Sandoval Signpost


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  The Gauntlet

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letters, opinions, editorials

re: missing info

Missing bit in your story. After the original Range Café burned, there was talk of quitting, but townspeople wouldn’t hear of it and volunteers contributed, so the Range was moved to the Convent before moving to what used to be the Napa store, the current location. The Range was much revered, as was El Comedor back in earlier Corrales days, but fortunately the Range survived with original owners.

—Peter Bonner

re: Range Café artwork thanks

Hi, Barb and Oli. I just wanted both of you to know how much we appreciated the beautifully articulated press on the Range artwork in last month’s Signpost. We’ve already had a lot of attention (and compliments)! Of any article I’ve ever known the source material for, this was amazingly conveyed, with all the emphasis I could have wished for, and more! Thanks so much.

—Pamela Williams, Home on the Range, Bernalillo

re: gravel mine “in-fill” in Placitas

In Heaven there will be no law, and the lion will lie down with the lamb...

In Hell there will be nothing but law, and due process will be meticulously observed.

I was reminded of these lines of Grant Gilmore at the Las Placitas Association-Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association meeting concerning the expansion of gravel mining into BLM land. The speaker took great pains on how to write comments to BLM, which are strong on form (process) but weak on substance, such that comments are likely to be a bit disingenuous as writers try to hide their true outrage at the gravel-quarry situation here in Placitas.

Maybe I am out of the mainstream on this issue: two of my HOA’s presidents have vouchsafed—yes, this archaic word will do just fine—to me that, “Lafarge is a good neighbor.” Well perhaps so, if you don’t mind people with Google-earth software on their computers viewing your house up close to a huge, brown cavity in the earth. Berms won’t cut it anymore.  I urge residents to speak out forcefully and substantively on gravel-mine “in fill” in Placitas.

—Burke Ritchie, Placitas resident

re: Our Lady of the Open Road

To hear someone say, “My mom is training for a marathon” is a little uncommon. But to add, “My mom, mother of five children and sixty years young” is when I really get reactions.

If you live in Placitas, you may know her, and if not, you may know of her. She is known by the term of endearment, “Our Lady of the Open Road,” because of the way she waves and smiles at all those who pass by. She dresses silly for holidays, wearing bunny ears and Santa hats and rang in sixty with a costume of pride.

The police know her and love her because people slow down when she’s running. Fans stop her to give her gifts and encouragement. In a day and age of a lack of friendliness at times, her smile and cheerfulness is refreshing and endearing.

My mom often tells me how much it means to her when someone waves back or even stops to visit. Just a few years ago when my mom lost my grandpa, she said it was all the love she received from those she passed on her morning run that helped her get through such a difficult time. It is amazing and heartwarming how through her simple act of a wave, strangers have become friends.

My siblings and I are proud to tell people that our mom is training for a marathon. However, we are even more proud to speak of the positive attitude and beautiful heart behind it. We love you! You make us proud to call you our mom! Lisa, Matt, Elizabeth, Colleen and Kathleen (who is training for the marathon as well, and told me that our mom has to keep her going, instead of the other way around).

Please keep our mom in your thoughts and prayers as she trains to run the Chicago Marathon on October 6.

—Lisa Richard

re: the “one hundred percent solution”

By now, almost everyone living in surrounding pueblos, Placitas, Bernalillo, and Algodones knows that the roughly 3200 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that abuts the north Placitas border is undergoing a Resource Management Plan (RMP).

Many meetings have been held and letters published in the Signpost in addition to letters mailed to everyone with a mailbox in Placitas. The major controversies over the future of this land center around these issues: water, mining, wildlife habitat, non-motorized public access, and erosion control.

One proposed solutions seems to solve all of these issues elegantly. If you wish to assure that the wildlife of the Sandias does not become cut off from habitat and migration routes to rivers and other mountains in middle New Mexico, if you are a wild horse hugger or would rather see the wild horses from afar in numbers that do not overburden the grasses available, if you wish to continue accessing the BLM public lands in a mode that does not destroy the turf, if you wish that the view from your home does not include a gravel pit mining site, the choice is simple.

The San Felipe Pueblo has asked to reacquire this acreage and wants to do so with stringent covenants in order to accomplish their mission.

The San Felipe Pueblo has written, “Regarding the Placitas BLM lands generally, the Pueblo wants to see these lands remain in their current underdeveloped state into the future. It is important to remember that these lands are San Felipe Pueblo aboriginal lands, and the Pueblo hopes to work with the BLM to restore them ultimately to Pueblo ownership. Until that happens, the Pueblo opposes any development of the lands.” They go on to outline what they oppose, including construction of a highway through the lands, any mining in the area due to its importance as a wild life corridor connecting the Sandia Mountains with the Jemez and Ortiz Mountains, and any development of oil and gas in this area due to the need to protect the Rio Grande, its tributaries, and our precious ground water supplies.

San Felipe has a track record of preserving reacquired lands. More than ten years ago, they re-acquired the Ball Ranch land along the northeastern border with stringent covenants that the land would be preserved in its natural state and not be developed. 

If your vision for the use of the BLM lands aligns with the San Felipe Pueblo mission, let the BLM know that you support the Pueblo’s efforts to reacquire the BLM land. Submit your comments in support of San Felipe Pueblo’s desire to reacquire and protect the Placitas BLM lands to:

Bureau of Land Management Rio Puerco, ATTN: Angel Martinez, 435 Montano Road NE, Albuquerque, NM 87107

—Diane Ransom, Placitas

[Editors note: See story, page one, this Signpost: “Santa Ana and San Felipe pueblos vie for wildlife corridor property]

re: Beanfield War 2012

As one of the subjects of the Signpost’s Placitas Beanfield War (#1) back in 2004, I found the second version published last month particularly ironic. [See September, 2012, Signpost: 2012 Placitas Beanfield War.] The real issue is bigger than individual squabbles over water. It’s the antiquated water laws written in other centuries. Add “tradition” to the mix, and you have a situation benefitting a few people at the long-term expense of the environment.

Yes, the acequia systems in Placitas area, and all of New Mexico, are a marvel of engineering ingenuity—eighteenth century engineering. Gravity-driven, flood irrigation is enormously wasteful, however. Back in the 1800s and early1900s when water laws were written, it was the only method available to irrigate crops necessary for community survival.

Times have changed. Transportation has changed. The climate has changed. Water laws have remained the same. New Mexico water law defines the only “beneficial use” of surface water to be for agriculture and livestock. The streams, rivers, and their associated web of life have no “right” to water. A water “right” is considered legal property. That means water rights can be bought, sold, and traded like any other commodity. Indeed, water rights in one location can be sold for use in another location in the same “basin.”

In Placitas, the “beneficial use” of the Las Huertas watershed goes to the acequia associations for—apparently—watering personal gardens. According to the Signpost Beanfield Wars 2012 article, Las Huertas Community Ditch chairman Jon Couch stated that Las Huertas Community Ditch (LHCD) “has rights to 432-acre feet of surface water from Las Huertas Creek along the easement in the National Forest.” Consider that number in more familiar terms. One acre foot equals 325,851.429 gallons, meaning LHCD has the “right” to over 140 million gallons of water. The City of Albuquerque calculates the “average” household uses 167 gallons of water a day. LHCD’s water right could support 2,100 “average” urban households a year. Of course the legality of 432-acre feet doesn’t take into consideration situations like drought. It is simply a number with no associated environmental responsibility to the riparian ecosystem—which, of course, has no “rights.”

And what about downstream water “rights” holders? Apparently that’s what provoked Beanfield War 2012. Upstream use is indeed impairing downstream flow. Yes, there should have been spring run-off this year because, according to reports, it was a rare record snowpack year for the Sandias. With that kind of snowpack, even considering the previous drought year, the water could have flowed all the way to the Rio Grande, recharging Rosa Castillo spring and making the several Rosa de Castillo acequia beneficiaries happy. That acequia diverted off Las Huertas creek runs more than a mile along the side of the hills and used to flow around thirty-thousand gallons a day, enough to fill an Olympic size swimming pool and an average municipal pool every month. And, that’s not just during the growing season. It flowed all year round for declared “domestic use” by the acequia’s mayordomo, who boasts to have no indoor plumbing.

Locally grown food supposedly reduces the carbon footprint of a community. But what about the “water footprint?” This isn’t northern California or any other place with near perfect growing climates and abundant moisture that make eating a rich variety of local foods possible without destroying fragile ecosystems. This is the desert. A swimming pool in Placitas is no worse than growing arugula and snow peas irrigated with precious stream water.

New Mexico must overhaul its water laws and align agricultural practices to fit the twenty-first century and unfolding climate change. No more irrigating alfalfa fields to depths that attract ducks and geese. This is a desert state, yet New Mexico is the seventh largest dairy producer and eighth largest cheese producer? Back in the distant past somebody locked up some major water rights to make that possible. And, there is the tragic irony of these antiquated water “rights” in contemporary times. Unless the streams and rivers are figured into the equation, those “rights” are fundamentally wrong. Sadly, and because water rights are associated with money and “tradition,” nothing is likely to change the status quo.

—Susan Blumenthal, Placitas

re: Beanfield war opinion

[See September, 2012, Signpost: 2012 Placitas Beanfield War.]

Response letter to attorney for Las Acequias:

As requested in your letter dated June 22, we met with the Las Acequias and Las Huertas water groups on July 2, 2012, to determine the nature and extent of issues. It was a good meeting with concens expressed respectfully. Our field investigation was based on a guided tour of the Las Huertas Acequia irrigation system and the El Oso (Placitas) reservoir and the domestic water supply.

Field observations recorded were as follows:

  1. The main Las Huertas Reservoir was dry and in poor condition.
  2. No beneficial use of water along the Las Huertas Creek was noted.
  3. No Las Huertas Creek flow was noted below the Upper Diversion structure.
  4. The small pond located on lands owned by Mr. Jon Couch was dry. Said pond is supplemented by the Las Huertas ditch and irrigates (via pump) a small parcel of land around the pond.
  5. The El Oso Reservoir was full with spring flow being diverted around the inlet.
  6. The Placitas domestic water supply system was operating normally with excess water diverted into irrigation system.

Upon return to our office, a records check was made of the above reference files. In brief, the water rights and delivery systems of both Acequias have not been adjudicated which would determine which association’s water rights arc senior. Las Huertas filed declaration number SD-0597 in 1929 and Placitas Community Ditch filed declaration number SD-0949 in 1942 that document a long history of water service to members.

The claimed surface water connection made by the Las Acequia Ditch Association against the Las Huertas Acequia Ditch Association may be answered by a Final Decree, Cause No. 1856, dated February 3, 1943, and letter dated April 27, 1948 that may give direction into the issues raised.

A review of Declaration SD-0597 documents an earthen reservoir along the Las Huertas Creek used for the irrigation. The OSE finds no issues with said reservoir. The small pond located on lands owned by Mr. John Couch that is filled from the Las Huertas ditch is documented as early as 1954. Mr. Couch is working with our office to document his water rights and pond existence within the Las Huertas Acequia Ditch association irrigation system.

Therefore, at this time, the State Engineer finds no issues with the Las Huertas or Las Acequia water groups that would warrant further intervention.

I should mention that we created a Placitas Project this summer (before your letter) and mapped in GIS all recorded information within the Placitas area inclusive of declarations, permits, small holding claims, etc. that may assist both water groups in the identification of declared parcels within current parcel data from Sandoval County.

The Office of the State Engineer encourages continued respectful communication between Las Acequia and Las Huertas water groups that will bring greater outcomes. The New Mexico Acequia Association may also provide assistance if called upon.

I hope the information provided herein will assist the Las Acequia and Las Huertas Community Ditch Associations to better understand their respective claims. The referenced files are available for viewing at the District 1 office.

If you feel further communication would be helpful, please let me know.

Respectfully submitted,
—Wayne G. Canon, Water Resource Supervisor, Office of the State Engineer

re: BLM public meeting

I attended the BLM meeting regarding the plans for the BLM Land located in the Placitas and Sandoval County area. I think that the BLM presentation was designed to put the audience into a brain dead stupor, but it seems to have failed in its mission. When we were asked to break into groups at the back of the room to speak with the experts from the BLM about our concerns, hands flew into the air. The first person called on stated that he felt that our concerns are about the Placitas area and that the meeting should be open so that we could have our concerns covered and hear the answers. From past experience I knew that this was the “divide and conquer” tactic.

The BLM gave some information about the BLM allowing Geothermal development plans and the extraction of oil and natural gas, which included information on the safety of fracking. It seems that fracking is only a problem when a “bad” company is doing it, and when a “good” company is doing the fracking, there shouldn’t be any problems. After this presentation, a woman in the audience asked why can’t the land be used to collect solar energy instead of the fossil fuels. The BLM answered that the land is for all of the people to have access to, and by having solar panels on the land it will not allow people to have access to the land because people may damage the solar panels. I can see it now—we get to run or walk through all of the fracking equipment and see how much nicer it looks than the stupid old wild native plants that used to be there. Do you think that we are going to be allowed around the fracking area?

I get my water from a well with the water level at 67 feet, and it is fed by an underground stream. I believe all of the people in Placitas get well water. The fracking process involves an underground discharge along with an undefined mixture of chemicals being forced into the fissures to force the oil or natural gas to a collection area. This discharge may create a fissure where a new opening where the underground stream that supplies my well water will cause the water to flow down into this fissure, and chemicals get into our water supply and create adverse health conditions. Google “problems and dangers of fracking.”

Another lady asked when is the gravel mine going to be cleaned up, as it’s a mess with many metal stakes all over the land. In fact, she was injured tripping over one of the metal stakes. This is when the song and dance team came out to sing the company song, “Just contact one of our representatives, and we will get the gravel company to do a proper restoration of the land. ”Why was the gravel mining pit left as an offense to nature and people? Whose responsibility was it to make sure the restoration was done?

If the government is giving us a vague answer, I would have to say that, yes, there will be sand and gravel mining as they did mention something about it could happen if it’s the closest place to get gravel, and then there was a mention about considering what the price of gravel is at that time. Ah, money it makes the world go around.

Now to my favorite part of the meeting, where we learned how we can give the BLM our opinion on what the BLM should do with the land. They have a whole page called “How To Comment.”

Being the good ol’ boy that I am, I would prefer to say, ban fracking, ban gravel mining, and provide a plan to allow the wild horses to roam free! The BLM says you have to give a “Substantive Comment” to ensure your comments will be considered.

Does the BLM think that everyone in the affected area has the education or skills to make a Substantive Comment? This is an outrageous requirement to make on people. A Substantive comment will include references or links to information that will support your opinion. Your Substantive Comment should “Identify the portion of the BLM document on which you are commenting, at a minimum, provide the chapter, section, and page number from the BLM plan. This requirement disenfranchises people from being a part of the process.

The BLM has used the past four years to create four plans that they want us to consider. Then they make it impossible to easily comment.

I think that we have been had. The BLM had about twenty experts at this meeting to explain to the people what the people want. I want the BLM plan put into the circular file and for the BLM to start over with citizens on the planning committee. I think a class action lawsuit should be filed against the BLM over this Substantive comment requirement.

—Dr. Lee Buck Miller, Placitas

re: sowing and weeping

Dear Friends Back East,

Well, it’s time for you to, once again, exit your great granite labyrinth and enjoy the lovely autumn foliage being displayed in the forests not far beyond your outer ramparts. As always, you’ll join the ranks of other slow-moving, cider-laden, doughnut-munching, head-swiveling “leaf peepers” in this annual ritual. Hopefully, this year you will find the derring-do to navigate beyond the Scarsdale city park and the security of its nearby Starbucks coffee emporium and fully enjoy this beautiful experience.

Even in this warm, drought-plagued, semi-arid region, I’ve tried to enhance the flora around my home, attempting to augment the customary array of piñon, juniper, and snakeweed with attractive, more colorful growth.

Alas, I’ve painfully learned that I am missing the highly desirable, genetically transmitted “green thumb” quality, leaving me nearly devoid of gardening skills, i.e. I am badly “brown thumbed.”

In my first year here, I purchased three attractive, hearty, flowering, drought resistant local shrubs called Apache plume. I planted them in the manner suggested by the nursery. When checking on their condition the following morning, I found that one had simply disappeared and the other two had died from exhaustion trying to uproot themselves. A local expert told me he’d seen this kind of plant behavior before and thinks it is a result of “acute vegetational terror of unknown causation.” Without making eye contact with me, he quietly added that “Just as some dogs sense fear, some plants sense the presence of the botanically ungifted. And some choose death rather than endless prolonged suffering.”

The following year, I purchased two lovely desert willow trees with bright green leaves and orchid-like flowers. They sat upright in their black plastic pails—beautiful and seemingly eager for the peace, stability, and permanence of my yard. But when I finished digging and preparing their beds and turned to retrieve them for planting, they had both collapsed, sprawled over their containers like sad, sick buggy whips with leaves that had suddenly turned the color of a long dead otter—indeed, the color of my thumbs.

But I did not despair, instead I read studies of how music and dialogue can help plants thrive. I recently dared to plant two yucca cacti, performing the chore while my CD player blasted out “Cool Water” by Frankie Laine. So far, no problems with the yuccas, as we reinforce things with a nice Marty Robbins album from time to time. And the fact my new desert willows seem to be flourishing may well be attributed to my careful playing of Viennese waltzes during planting and watering. They also appear to respond well to “Edelweiss” from the “Sound of Music.”

So, I’m not without hope and will keep you posted. Now, it’s time for me to read Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” to my newly planted purple sage. Their little blossoms are all aquiver waiting for my presence. And Patrick Cat maintains his own healthy adoration for The Celtic Tenors. Things are slowly looking up in our personal Eden. Stay safe and well.

—Your Friend, Herb


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