locations to boost pressure.

The 22.5-mile local segment would begin at a pumping station near San Ysidro and cross under the Rio Grande and I-25 north of Bernalillo before connecting with the existing pipeline within the Placitas Open Space.

In an unrelated project, Giant has proposed to revive a dormant crude-oil pipeline to connect oil fields in southeastern New Mexico with its underutilized refinery at Bloomfield. A public meeting on the project is planned for November, at a time and place still to be announced, according to Giant vice president Leland Gould.

William Sapien, Sandoval County Commissioner

William “Bill” Sapien

County Line

It's been a year since the county commission approved a $16 billion bond agreement encouraging Intel to remain in Sandoval County and continue employing thousands of area residents. While that action is fast becoming ancient history, the benefits it offers county residents keep getting better with time.

In contrast to business stories about other government bodies nationally—and even worldwide—that are offering subsidies to prompt large employers to relocate or expand, Sandoval County did not pay Intel any money. Instead, the deal was structured so that as Intel invested money into New Mexico, the company would not have to pay gross receipts tax and equivalent taxes. No property taxes were abated.

In return, Intel is paying Sandoval County up to $95 million for, basically, the ability to expand its local plant and hire local residents. The county commission already has authorized that the money be used to help pay for needed infrastructure such as transportation, education and water and wastewater projects, and to further enhance the county's economic development capabilities.
The $16 billion Intel deal was a great benefit for county residents a year ago.

Based on the current state of the national economy, rising unemployment, and the resulting deals being struck with large employers by other states and nations, the Intel agreement is an even better deal for county residents today.
Our economy is sound. Our jobless rate is relatively low and we now have needed funds to help solve some major concerns over water and wastewater, education, transportation, and further economic development.

I'll not repeat the terms of the bond agreement, as they were deliberated fully in public and extensively reported by the news media before, during, and after the commission gave its approval in fall 2004. Former commission chairman Daymon Ely developed a concise Q&A that fully details the workings of the Intel bond deal. That document was published in numerous newspapers last year and can also be accessed at

The money that Intel is paying the county—up to $95 million in supplemental rent—is very important to county residents and offers considerable benefits for the future. Those proceeds are being allocated by the county commission to establish $12 million in permanent funds that our communities can access for water, wastewater, and education projects. Additional funds are being used to create transportation systems to ease congestion throughout the region and for economic development projects that will further enhance and diversify our area's economy.

The commission has appropriated $10 million to the Mid-Region Council of Governments to help fund the commuter-rail project initially proposed by Governor Bill Richardson. Engines and railcars already have been purchased and commuter-rail service is scheduled to begin service from Belen to Bernalillo by January 2006, and is expected to be extended to Santa Fe in 2008.

Additionally, the commission has earmarked $6 million toward development of an intra-county transportation system that will provide bus service throughout the county. Those funds will purchase fifteen passenger vans and develop a transportation center adjacent to the county Health Commons and newly opened Judicial Complex near Idalia and NM 528. From there, service will be linked to regional transportation alternatives, including the commuter-rail system.

Other funding from the Intel proceeds has been earmarked for the El Zócalo economic development complex in Bernalillo, a county-wide broadband network, and other projects that will further diversify and improve our county's economy. And $8 million was allocated to help develop Rio Rancho's multipurpose event center.

Sandoval County's agreement with Intel is a fair one for the company and a great one for county residents. It keeps good paying jobs in New Mexico. It tells other companies that New Mexico is a good place to do business, and it allows the county to invest real money to help solve real problems while meeting our responsibility of providing efficient services and protection for all residents.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Sapien can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalllo, NM 87004.






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