Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Up Front

Photo credit: —Paul Preston

Hike to aspen overlook

—Ty Belknap

Chances are it’s already too late to hike to the Del Agua Overlook to get a closer look at the golden aspen forest. But, if it’s still yellow up there, drop everything and drive to the top of Sandia Mountain. Or hike all the way up from Placitas. Or take the tram. Once you notice the leaves beginning to turn, you only have about a week to see the spectacle up close. But even if you miss it, early fall is the best time to be in the Sandias. When the boss said, why don’t you go take a picture of the aspens, I took my dog Lalo and headed up NM165 through Las Huertas Canyon, always a treat. Continuing to the top on the Crest Highway, you can park just before the $3 parking sign and take a trail which merges with the Crest, and parallels the highway for about a quarter mile before a sign reads, “Del Agua Overlook: 1.5 miles.” Here the trail splits to the first of many overlooks to the west. It’s an easy hike which drops through blue spruce into an aspen forest that opens onto the splendid view pictured above.

Bernalillo fills police force, boosts school security

—Bill Diven

The Bernalillo Police Department is back to full strength after filling two vacancies, one created by assigning an officer to the Bernalillo Public Schools.

Town councilors approved the hiring of the new officers at their September 8 meeting, the first with Mayor Jack Torres presiding since he suffered a heart attack while touring the White House a month earlier.

“It’s good to be back,” he said, adding his thanks to town staff, the council, and Mayor Pro-tem Marian Jaramillo for keeping the government and services running smoothly. He said he’s still taking it easy and came to the meeting because of its light agenda.

“We’re getting close, but I don’t want to press it too hard,” Torres added. “I’m feeling good.”

The new officers are Shawn Vigil, a Grants Police Department officer since February of 2012, and Jeremiah Benjy, who has been with the New Mexico Tech Police Department since March of 2011. They were to join the Bernalillo force during September.

Police Chief Thomas Romero recommended both men, noting that they already are commissioner officers and graduates of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy. There were seven applicants for the two positions, he added.

The department is now fully staffed with 21 commissioned officers, including the chief and a lieutenant. One of the vacancies came from a resignation, the other from moving an officer to the newly created position of school resource officer at the Bernalillo schools.

The town and BPS are splitting the officers’ salary and providing an emergency-equipped vehicle. BPS Superintendent Alan Tapia attended the council meeting and said the uniformed officer is becoming a presence at Bernalillo High School.

“We’re already seeing a change,” he said. “There’s a real calmness on campus.”

The officers attending the football game the previous Friday also made a difference, he added.

Under the agreement between BPS and the town, the resource officer interacts with students but is not to act as the school’s disciplinarian. The officer is also a member of the high school Safety/Recommendations Committee and is expected to be familiar with community agencies offering services and assistance to students and their families.

In other action, the council reserved a 1.5-acre site at Rotary Park for a ten-thousand-square-foot senior center to be built by Sandoval County. Actual construction, however, is contingent on voters approving one of the statewide bond issues on the November 4 ballot.

Voters asked to approve project funding

—Bill Diven

Depending on where you live in the area, you may see as many as eight bond questions on the ballot when you vote this year. All will be asking for an okay for state and local governments to borrow money for various construction projects, flood control, and libraries.

Three statewide questions ask for:

  • $17 million dollars to build, improve, and equip senior citizens centers around the state. The projects include $1.8 million dollars for a Sandoval County senior center in Bernalillo and money for centers in Cochiti, San Felipe Santo Domingo, and Jemez Pueblos, Cuba, Torreon Navajo Chapter and the Rio Rancho Meadowlark Center
  • $11 million dollars to acquire books and other library resources split among the Cultural Affairs, Public Education, and Higher Education departments for tribal, public school, and college libraries
  • $141 million dollars for capital projects split among two state departments (Indian Affairs; Higher Education), five universities (UNM, NMSU, Eastern, Highlands, and NM Tech), Northern New Mexico State School,  and New Mexico Military Institute.

Sandoval County has four bond questions requesting:

  • Seven million dollars for a new public safety center housing the sheriff’s office and fire department administration
  • Two million dollars for emergency-communications equipment
  • Eight million dollars to expand and improve the Judicial Complex, in part because there are three courtrooms with a fourth judge being added
  • $3.25 million dollars for library books, equipment, and upgrades

The Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority, generally covering Bernalillo and Algodones, wants $2.2 million dollars to continue its work and projects.

All of the questions involve issuing general obligation bonds to be repaid by property taxes.

The Sandoval County bonds, if all approved, would add about $24 dollars per one hundred thousand dollars in assessed property valuation erasing the $16 dollar decrease for the current year. Residents of the ESCAFCA district would see their rates rise in addition to that if those bonds are approved.

Crews working for Western Refining are adapting a pumping station in Placitas to reverse the flow of crude oil in a pipeline passing through the community.

Oil, gas pipeline projects underway in Placitas

Signpost Staff

Two petroleum pipelines running through Placitas are undergoing changes to boost the flow of one and reverse the direction of the other.

And while protests have been few, safety is on the mind of Las Placitas Association (LPA), which has been tracking the projects. Safety of the Enterprise Products plan was not part of the Bureau of Land Management review before it approved the project in July 2013 with a finding of no significant environmental impacts, according to the LPA.

“There’s something like ten million gallons of this liquid a day flowing through Placitas,” said Chris Frye, a member of the LPA board. “There’s never been, to our knowledge, a safety analysis done.”

Enterprise will be adding sections of new pipe and increasing the flow of its existing pipeline, connecting gas fields as far away as Wyoming with a refinery on the Texas Gulf Coast. The line hauls gas liquids—a mix that includes ethane, propane, and butane—under high pressure.

LPA participated in the permitting process and appealed BLM’s approval only to be rebuffed by the Department of Interior, citing a policy that organizations with only a “general interest in protecting or preserving the public lands” don’t have standing to protest BLM decisions.

LPA also filed a Freedom of Information Act request for ten years of safety data on the Placitas section of the pipeline. Months later, LPA received a “half-hearted” response of little value, Frye said.

Another area of concern arose with the 2006 flooding of Las Huertas Creek that exposed part of the pipeline.

“Whose idea was it to put a mile of it under Las Huertas Creek instead of crossing it?” Frye said. “There was no spill, but it shows the installation was woefully inadequate, and we have to wonder what other safety safeguards were ignored or given short shrift.”

The most recent pipeline leak in Placitas came in 2004 when a relief valve on the Kinder Morgan carbon dioxide line failed and vented a reported 32,424 gallons of CO2 without major damage or injuries. In April 1999, the oil pipeline in Placitas then owned by Equilon was damaged during a maintenance excavation and sprayed five hundred barrels of oil onto about 1.5 acres on Santa Ana Pueblo, east of Interstate 25.

Placitas residents should see little sign of the Enterprise gas project beyond its annual mailing of safety and emergency information since none of the 233 miles of new parallel pipeline is being built here. Instead, flow would be increased in two existing lines in the Placitas pipeline corridor to increase capacity by about 24 percent to 340,000 barrels or about 14 million gallons.

The closest new segments begin east of Diamond Tail and on Zia Pueblo. The pipeline corridor runs generally along Diamond Tail Road, beside and beneath Las Huertas Creek, and through the Placitas Open Space and Bureau of Land Management property.

Additionally, LPA has urged a manual shutoff valve at the east edge of the Placitas Open Space be made automatic to limit the size of any possible spills. However that would require stringing a heavy-duty power line to the site.

What Placitas residents have been seeing is Western Refining working to reactivate a crude-oil pipeline line built in the mid 1950s and shut down in 2009. Since last year, its crews have been seen testing the line for pressure and pipe density and occasionally excavating to expose the pipe and make necessary repairs.

In September, heavy equipment and at least a dozen men were working on the pipeline pumping station off Camino de las Huertas, between Camino de la Viña Vieja and Pine-D Ranch Road. The pipeline has changed owners several times since the 1990s, going from Equilon to Shell and then to Giant, which sold it to Western in 2007.

In its last use, the 299-mile Texas New Mexico Pipeline hauled crude through ten counties from southeast New Mexico to feed a refinery in Bloomfield. It enters Placitas from the southeast on the western slopes of Crest of Montezuma and follows State Route 165, Camino de las Huertas and Pine-D Ranch and Loma Chata roads. It then tracks through the south side of Cedar Creek before joining a pipeline corridor north of Ranchos de Placitas continue west under Interstate 25.

The line runs under front yards of homes on Camino de las Huertas and the parking lot of the Placitas Community Center, structures built after the pipeline. It also passes near Placitas Elementary School.

Western is working to reverse the flow of the line to ship the growing production of oil from the San Juan Basin around Bloomfield and Farmington to its refinery in El Paso, Texas. To do that, it’s also building about seventy miles of new pipeline in southeast New Mexico to connect with another line.

When it becomes operational, early next year, ten- to fifteen-thousand barrels of oil are expected to flow daily, Western spokesman Gary Hanson told the Signpost. Once the connection to El Paso is complete, flow can increase to one hundred thousand barrels, he added.

“We’ve inspected every inch from the Four Corners to the Delaware Basin make sure everything is in good working order,” he said. “Anything needing repair, or needing to be addressed in any way, we’ve spent last year or so doing. Everything from pressure testing to mechanical integrity and pretty extensive evaluation and necessary repairs.”

The project didn’t require new permitting, although Western says it engaged the public and talked with property owners along the line. Wayne Jones of Placitas, who owns property near the pipeline, wasn’t happy with his contact with the field crew. “Recently, when I saw them working on the pipeline, I stopped and tried to talk to them, and they were almost hostile,” Jones said. “I know a lot of families in the village are concerned, but we can’t do much.”

Jones was among those out with signs protesting an attempt begun in 1999 to convert the oil line to carry diesel fuel, gasoline, and jet fuel. Shell owned the line at that time and spent a reported ten million dollars on the project before giving up in late 2003.

Top of Page

Ad Rates  Back Issues  Contact Us  Front Page  Up Front  Animal News   Around Town  Sandoval Arts   Business Classifieds  Calendar   Community Bits  Community Center  Eco-Beat  Featured Artist  Gauntlet Health  Community Links  Night Sky  My Wife and Times  Public Safety  Real  People  Stereogram  Time Off  Youth