An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Kids and Horse Apples
Placitas children Ellyn Kurowski (four years old) and Katherine Robinson (six years old) pick apples behind Ellyn’s home—some for their families and some for the wild horses.

Bernalillo suspends all construction near Rail Runner

—Ben Forgey
The Bernalillo Town Council approved a 120-day moratorium on all construction in areas near the two new Rail Runner stations on September 11.

Kelly Moe, director of planning and zoning, proposed the moratorium east from Camino del Pueblo to the train tracks near both stations in order to allow the planning-and-zoning staff to create an overlay plan that considers the new transportation opportunities involving the light-rail commuter train. Mayor Patricia A. Chavez requested an extension of the area originally proposed by Moe to include land east of the railroad tracks to I-25 as well as some land north of US 550 and much of the land adjacent to the railway south to Avenida Bernalillo. Although the measure will apply for 120 days, it contains a proviso for extensions as necessary. The council passed the resolution by unanimous vote.

The moratorium will allow the town to consider specific guidelines for development near the town's two train stations. Planners for the Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments are at present developing such guidelines for areas near all of the Rail Runner stations. The town of Bernalillo will likely follow the MRCOG guidelines.

The proposal of the moratorium was in direct response to the request for a zone change by OD Development Company and JD Home construction company. The request was unanimously denied. Eric Schoen, of OD Development, presented the zone-change request to allow for the development of a long, narrow property just south of the commercial strip along US 550. The development would include up to thirty-three two-story town-house-style buildings, which he described as “products geared for commuters and empty nesters.” The property lies adjacent to the parking lot of the US 550-Sandoval County Rail Runner station.

While Moe recommended denying the zone change, he expressed that with some refinement, the planning-and-zoning staff would be in favor of high-density residential and commercial development that would encourage pedestrian traffic and “create neighborhoods and not just discreet subdivisions.”

Opposition to the zone change and the development was heard from neighbors of the now vacant property.

In other business, the council approved a resolution to purchase a new Class A fire truck “to upgrade the aging fleet and to better serve the town,” including the new developments on the west side of the river.

Reclamation by MAPCO is happening on Placitas Open Space

—Bill Diven
Reclamation work is underway on a pipeline project through the Placitas Open Space, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Heavy equipment used to build a new section of pipe adjacent to an existing natural-gas-liquids pipeline is expected to move to the next work area about October 1, Hans Stuart, the BLM's New Mexico chief of external affairs, told the Signpost. Contouring disturbed areas, reseeding, and placing erosion-control matting are nearing completion, he added.

The project by Mid-America Pipeline is increasing capacity in a pipeline running from gas fields in Wyoming through the Four Corners area and Placitas to Hobbs. By adding twelve parallel sections of pipe from pumping stations, the project boosts pressure in the system, which increases capacity, according to the company.

Six of the new sections are in New Mexico, with one running nearly twenty-three miles from a pumping station at San Ysidro, crossing the Rio Grande north of Bernalillo. and tying back into the existing pipeline within the Placitas Open Space.

The project falls mostly within a corridor carrying multiple pipelines through Placitas, generally following Las Huertas Creek and routing through the Diamond Tail subdivision to reach the east side of the Sandia Mountains.

Gravel-mining moratorium gathering support, public meeting planned

—Judith Hendry, Las Placitas Association
Las Placitas Association will hold a public meeting on October 8 at 7:00 pm at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church to update the community and gather input about the new gravel mine that Lafarge is planning for BLM lands in Placitas. Representatives from our New Mexico congressional delegation, as well as our county commissioner and other local officials, will be in attendance.

In August LPA sent out a petition to the community asking our congressional delegation for a moratorium on mining on BLM lands until its resource-management plan could be updated to more accurately reflect the changes that have taken place in Placitas since the RMP was adopted in 1986. The response to this petition has clearly demonstrated the high level of concern that the threat of another mine poses for community members. So far, LPA has received over nine hundred signatures on the petition and is asking those who have not yet returned the petition to do so.

Withdrawing these lands from mining requires a revision or an amendment to the current RMP—a long and expensive process. Despite repeated attempts, LPA's past efforts to do this have been unsuccessful.

In 1999 and again in 2000, LPA approached the congressional delegation for appropriations for a plan amendment. We were unable to get appropriations, so in 2001, LPA asked to be put on the state's priority list of RMPs slated for funding. Although we were not high enough on the list to receive funding in 2001, it was slated for 2002. Unfortunately, in 2002 we were stricken from the state's priority list. We were recently told by the state BLM associate director, Jesse Juen, that it is once again designated for funding in 2008.

In the meantime, the Placitas BLM lands remain highly vulnerable to more mines. This is why we have petitioned our congressional delegation for a moratorium on mining until the RMP can be updated. LPA has met with representatives from the offices of Bingaman, Udall, Domenici, and Wilson. They have been responsive, and the wheels are turning, but it is too early to predict an outcome.

The single most important thing that we can do right now is to contact the congressional delegation and urge their support for the moratorium. Contact information, as well as bullet points to help with the letters, are available at LPA's Web site (www.lasplacitas.org). LPA also requests that community members send a copy of their letter to LPA so that we can keep a running account of the number of letters that have been sent. Community members are also urged to attend the public meeting on October 8 and to sign and mail the petition if you haven't already done so. A strong community effort is essential if we are to stop another mine from becoming a reality.

Gov. Bill Richardson at Bernalillo High School

Governor Bill Richardson shakes hands with Russ Fisher-Ives at Bernalillo High School on September 19 following a news conference to announce the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2007. Richardson called on students, parents, and teachers to get involved in the fair, coming to New Mexico in May. Fisher-Ives is executive director of the ISEF host committee, with headquarters in Bernalillo. Pictured from left are Tony Ortiz, state science fair director; Fisher-Ives; Veronica Garcia, public education department secretary; Richardson; and BHS junior LoriLei Chavez, from Santo Domingo Pueblo, who has competed in the international fair.

Event will bring 5,000 visitors to state for premier science competition

Governor Bill Richardson and Secretary of the Public Education Department Veronica Garcia appeared at a news conference in September to announce the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, coming to Albuquerque in May 2007. Joining the governor and secretary at Bernalillo High School were three students who have participated in the Intel ISEF, presented by Agilent Technologies. The governor and secretary gave examples of how this event exemplifies one way to meet the challenge of preparing our next workforce with math and science skills. The students, LoriLei Chavez, Sahaitya Denduluri, and Katie Liberatore, all spoke about how the event was life-changing.

The Intel ISEF will be held in Albuquerque May 13-19, 2007. The week-long event is the world's largest precollege celebration of science and is held annually in May. This event brings together approximately fifteen hundred high-school student finalists from over forty-five countries, regions, and territories. They will compete for over $4 million in scholarships, tuition grants, internships, scientific field trips, and three grand prizes of $50,000 college scholarships.

“New Mexico is proud to host the 2007 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the biggest high-school science competition in the world,” said Governor Richardson. “I called on dozens of corporate and public leaders to recruit the ISEF fair to New Mexico, now I call on students, teachers, and parents to get involved and compete. Let's show the rest of the country that we are producing the next generation of scientists and engineers—let's have a strong showing from the home team.”

The Intel ISEF 2007 will provide an economic impact of $8 to $10 million in revenue and utilize fourteen thousand room nights over the course of the week. It will also provide access to research-related business leaders from throughout the world. The event is important for its ability to spotlight student research in New Mexico.

Russ Fisher-Ives, who is on leave from a high-school teaching position, is the founder of Inquiry Facilitators, Inc., the nonprofit hosting the event.

“Building a culture that appreciates and supports student research is our goal,” said Fisher-Ives. “When the adults in the community actively encourage these kinds of activities, we will remain competitive as a state and a nation in the global market.”

A local host committee, composed primarily of volunteers, will produce the event. Science Service, an organization in Washington, D.C., founded the science and engineering fair in 1950; Intel was given the title sponsorship in 1996. The event is held in a different city each year; Indianapolis was the site of the fair in 2007. The event has been held in Albuquerque previously; the last time was in 1983. The theme for the event is Creating a New Element. More information is available by calling 867-2007 or 888-527-2007, or by visiting www.intelisef2007.org.

Duke City dustup

—Laura Paskus, Southwest Correspondent, High Country News
The nation is watching the race for New Mexico’s First Congressional District

Voters in New Mexico’s first district, which encompasses Albuquerque, are mostly Democrats, but they’ve sent Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives since 1969. Now, New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat, has a decent chance of unseating Republican incumbent Representative Heather Wilson. Although the potential upset has drawn national attention, New Mexicans don’t seem thrilled with either candidate.

Wilson has served the district since 1998, voting in near lockstep with President Bush, New Mexico’s senior senator, Pete Domenici (R), and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX). A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Wilson supports the war in Iraq, as well as the state’s nuclear weapons and oil and gas industries. Madrid, meanwhile, a New Mexico native who was the state’s first female district court judge, favors increasing the minimum wage, preventing the privatization of Social Security, and establishing a timeline to withdraw troops from Iraq.

In spite of strong support from their respective party loyalists, both women carry baggage that may keep pivotal undecided voters away from the polls. While Wilson calls herself an “independent” Republican, her loyalty to the president and Republican leadership may hurt her, as Bush’s approval rating in the state is at 38 percent. Wilson has also received campaign money from scandal-ridden lobbyist Jack Abramoff; earlier this year, she donated it to the Boy Scouts.

Meanwhile, former state treasurer Robert Vigil and his predecessor, Michael Montoya, are under federal indictment for corruption and extortion that occurred on Attorney General Madrid’s watch. Wilson’s campaign has jumped on the connection, running television ads claiming that Madrid’s office ignored a whistle-blower’s attempts to expose the problems. A former state employee, Harold Field—an appointee of New Mexico’s former Republican governor—claims he sent a letter asking for an investigation into the treasurer’s office. Madrid’s office denies ever receiving the letter.

As contributions pour in from around the country—the two candidates have raised more than $4.7 million total, with Wilson ahead by about a million—the race continues to tighten. “Heather Wilson won her last three elections by a comfortable margin,” says Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research Polling, Inc. “I don’t want to overstate this, but this one will be closer than the ones in the past.” In early September, Wilson was leading Madrid in the polls, 45 to 42 percent, with 10 percent of voters still undecided.

In mid-August, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), showed up at an Albuquerque campaign rally to support Madrid, and said that it would be “hard to find a district in this country that’s more a symbol (of the need for change) than this district.” Outside the rally, four protesters milled around with signs reading “Madrid + Power = corruption in SF” and “Liberals weak on defense.”

Beyond raising money and their national profiles, Wilson and Madrid have a bigger question to ask themselves, says Jaime Chávez, with the nonpartisan Southwest Voters Registration Education Project: “Is there going to be enough excitement in this race to draw people out?” He adds, “It’s a down and dirty fight, but how strong is (each of) their connections to the constituency base?”

This article originally appeared in High Country News (www.hcn.org), which covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.

Historical society presentation: Native women can break political barriers

The Sandoval County Historical Society will present a fall program at the Delavy House Museum on Sunday, October 1, at 2:00 p.m. Verna Williamson Teller will speak on “Native Women Breaking Political Barriers.”

Women in many New Mexican tribes, especially the pueblos, have had little opportunity to serve in the political lives of their communities. As the first woman governor of Isleta Pueblo (1987-1990), Teller knows firsthand how difficult it is for tribal women to become politically active. The talk is free and open to the public.

The Delavy House Museum, in Bernalillo, is across the river on Highway 550, west of Coronado Monument, behind the Phillips Gas Station on Edmond Lane (last house).

For further information, call Martha Liebert, 867-2755.

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

County line—County property taxes going down

—Jack Thomas, Chairman, Sandoval County Commission
Only two things in life are certain, and one of them is paying taxes.

I had the opportunity recently to meet with county treasurers from across New Mexico. They are the tax collectors who have been vilified and despised throughout history—in scripture, literature, film, and song. As county treasurers, their job is to collect and disburse the taxes that county commissions, city councils, school boards, state legislators, and other governing bodies help set.

As I also told them, it's their name—not mine—that appears on tax bills. This year, however, at least Sandoval County's treasurer, Lorraine Dominguez, may face a lot less aggravation.

Due to the diligence of the Sandoval County Commission and the hard work of Assessor Rudy Casaus and his staff, tax rates in Sandoval County are going down—again.

While other counties nationally and locally are struggling to meet payrolls, laying off employees and cutting programs, our county is thriving. Even as we are responding to the tremendous challenges caused by incredible rapid growth and the increased costs of providing responsive government, Rudy and the Assessor's Office are finding new ways to more efficiently and equitably bring new construction on tax rolls as quickly as possible.

The result: tax rates for home owners across Sandoval County are lower again this year and will increase only very slightly for nonresidential properties and, even then, in only a few areas.

Rudy Casaus's highly trained appraising staff now uses hand-held computerized technology that allows employees to sketch, calculate, and enter all of a property's characteristics while still in the field. Those faster, more accurate appraisals help equalize the tax burden among all residents, especially as new construction is booming in our area.

In the past year alone, the Assessor's Office has added over $845.5 million in property valuations, mostly from new construction. That critical component of property taxes reflects our staggering growth and the exceptional job being performed by the Assessor's Office.

Sandoval County is preparing about 150,000 tax bills. The bills will go in the mail November 1 to all county property owners and the first-half payment becomes delinquent after December 10.

The treasurer has the task of collecting the taxes imposed by all agencies within Sandoval County—cities, schools, the state, CNMCC, and such “specials” as improvement districts and flood-control agencies.

Only a small portion of the total taxes collected by Sandoval County—about twenty-five cents of each dollar—goes to pay for county programs and services. The remaining 75 percent is transferred to the other taxing entities, primarily school districts and municipalities.

The tax levy allocated to Sandoval County government is the same no matter where you reside in the county—about $209 for a home valued at $100,000. Tax bills on the same-valued home will include another $43 that will be transferred directly to the state.

While the county and state tax rates remain the same throughout Sandoval County, other components of the bill vary from city to city, among school districts, and by other agencies. Those local variables are outside the county's oversight, but they, too, mean actual bills will vary from one area of the county to another.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Thomas can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, New Mexico 87004.

 

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