Sandoval Signpost


An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988
  Up Front

c. Evangeline Chavez

“Gifted Hands,” photograph by Evangeline Chavez [See story in “Real People,” this Signpost.]

Sandoval County accepts 2012 property tax rates

The Sandoval County Commission voted on September 20 to accept the 2012 property tax rates ordered by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. Commissioners Walters and Chapman voted No, citing frustration about the commission having no role in setting the rates. Tax rates are determined by the budget, which was previously approved by the commission and submitted to the state. The overall tax rate increased by 3.3 percent to offset the 6.35 percent decrease in overall assessed value of county property caused by reassessment. Taxpayers will find out in November when bills are mailed whether their taxes rise or fall. It will depend on the reassessed value of the property. Placitas residents will see a decrease of 23.33 dollars per one-hundred-thousand dollars assessed value on their Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control rates due, mostly, to the elimination of the operational tax.

Federal inmates return to detention center

—Signpost Staff

The suicides of three inmates prompted the United States Marshal Service to pull all federal prisoners out of the Sandoval County Detention Center (SCDC) in March. Two inmates hanged themselves in December of 2011. SCDC initiated new suicide prevention policies—regarding shoelaces in particular—in February, but on March 4, nineteen-year-old Dario Panteh, of Zuni Pueblo, died after hanging himself with a bedsheet. Two of the deaths involved federal prisoners.

A press release from the USMS said, “Marshals Service District of New Mexico is committed to ensuring the secure care and custody of detained individuals; protecting individual civil rights throughout the judicial process; implementing cost savings methods for housing and transporting those in custody; and providing quick and safe responses to emergency situations.”

SCDC receives 67 dollars per day per federal prisoner, averaging four million dollars of the annual 8.6 million dollar annual budget.

At a March 29 special meeting of the Sandoval County Commission, Commissioners voted unanimously to approve new policies and procedures and a one-year agreement costing 98,000 dollars for inmate mental health-care services.

SCDC agreed to add a mental health nurse practitioner and mental health professional to the staff for twenty hours a week. They will also be available by phone or pager twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Casamento told the Commission that the psychiatrist, registered nurse, and medical doctor who currently work at the jail will now make referrals for inmates in need of mental health services, therapy, or medication.

The new procedures involve treatment and care of prisoners considered to be a suicide risk, including a round-the clock “line-of-sight” watch and confiscation of shoelaces. More information will be required of the staff when conducting suicide and medical screening when inmates are booked into SCDC.

The county spent about 500,000 dollars on maintenance, infrastructure improvements, and hiring to ensure the jail would comply with requirements to house the federal prisoners. County commissioners voted in July to increase the staffing hours under the mental health contract from twenty hours per week to forty hours. The extra hours will increase the annual cost by 77,880 to 176,786 dollars. 

Casamento said the first federal inmates came back to the county on August 1. Currently, there are 89 of them in the facility, and he expects to continue receiving them until they are back to the full complement of roughly two hundred.

Six species of birds gather at one of the many drinkers on Santa Ana Pueblo
Photo credit: Glenn Harper

Santa Ana and San Felipe pueblos vie for wildlife corridor property

—Ty Belknap

The Pueblos of Santa Ana and San Felipe have a history of border disputes dating from the early 1700s. These disputes have recently reemerged regarding a Bureau of Land Management Parcel A, which is contiguous with the eastern boundary of Santa Ana and the southern boundary of San Felipe. Santa Ana placed a public letter in the September, 2012, issue of the Signpost seeking support for the tribe’s interest in reacquiring the 3,143-acre parcel for the purpose of extending its wildlife management program to the east, thus protecting a vital link in the wildlife corridor between the Jemez and Sandia Mountains. (download a pdf of the letter here)

Anthony Ortiz, Governor of San Felipe Pueblo, wrote a letter to the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) on September 5—after the publication of the Santa Ana letter in the Signpost—expressing his hopes to work with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to ultimately restore these same lands to San Felipe ownership.

Both tribes consider this parcel to be part of their aboriginal lands. Both tribes express a desire to see this parcel remain in its current undeveloped state.

WHOA subsequently bulk-mailed a newsletter to all Placitas addresses, along with a copy of the letter from Governor Ortiz. Both letters can be read in their entirety at WHOA endorsed San Felipe’s efforts to acquire the land, citing “San Felipe has long been working to reacquire these same BLM lands as their ancestral lands. Unlike Santa Ana Pueblo, the Pueblo of San Felipe has detailed covenants on how they will conserve the land, protect wildlife and wild horses, and allow public access. On this basis, WHOA endorses San Felipe Pueblo.” Furthermore, the letter states, “Sadly, Santa Ana is setting the Placitas Wild Horses up for slaughter, designating them as ‘livestock’ and refusing discussion.”

The WHOA newsletter includes the endorsement of Peter Callan of Pathways—Wildlife Corridors of New Mexico ( The newsletter also included a public comment form that includes a comment related to the ongoing BLM Resource Management Plan revision that supports transfer of the parcel to San Felipe.

Santa Ana officials took exception to WHOA’s allegations. They invited members of WHOA, Las Placitas Association, Pathways, and the Signpost to a September 28 meeting (after press time) to present their side of the story.

Pueblo of Santa Ana Governor Ernest Lujan told the Signpost that the tribe has been in a long-standing process to reacquire the BLM parcel that has been identified by the New Mexico Historical Preservation Division as Santa Ana ancestral land. He said, “The potential elimination of wildlife would directly threaten our ability to engage in important religious ceremonies that ensure the preservation of our cultural identity now and into the future. To be successful, our wildlife restoration projects need to extend beyond our current boundaries.”

Lujan said that tribal officials have been meeting with the BLM about acquiring the land since they were contacted by BLM Rio Puerco Field Office Manager Tom Gow in April of 2011. The tribe is also discussing an Act of Congress, required for the transfer, with members of the New Mexico congressional delegation.

Glenn Harper, Range and Wildlife Division Manager of the Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources, contends that Santa Ana is far better qualified to manage the land as a wildlife corridor based on detailed information contained in the above mentioned letter that was printed in the September Signpost, and posted with this article on the Signpost website at: According to Harper, Santa Ana is the only pueblo in the Rio Grande valley with a Wildlife Conservation Code and has received international recognition for its watershed and wildlife habitat restoration projects. “To date, we have documented 65 species using our extensive system of wells and drinkers, including 47 species of birds (including resident species, and Neotropical and short-distant migrant species), 14 mammals, and four reptiles and amphibians.” Unlike San Felipe, he said, “Santa Ana regulates hunting based on game population studies. San Felipe has been completely uncooperative with Santa Ana wildlife preservation efforts, shooting wild turkeys and pronghorn antelope that migrate to San Felipe lands and refusing entry to Santa Ana personnel when they receive mortality signals from radio collars.”

Harper said that Santa Ana ran afoul of WHOA several years ago when they rounded up some feral horses that wandered onto Santa Ana Pueblo land. He advocates horse management based on science, rather than politics. The tribe plans to manage horse overpopulation, which is incompatible with healthy wildlife habitat. He denies “setting the horses up for slaughter” as alleged by WHOA and said that Santa Ana has discussed the situation with WHOA.

Ideally, both pueblos could access the BLM parcel and facilitate the wildlife corridor. Have a look from the top of Parcel B, a two-hundred-acre property bordering three Placitas subdivisions with a BLM preferred alternative calling for “Land Ownership Adjustment.” You can see the landscape sweeping down from the Jemez Mountains to the Rio Grande through pueblo land, then across Parcel A and the Placitas Open Space, and up through the foothills to the Sandias. It looks like a wildlife corridor.

Unfortunately, even though the tribes share different dialects of the same language and often intermarry, they don’t seem to like each other very much. It is doubtful that they would even discuss a cooperative effort. Most of the border between San Felipe and Parcel A is interrupted by the Baca gravel mine anyway, so the residents commenting on the land transfer might be well-advised to consider Santa Ana’s efforts to acquire Parcel A, as well.

At Signpost press time, the officials from San Felipe had not yet returned calls from the Signpost. We are also waiting for a comment from Tom Gow regarding the questionable BLM practice of discussing disposal of lands included in the ongoing Resource Management Plan revision.

LPA finds discrepancies in BLM plan

—Orin Safier, Las Placitas Association

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held a public meeting on September 17, regarding their draft Resource Management Plan (DRMP) for the Rio Puerco region. Well over a hundred people from Placitas and elsewhere were in attendance. The meeting was initially structured such that there would be a presentation by BLM personnel, primarily Tom Gow, Rio Puerco Field Office Manager, and Angel Martinez, Planning and Environmental Specialist, followed by a brief question-and-answer period, after which the attendees would talk individually to BLM “experts” in a “workshop” session. But at the beginning of the Q&A period, it became evident that the attendees wished the BLM to address specific concerns to the entire audience, so a lengthy interaction between the audience and BLM took place.

During the BLM presentation, Martinez emphasized that, to be effective, submitted comments must be “substantive.” They should either point out errors in the data that BLM used to arrive at their recommendations, or expose the omission of relevant data.

Over a month ago, Las Placitas Association (LPA) had formerly requested an extension to the public-comment period. The BLM has since extended the public comment to November 2, 2012. The original ninety-day comment period had been scheduled to end on October 11, 2012. The new closing date will provide the public additional time to review the Draft RMP/EIS and supporting documents. All comments must now be received by close of business at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, November 2, 2012.

At the public meeting held by LPA and ES-CA (Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association) at the Placitas Elementary School on August 26, LPA promised to post recommendations and guidelines for comments on the LPA website. This has not yet been done, because LPA uncovered a number of major discrepancies in the DRMP, which make it difficult to know exactly what to comment on. These discrepancies mainly involve the “preferred alternative” in the DRMP regarding gravel mining on the “Buffalo Parcel,” which is LPA’s name for the approximately 3,200-acre BLM parcel A, north of Placitas.

The main discrepancy is that the text for this “preferred alternative,” which appears on page 2-50 of the electronic version of the DRMP and on page 2-51 of the print version (see below for more on this mysterious difference between the two versions) states that mineral extraction, including gravel, would be restricted to two sections on the north edge of the Buffalo Parcel bordering the San Felipe Pueblo lands. Yet the maps in the DRMP indicate that such mineral extraction would be allowed throughout the Buffalo Parcel, also on the two-hundred-acre BLM parcel bordering the Overlook, Cedar Creek, and Ranchos de Placitas subdivisions, and on the Placitas Open Space managed by the Albuquerque Open Space. This discrepancy was pointed out in a meeting between LPA directors and Mr. Martinez from BLM about four weeks prior to the September 17 meeting, but at that meeting BLM still did not have an answer regarding which was right—the text or the map.

On September 19, Martinez informed two LPA directors that the restricted gravel mining specified in the text is right, and the maps are wrong, and that a correction would appear the next day on the BLM web site. But as of press time, no such correction has appeared.

LPA has discovered even more problems regarding the Buffalo Parcel. Though the text indicates the two sections that would be open for gravel mining, BLM has provided no GIS data that would allow citizens to precisely locate the boundaries of those sections, walk them, and inspect them. This lack of location data is perhaps why this was not specified on the DRMP maps. For this reason alone, it is unreasonable to expect citizens to submit “substantive” comments regarding BLM’s mining intentions. If the agency itself is so confused about their “preferred alternative,” how are we citizens to respond at all effectively?

Then there is the recently discovered difference between the electronic and print versions of the DRMP. What appears on 2-50 of one version appears on 2-51 of the other. This leads to the question: just how different are the two versions, and are the differences trivial or substantial? Citizens should not be expected to play “Where’s Waldo,” that is, to be BLM’s proofreaders. This raises concerns about whether the DRMP, though four years in the works, was rushed out the door prematurely.

LPA has also found upon discussion with BLM personnel that they did not take into adequate consideration the effect on property values and other social/economic factors of mining activities so close to residential properties. Nor have they given due consideration to the environmental effect this would have on wildlife populations that use that area for habitat and migration.

What has made discussion of the Buffalo Parcel all the more interesting in recent weeks is that both the Santa Ana and San Felipe Pueblos have expressed strong interest in acquisition of that BLM parcel, largely to protect these wildlife habitats and migration paths. This would predictably put the Buffalo Parcel to far different uses than if BLM were to continue to manage it. So an important question that arises regarding public responses to the DRMP, is how to comment on these possible acquisitions, which are not mentioned in the DRMP “preferred alternative.”

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