Sandoval Signpost

 

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Motorcyclists and other travelers examine the rock slide that crashed onto Forest Service Road 376 in front of a pickup truck driver on September 20 blocking the road in the Jemez Mountains.
Photo credit: —U.S. Forest Service/Santa Fe National Forest

Boulders rain down, closing forest road

~Bill Diven

Christine Bishop of the U.S. Forest Service had completed a day of fieldwork in the Jemez Mountains when she hit the brakes in her SUV as a natural and nearly personal calamity suddenly blocked her path.

“We came around the corner and there was a beat-up pickup truck stopped in front of us and a huge cloud of dust in front of him,” Bishop, range program manager for the Santa Fe National Forest, told the Signpost. “When the dust settled you could see those huge boulders, so we put it in reverse. “More stuff could fall, definitely.”

The rocky cliff that had just collapsed onto Forest Service Road 376 on September 20 included one chunk USFS estimated weighed forty tons. The man in the truck apparently watched the barrage of boulders land directly in front of him.

“The other gentleman in the pickup in front of us was too shaken up to say anything,” Bishop continued. “The guy turned around and took off. He was not hanging around.”

For her part, Bishop said she thought less about being close to disaster than how if she’d been a little earlier she wouldn’t be stuck roughly six miles from State Road 4. She and two associates, who were checking range vegetation along the Rio Cebolla, eventually headed back up the canyon to reach NM 4 at La Cueva about twenty miles away.

USFS staff with heavy equipment reopened FS 376 the next day with a warning not to park in that section about two hundred feet north of the northern Gilman Tunnel. The nearly adjacent tunnels and the road are remnants of a logging railroad that once hauled timber from the Jemez to a sawmill in Bernalillo.

“We’re advising people not to park until we get a thorough assessment of what else might be up there,” Cliff Russell, assistant public affairs officer for the national forest, said. “Be cautious.”

The largest boulder damaged the asphalt, and Russell said that’s only filled in with gravel pending a permanent patch.

Photos posted to the forest Facebook page drew nearly one thousand shares and prompted comments like, “Was Wile E. Coyote under there… and was the Road Runner seen shortly after the rock slide?”


Plan to regulate oil and gas wells draws calls to slow down

~Signpost Staff

Seven months after an Oklahoma company dropped plans to explore for oil near Rio Rancho, the city and county are drafting separate ordinances to regulate oil and gas drilling.

Rio Rancho hasn’t released its draft yet, but the Sandoval County planning staff took public comments on its thirty-page document during meetings on August 30 and September 6. The proposed zoning ordinance could be presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission as early as its October 26 meeting.

The county is preparing the ordinance with the help of experts from New Mexico Tech in Socorro, working under a consulting contract. There is no announced timeline for when a final draft might reach the County Commission.

“We’re not going at the fastest pace possible,” Senior Long Range Planner Makita Hill said in opening the August meeting. “But it doesn’t do well for a government to be without regulations on a pressing concern.”

Still the pace brought renewed calls for a moratorium on new drilling-related zoning applications to allow time to craft the ordinance. The Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club on its website questioned the “fast tracking” with public meetings just before and after the Labor Day weekend.

“Forget September 6,” Dan Lorimar, conservation coordinator for the chapter, said on August 30. “That is just jamming this thing.”

Comments on the specifics of the draft suggested more protection for ground water, keeping wells farther from residential areas and settings fees and penalties to protect taxpayers.

“We need safety before profit,” Bob Wessley of Placitas said.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association also said the county is being too hasty and that a sampling of its members showed that none knew the ordinance was under consideration.

“At first discussion, we feel like this is being pushed through,” said Matthew Gonzales, director of the association’s Good Neighbor Program. “Under a month is crazy.”

A quick review showed problems with setbacks from other land uses that might qualify as a taking of property, and rules on flaring gas already the job of another agency, he added.

The first meeting drew about 15 people with the second about twice that, including more from the oil and gas industry.

Northwest Sandoval County already is home to extensive oil and gas development mostly on state, federal and tribal lands beyond local jurisdiction. But when SandRidge Energy and Development LLC announced plans in late 2015 to sink a ten-thousand-foot well four miles west of Rio Rancho, it needed county zoning approval because the forty-acre site was on private land.

Subsidiaries of AMREP Corporation, the original developer of Rio Rancho, had previously leased 55,000 acres of subsurface mineral rights to two New Mexico companies for oil and gas development. They then hired SandRidge.

“AMREP is not planning one oil well on 55,000 acres,” Tom Ruhl of Rio Rancho, a participant in the August meeting, said. “They’re going to want hundreds.”

After three public hearings filled with SandRidge opponents, the County Commission sent the SandRidge application back to the P&Z Commission. By then the P&Z staff had changed its recommendation from approving the application with numerous conditions to rejecting it, pending more information from the company.

In February, SandRidge withdrew the application citing regulatory hurdles and the sharp downturn in oil prices. In May, the company filed for bankruptcy.

The draft ordinance along with written public comments and the agreement with New Mexico Tech can be found on the county website SandovalCounty.com. Navigate to the Planning and Zoning Department and click P&Z Legal Notices.


Bernalillo counts gains, looks to future

~Bill Diven

Adding lanes to the U.S. Highway 550 bridge across the Rio Grande is on track for early 2017, although the exact start date of the widening of the highway remains uncertain, Bernalillo town officials report.

“We’re probably, in my estimation, two to three years before that actually hits construction,” Public Works Director Andy Edmondson said during a State of the Town presentation on September 14. The New Mexico Department of Transportation has just requested proposals for final design of the work and still needs to buy right-of-way, he added.

The current river bridge is actually two bridges with construction of the third to be on the north side, Edmonson said.

NMDOT plans to add a third lane in each direction for nearly two miles from Camino del Pueblo to State Road 528 in Rio Rancho. Business owners and town officials have raised concerns about medians with few left turns hurting businesses and tax revenues although NMDOT has yet to agree to an economic analysis of the project.

In other updates, Mayor Pro-tem Marian Jaramillo said the town is looking forward to moving the Martha Liebert Public Library across a driveway to the two-story adobe building in the Roosevelt Complex. The town bought the 7.7-acre property and former school buildings behind Town Hall in 2015, and the library will be in what was the town’s school when it was built in the 1930s.

“We’re really excited because we can expand our services to the community,” said Jaramillo, who led the meeting in the absence of Mayor Jack Torres. The mayor later said he was out with what he termed a bad cold.

Since January 1, Bernalillo has added 37 businesses, although some took over space occupied by previous enterprises, Councilor Ronnie Sisneros said. He cited one as the Casa Diaz Mexican Grill now in the building that housed La Casita, known for years as “one of our really good restaurants,” until it closed about two years ago.

The Applebee’s bar and grill under construction at U.S. 550 and Camino del Pueblo is expected to open around the end of October, Edmondson said.

Sisneros said the town is moving ahead with capital projects including the arsenic-removal system needed to return Well No. 2 east of the town to service. That project should begin in January, he said.

The town already has rehabbed the storage tank there and is using it to hold water pumped from the west side of the Rio Grande.

“The good news is, and the most important is, that we are now, meeting all drinking water standards,” Councilor Dale Prairie said citing past problems that included the arsenic that occurs naturally in the groundwater.

The town also will be installing playground equipment at Athena Park and is about halfway done with upgrading a section of South Hill Road to help reduce flooding from storm runoff in the Mountain View area.

The town has 74 full-time and three part-time employees and is operating this year on an $8.5 million budget. But Jaramillo said the town is planning to spend only $7.5 million.

“What that tells us is that we operate very conservatively,” she said.


Register once, vote almost anywhere, anytime

~Signpost Staff

By the time Election Day arrives on November 8, thousands of Sandoval County residents will have voted already.

Beginning on October 11, voters can request an absentee ballot by mail or begin voting early in person at the county administration building, 1500 Idalia Road, off State Road 528 in southwestern Bernalillo. October 11 is also the last day to register to vote in person or on the website of the Secretary of State (SOS.State.NM.US, select Online Voter Registration).

Then, on October 22, another 11 early voting sites will open around the county from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, through November 5. Early voting in Placitas is at the Placitas Presbyterian Church and in Bernalillo two sites will be open: the county building on Idalia Road and the county’s voting machine warehouse, 800 S. Hill Road.

Two early voting centers also will move among tribal communities visiting San Felipe and Jemez pueblos from October 24-25, Santa Ana and Zia Pueblos October 27-28, Santo Domingo and Sandia pueblos on October 31, and Cochiti Pueblo and the Torreón Navajo chapter house November 3-4.

On Election Day, 23 traditional voting sites will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., along with 28 Voting Convenience Centers. The centers provide print-on-demand ballots, allowing voters away from their home precincts but within the county to vote.

Voters from outside the communities can still vote at the centers but will use provisional ballots. Those are counted separately after confirming the voter is registered and hasn’t voted elsewhere.

Centers are located in Placitas at the Placitas Community Library and Placitas Presbyterian Church; in Bernalillo at Carroll Elementary School, Bernalillo Middle School, the Alegria Club House, and the county administration building; two locations in Corrales; and 17 locations in Rio Rancho.

A complete list of early voting sites and any last-minute changes can be found   on the County Clerk’s web pages at SandovalCounty.com under the Bureau of Elections.


Candidates present selves at ES-CA forum

~Signpost Staff

Candidates in four county and state races affecting Bernalillo and Placitas made cases for their election last month during a forum sponsored by the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA).

A fifth race, the District 65 state House contest, was settled in the Democratic primary when Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo defeated Darryl Madalena of Jemez Pueblo. No Republican filed for the seat held since 1985 by Rep. James Roger Madalena, Darryl Madalena’s father, who is retiring.

The ES-CA forum featured candidates for the state Senate and House, county treasurer, and county clerk. It did not include three seats on the Sandoval County Commission covering Corrales and Rio Rancho.

Incumbent Democratic Commissioner Nora Scherzinger of Corrales is defending her position against Republican Jay Block of Rio Rancho. Competing to replace Commissioner Glenn Walters are Republican David Heil and Democrat Alexis Jimenez, both of Rio Rancho.

Democrat F. Kenneth Eichwald of Cuba, who won the primary and faces no Republican opposition, stands to replace Commission Chairman Darryl Madalena. Both Madalena and Walters have served the maximum of two consecutive four-year terms.

State Senate District 9—(Corrales, eastern Bernalillo, Placitas, Algodones, Sandia Pueblo, southeastern Rio Rancho)

John Sapien

Incumbent Democrat Sen. John Sapien, a Bernalillo native and Corrales resident, chairs the Senate Education Committee. He cited his ability to work with legislators of both parties in both houses and his efforts to protect Placitas from gravel mining and the potential for oil and gas development.

But he also questioned the results of corporate tax cuts pushed by Gov. Susana Martinez, which he voted for, and cuts by her predecessor Bill Richardson that shrank state revenue without the promised benefits to the overall economy. “We haven’t seen it. We’ve actually seen New Mexico go backwards,” he said. “We’re on the verge of bouncing checks… The challenge that we run into as a state is that we’ve really not committed to building that economic base.”

Diego Espinoza

Republican Diego Espinoza of Rio Rancho talked of his personal story as a native of northern New Mexico who became the first in his family to graduate from college. He now manages multimillion-dollar contracts for an aviation charter company.

“Our kids are hurting, and things need to change,” he said, adding that he supports school choice for parents with kids attending failing schools. He also favors changing tax policies to broaden the state’s economy. “Why aren’t we making it easier for entrepreneurs to invest their money and grow our economy?” Espinoza said. “We’ve had a problem for a long time where we’ve been depending on federal dollars… We have been a public-sector state, not a private-sector state.”

House District 22—(Placitas, Algodones, Albuquerque East Mountains, part of Santa Fe County)

James Smith

Incumbent Republican Rep. James Smith of Sandia Park is a retired high school teacher seeking his fourth two-year term. The district is mostly outside Placitas, but he noted his work on removing the community from a flood-control district broadly unpopular among taxpayers.

And while he and Sapien failed to increase regulation of gravels mines here, they helped bring in monitoring from the state Environment Department, he said. “I’m kind of known as one of the most prolific bill passers in the House,” Smith said, mentioning that his 16 bills included banning texting while driving and making it easier to track campaign contributions.

Asked what programs he would cut to fill the state budget gap, Smith referred to sweeping from the one billion dollars in unspent public works funds and other pools of money. Any tax increases would be to slow to show results, he added. “We don’t have six to eight months to wait.”

 

John Wallace

Democrat John Wallace, a Placitas teacher now working for the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, is making his second run at unseating Smith. He’s running, he said, to get schools the money they need. Cuts to social services and mental health care not only hurt families but also law enforcement, Wallace said. Improvements to infrastructure and education are what will grow businesses and jobs, he added. “If we start cutting the budget, it will be a death spiral for this state,” Wallace said. “I’m a Roosevelt Democrat, and I want to stimulate the economy. I don’t want to tax you to death. I do want to find the money that’s there and use it.”

He criticized the Richardson and Martinez tax cuts and said the public works money should be spent on infrastructure projects to provide jobs. “It would be great if the private sector was ready to provide the jobs for our people, but they are not,” Wallace added.

County Clerk

Eileen Moreno-Garbagni

Incumbent Democratic County Clerk Eileen Moreno-Garbagni, a Bernalillo native and resident, said she first went to work for the clerk’s office in 1974. After twenty years of government service, she took a job with a real estate attorney and title company. “That’s where I learned all the connections with the title companies that bring the documents for me to record,” she said. “I came back to the clerk’s office and decided to run for the office only because I know the office inside and out.”

She had no sooner taken office in 2013 when she was sued by a same-sex couple she refused a marriage license. Soon thereafter, the state Supreme Court ruled such licenses could be issued, “And I’m all for that now,” she added.

Garbagni said she has also overseen major changes in elections with print-on-demand ballots and the expansion of early voting and voting convenience centers.

 

Don Lemm

Republican Don Lemm, a 28-year resident of Rio Rancho, retired as a service representative for Eastman Kodak microfilming products. Since then, he has managed microfilming documents for Albuquerque Public Schools, done similar work for counties through his own storefront business, and worked as a records specialist for New Mexico State University.

“I think there’s a lot of things that can be improved in the County Clerk’s Office,” Lemm said. “I’m well aware of the both state regulations pertaining to microfilming and records management.”

Lemm also produced a survey from county records of property he just bought and described it as unreadable, saying it’s a situation that has to be corrected.

County Treasurer

Laura Montoya

Incumbent Democratic County Treasurer Laura Montoya, a northern New Mexico native and Rio Rancho resident, describes herself as a public servant since getting her college degrees, initially handling constituent services of U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman. She later worked for both the New Mexico House and Senate.

Since becoming treasurer, she changed staff job descriptions to require treasury official certifications and worked with the County Commission to support that. She also said she moved more staff to the front windows to improve customer service. “We represent everyone. We have to be fair to everyone,” Montoya said. “You are a taxpayer, and we are there to serve you, and that’s all the matters.”

While Montoya has squabbled with the county manager over the county investment policy and the reports she provides, she said state statutes are clear on where she can and cannot invest county funds. “Am I going wild in the stock market? No, not allowed to,” she added. “We are in compliance with state statutes. We have not lost a dollar of taxpayer money.”

 

Leroy Lovato

Republican Leroy Lovato of Bernalillo has been employed by the Sandoval County Assessor’s Office for 18 years and is certified as a livestock, agricultural, and residential appraiser. He previously was a real estate broker and auctioneer and ran unsuccessfully for County Assessor two years ago.

He’s currently a member of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority board, a 4-H board, and also manages the Sandia Pueblo buffalo program.

“I bring that up because that’s just my passion for work, for working with people, for getting involved with people, getting involved with communities, so that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to,” Lovato said. “I’m just up for the challenges… “I’m going to use my background in government as a servant, 18 years, and apply state statutes that go with the treasurer’s office.”

Lovato said he’ll work with the county manager’s office and other country offices to assure the treasurer’s office operates in a professional manner.

 
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