Fermin Cordova braves the August 14 deluge to observe the runoff that turned normally dusty Las Huertas Creek into a raging torrent. Debris partially blocks two of the six culverts under Camino de las Huertas, but they survived without washing out. A National Weather Service spotter in Placitas reported 1.59 inches of rain, nearly all of it between 4:45 p.m. and 5:50 p.m., while a private gauge near the creek recorded closer to two inches.
On July 27, storms spawned a funnel cloud over northern Rio Rancho and Bernalillo which dissipated within 15 minutes without touching down. Visible from Placitas, it appears in the photo behind a ridgetop home in Cedar Creek.
Lawmakers address water issues
“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” —Mark Twain
That was then; this is now.
Availability of fresh water is an increasingly important local, state, and national issue. Innovative water management (i.e., use and conservation), and new technologies that are able to harvest water from nontraditional sources (water development) are needed. Scientists’ concerns include both water quantity and quality. As drought conditions increase, both factors become significant.
“There is a lot of water already around. Of the clouds that pass overhead when it rains, only about 6 percent reaches the ground. Of that ground water only 5 to 6 percent is utilized and harvested to this point,” says Walt Chapman, volunteer weather researcher for Region 3 (Jemez y Sangre).
Cloud seeding is getting more attention these days. Already in New Mexico, regions are applying for licenses and working towards raising the needed finances. The Southern Ogallala Aquifer Rain Program is New Mexico’s only active weather-modification project with a valid permit, through January 31, 2006. Based out of Plains, Texas, and operated by the Sandy Land Underground Water Conservation District, this bistate project encompasses two million acres in eastern New Mexico and 3.8 million acres in Texas. Cloud-seeding activities for both areas are being directed by a SOAR meteorologist based out of Plains, where the aircraft are also headquartered. According to Interstate Stream Commission project manager Doug Murray, the Jemez y Sangre group is also actively scoping a cloud-seeding program and funding.
In mid-August, according to U.S. Water News, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Texas governor Rick Perry announced plans to “open talks to try to resolve water problems on the Rio Grande and the Pecos River.”
Richardson said two years ago when he was running for governor that he would try to develop talks with Texas about mutual water concerns. It is likely those talks will include desalination projects on both sides of the border. The Texas governor recently announced plans to build the nation’s first large-scale seawater desalination plant along the Gulf of Mexico.
Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) has secured $6 million for desalination and removal of arsenic in water in his role as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. Sandia National Laboratories’ Geochemistry Department held groundbreaking ceremonies for the Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility on June 29 in Alamogordo. According to an SNL news release, the Tularosa Basin in south-central New Mexico was selected as a desalination facility location because it contains a range of brackish water—from almost fresh to twice as salty as sea water, all within a five-mile radius. A set of wells has already been drilled at different brackish levels in the basin. Studies show that less than 3 percent of the world’s water has a salinity that can be used for human consumption. This means that most of the water on earth is too saline for potable use without treatment—and much of the world’s fresh water is located at the polar ice caps.
As the need for desalination grows so has the U.S. government’s interest in funding research. Multiple water organizations, manufacturers, and environmental agencies, including NASA, SNL, and the Scripps Institute are sponsoring desalination research. Although each organization may have different reasons for using the desalination approach, the technology and process are similar enough that they can be shared and improved upon. So whether you’re trying to purify water in a space station or trying to ease the drought on earth, the approach may only be a slight variation and a difference in size.
A variety of methods can be used for wastewater purification and desalination, including biological or chemical treatment and reverse osmosis, which filters out chemical contaminates. Reverse osmosis, simply stated, is hyperfiltration, the finest filtration known. It is capable of rejecting bacteria, salts, proteins, sugars, dyes, and particles. Using different-sized microfilters in a variety of methods, scientists are able to produce safe potable water. The goal is to find the method that is most cost-effective. In the very near future this type of technology will contribute significantly to meeting the need for safe, affordable, and ample water supply. Inland desalination units can process up to forty million gallons of brackish water per day into usable water.
Dunlap, same-sex marriage licenses update
A recent court ruling continues to bar Sandoval County clerk Victoria Dunlap from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
At an August 25 hearing, Paul Livingston, Dunlap’s attorney, argued for dismissing the complaint initially filed in March by Attorney General Patricia Madrid. Among other contentions, Livingston said state marriage law is gender-neutral and that only the application form, simply a request for information, specifies male and female applicants.
He also denied Dunlap was implementing her own interpretation of the state constitution or had altered the application form before issuing nearly seventy licenses to same-sex couples in February.
Assistant Attorney General Chris Coppin told Judge Louis McDonald he could prove the forms had been altered, some by the couples themselves with at least Dunlap’s permission. That and other issues, including the question of public safety at the courthouse when gay and lesbian couples filled the hallway, should move on to mediation as previously proposed, he said.
At the end of the thirty-minute hearing, McDonald denied Livingston’s motions to dismiss the case.
16 billion dollar Intel IRB: decision could come mid-September
All sides agree it’s a big number, that sixteen with a dollar sign in front and nine zeros behind.
Then the debate begins over the Sandoval County Commission acting as middleman for Intel Corporation as the computer-chip giant floats $16 billion in bonds. Commentary at the August 19 commission meeting was as much about Intel as a corporate citizen as it was about a world-record issue of industrial-revenue bonds.
“Nobody is bound by any decision tonight,” chairman Daymon Ely said before commissioners unanimously approved beginning the bond process. Ely also noted the county would receive at least $80 million and possibly $95 million, which could go a long way toward addressing transportation and groundwater problems.
The county would receive that money during the first fifteen years of the thirty-year life of the bonds. The county would incur no costs or liability for the bonds, which Intel would buy itself as needs arise.
In a written statement, Tim Hendry, an Intel vice president, said the bonds are not tied to any specific project but provide a “competitive tax framework” for future growth at the plant.
Commissioner Jack Thomas who, with Ely, had been in secret negotiations with Intel since January, cited the fifty-three hundred jobs it provides on county land just outside the Rio Rancho city limits. “This says that Intel is willing to stay in New Mexico fifteen years, maybe thirty,” he said.
Thomas also said he accepted recent studies concluding air emissions from the Intel plant are not causing health problems downwind in Corrales.
Still, some Corrales residents, like Lynne Kinis, suggested the county require additional controls on emissions and water use before approving the bonds. And Roberta King, also of Corrales, said, “The issue is the health, not the finances.”
For others, though, the issue is the finances since, as with previous Intel bonds, the county holds title to the property, which makes it exempt from property taxes until the bonds are paid off. Intel critics from the Southwest Organizing Project said that tax loss could amount to $2 billion over the next fifteen years.
SWOP also called the negotiations a “backroom deal” and questioned whether Ely and Thomas were qualified to conduct them. “With all due respect, gentlemen, you should have known you were in over your heads,” SWOP codirector Robby Gonzalez said.
Separately, Charles Mellon of Placitas has asked the Attorney General’s office to determine whether the commission violated the Open Meetings Act by appointing Ely and Thomas as negotiators without taking a public vote.
Intel supporters were equally vocal, citing its annual payroll of nearly $400 million, non-property-tax payments of $40 million a year, contributions to employee volunteerism and civic projects, and construction of Rio Rancho High School. “Intel is an important partner, a good corporate citizen, and worth keeping,” Rio Rancho school superintendent Sue Cleveland said.
Intel employee Emily Padilla said she appeared before the commission ten years ago to support the last bond issue. A native of Las Vegas and resident of Bernalillo, she said she is pleased to have found a good job in New Mexico while many of her friends were forced to leave the state to find work.
Rio Rancho business owner Michael Castillo also endorsed Intel as a positive force that has created thousands of spin-off jobs in the area. Business owner Marcie Brandenburg said she, too, supports Intel, but suggested there were too many unanswered questions to rush voting on the bonds.
Ely said a public meeting on the Intel deal would be held on August 30. Final commission action could take place as early as the September 16 meeting.
Intel bond deal could mean continued health risks, higher taxes for residents
— Jeff Radford
Editor, Corrales Comment
No cynicism is required to see a connection between a compromised health risk assessment in June that exonerated Intel from causing nearby residents’ health problems and the August 13 announcement of a $16 billion industrial revenue bond (IRB) deal for Intel.
Chaired by Corrales’ Daymon Ely, the Sandoval County Commission acted on a resolution at its August 19 meeting to start the process to issue the largest IRB package in U.S. history for Intel’s operations here.
Ely had been the County’s prime negotiator on the then-secret IRB deal even as he served on the Corrales Air Toxics Task Force whose mission was to learn whether air pollution, particular from Intel, was making Corrales residents sick.
He had taken a leading role in absolving Intel of causing illnesses, publicly agreeing with Intel spokesmen who pointed to auto emissions as the health problem, not Intel’s pollution. He entered the just-starting IRB deal negotiations in January of this year; the air toxics task force’s recommendations phase began in April, concluding in June.
The same themes played out during negotiations for the last big IRB for Intel in 1995, when the County Commission approved $8 billion in bonds, then the largest in U.S. history. Corrales residents back then had been suffering from even higher levels of pollutants from Intel, before the microchip giant installed pollution controls.
So with its 1995 bond request Intel, in effect, posed the question: “Do you still love us? If not, we’ll close down and go somewhere else, taking our high-paying jobs with us.” The County Commission’s answer this time is expected to be the same as it was in 1995: “Please stay. We’ll give you more tax breaks if you stay.”
At the IRB announcement news conference at Intel August 13, it was clear that State and County officials regard Intel’s decision to seek new bonds as a reward, rather than a request for special corporate favors. In fact, several officials stated unambiguously that Intel’s application for $16 billion in revenue bonds is a vote of confidence in the County and State. So if the bond deal is regarded as a reward to State and County officials, what behavior was being rewarded? Was the reward in August linked to the exoneration in June?
Intel reports releasing to the air more than 40 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (mostly solvents) and many more tons of hazardous corrosive acid gases that can cause the kinds of illnesses that residents near the plant have suffered for a decade. For years, Corrales Residents for Clean Air and Water (CRCAW), led until recently by retired Los Alamos chemist Fred Marsh, have demanded that Intel change to the “super-critical carbon dioxide” process developed in Los Alamos, or a similar non-polluting chip manufacturing process.
The innovative process allows microchip makers to go smaller and smaller without hazardous chemicals and minimal water by working within a mini-environment of carbon dioxide at high temperature and high pressure.
But Ely told Corrales Comment following the August 13 news conference that the IRB negotiations did not include any attempt to persuade Intel to install the non-hazardous, water-saving Los Alamos process nor any other cleaner technology. He said such details were not appropriate in the negotiations.
He said he was unaware of the County’s economic impact analysis for the 1995 IRB which revealed that although the deal might be good for Bernalillo County and the State, it resulted in a net loss for Sandoval County.
But he said as the new bond proposal moves forward, a new economic impact study will be conducted, paid for by Intel. Relying on an Intel-commissioned economic study for the 1995 IRB got the County in serious trouble. Back then, Intel provided to the commission the study it hired a consultant, The Barents Group, a subsidiary of KPMG Peat Marwick, to conduct for the $8 billion deal. It was roundly criticized by the metro area’s leading economists, who asserted it was blatantly biased to make Intel’s IRB proposal look good.
Stung by the criticism, County commissioners contracted for a more independent economic analysis by the First Albany Corporation, which found that the IRB deal would result in a net loss of more than $27 million for Sandoval County. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XIV, No. 14, September 9, 1995, “How Much Will County Lose in Intel Bond Deal?”) An economist for the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), however, suggests the new IRB deal will also subsidize Intel for a net loss to New Mexicans. Eric Schmieder—who back in 1995 critiqued the First Albany study and found that it understated the loss to Sandoval County by $97 million—said the 2004 deal may “cost the state $800 million. It’s bad government.”
Schmieder added: “We have estimated that if Intel were on the tax rolls, the taxes for the rest of the county could be cut in half.” The consultant that Intel has contracted to do an economic impact study for the 2004 bond deal is said to be KPMG Peat Marwick, the same firm that was criticized for its too-rosy scenario for the 1995 bonds.
The bond resolution made no mention of Intel turning over the deed to Rio Rancho High School, nor Intel’s promise to spend $7 million on unspecified “environmental improvements.” Ely said August 13 there was nothing in writing about those side-agreements at that time.
This is a condensed version of an article which originally appeared in an August 2004 edition of the Corrales Comment.
County Line—Concerns about IRB bond for Intel
Sandoval County Commission
The $16 billion industrial-revenue bond that Sandoval County is considering for Intel raises hundreds of questions. I’ll take a stab at answering some of the more common concerns.
Q: What's an industrial-revenue bond, or IRB?
A: An IRB encourages companies that buy a lot of equipment (called capital-intensive businesses) to invest in New Mexico. IRBs postpone certain taxes, such as property taxes, gross-receipts taxes on the purchase of equipment, and state income taxes on the interest that investors earn on the bonds. In turn, those tax deferrals give an incentive for companies like Intel to locate in New Mexico and bring jobs to our county and state. In exchange for the tax deferrals, however, Intel will pay Sandoval County up to $95 million in supplemental rent and other fees and continue to employ thousands of area residents, who pay property and income taxes.
Q: Did Intel have us over a barrel or did Sandoval County give away the farm?
A: No. Commissioner Jack Thomas and I made a conscious decision that we would only recommend the county commission consider a deal that was fair. Negotiations with Intel were hard-fought, tough, and professional. On many occasions, we were prepared to walk away from the table. Ultimately, Intel agreed to pay the county up to $95 million—a guarantee of $80.75 million and a contingent fund of an additional $14.25 million. This means that if Intel does not spend a dime in Sandoval County, they will owe the county $80.75 million. If Intel spends over $10.7 billion they will start paying the county the contingency funds. Intel also will transfer the deed to Rio Rancho High School to the school system and continue with the commitments it made to the county regarding jobs for local residents and the environment. In addition, all real-property taxes that were subject to the previous bond deals will come on tax rolls without any extension of time—starting in 2010.
Q: Why give Intel any tax breaks at all?
A: State law authorizes IRBs as a way to level the field for capital-intensive companies. Businesses that have small capital investment (and that includes some very large businesses) do not pay the same proportionate share of taxes that high capital-investment businesses do. IRBs also allow New Mexico to be competitive with other states for jobs and businesses. If there were no IRBs, capital-intensive businesses would not invest in New Mexico. Period.
Q: Are IRBs available to small business?
A: Yes. In fact, Bernalillo County has done several such bonds. Sandoval County, too, would consider such opportunities.
Q: Can Intel use the $16 billion to invest outside of Sandoval County?
A: No. The entire $16 billion must be invested in Sandoval County.
Q: Isn't this a subsidy or corporate welfare?
A: No. Sandoval County is not giving Intel any money and there is no subsidy. Instead, Intel is being encouraged to invest in New Mexico and employ local residents.
Q: Is Sandoval County on the hook for any of the $16 billion?
A: Absolutely not. The county is not loaning money to Intel, and the county is not responsible for any default on the bond. The county and state will have no financial liability under the Intel deal. Intel also will pay all fees and costs associated with the bond issue.
Q: Will taxes go up as a result of the bond deal?
A: No. In fact, the deal will probably keep taxes down. First, Intel’s suppliers and contractors pay taxes that could result in significant tax receipts for the county and state. Second, the money that Intel pays to the county—up to $95 million—will help offset the infrastructure and other costs that taxpayers would normally have to fund—things like transportation, water projects, and sewers.
Q: What about the environment?
A: Intel agreed, separate from the IRB, to spend an additional $7 million on environmental improvements and is working on this with the New Mexico Environmental Department.
Q: Is there a conflict with the commission chairman’s talking with Intel while also serving on the air-quality task force?
A: Absolutely not. My discussions with Intel regarding the IRB began during the waning months of the air-quality task force. I believe my wearing the two hats served a very beneficial purpose. As a member of that task force, I gained valuable insight into the concerns surrounding Intel’s air emissions. At the same time, by participating in the IRB discussions, I had the unique ability to insist that Intel take corrective measures had the work of the task force proven such steps were required.
Q: What’s the time frame on the Intel IRB agreement?
A: First, there is no “agreement” or “deal,” and nothing is binding at this point. All that is before the county commission is a proposal. The commission has unanimously approved an inducement resolution that expresses only their intent to consider the proposal. Following extensive public comment and review, the commission will consider a bond ordinance that, if approved, would constitute a formal agreement. Before that step, however, all five commissioners need to consider the public comment we will receive, both written and oral, and then decide if the proposal makes the best sense for Sandoval County. That process could take about two months.
Q: Is this a good deal?
A: As I have said, this is a fair deal, a great deal. It keeps Intel here. It keeps good paying jobs in New Mexico. It tells other businesses that New Mexico is a place to do business. But it does so based on an arrangement that will allow the county to invest real money here in the county to solve real problems.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Ely can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo 87004.
Sewer odors got another airing at Bernalillo Town Hall, prompted this time by a neighbor’s letter to his congresswoman and the town manager’s angry response.
Calle Jacobo resident Jerry Montoya said the perception of inaction on the odor problem led him to write to Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM). “This was done after several years of standing here without any resolution,” he said while addressing town councilors on August 23.
Montoya’s letter said the odor has driven residents indoors, invaded a large family reunion at Rotary Park, raised health fears, and discouraged friends from visiting. “They come once, but they don’t come back again,” Montoya said.
Six of Montoya’s neighbors voiced similar complaints, occasionally drawing applause from another ten residents.
Town manager Swindle’s written response to Montoya said misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric were not helping the situation. Swindle also said he took personal offense at the contention the town was not acting on the problem.
However Swindle’s invitation to Montoya to attend the meeting created the first community discussion of plans to rebuild the wastewater plant at a cost of $8-$10 million. The town is under a three-year federal deadline, which it probably can’t meet, to complete improvements, but so far has only raised $1.8 million.
“This place is a ghost town for most meetings,” Swindle said. “You’re not going to get $8-10 million on the strength of the six people sitting at this table. It’s going to take the whole town.”
Mayor Charles Aguilar said public meetings will be announced once the project is further along. In the meantime, the engineering study needed to begin funding and design should be ready in November.
The study couldn’t start until after last December, when the plant received its new federal permit, the first in eleven years.
The town already has raised water and sewer rates and likely will again, Aguilar said. The town will seek state and federal funding in competition with other towns with similar problems and may issue bonds of its own, he said.
Aguilar also said he had visited with Governor Bill Richardson about gathering some of the Legislature’s capital-outlay money for use on expensive local projects. It took three years of Legislature appropriations just to raise the $237,000 to pay for the recent renovation of the town hall, he added.
Nestor Trujillo, a resident of Calle Don Ernesto, suggested the governor be invited to Bernalillo when the plant is particularly ripe, to experience the problem for himself. “If he can buy an airplane for $4 million, why in hell can’t he get us $4 million for the plant?” Trujillo asked.
Town officials attribute the odor to sludge, which must be dried before being trucked to a landfill. Aguilar said he hopes Bernalillo can follow the lead of Socorro, which enclosed its sludge handling in a building that releases no odors.
Another neighborhood also turned out for the council meeting: residents of Calle Valle Serrano opposed to a new carport and walls around neighbor Ron Dordoni’s home. Councilors voted unanimously not to grant after-the-fact zoning variances for the walls, which are too tall, and the carport, which is too close to the street.
Dordoni said he made those improvements after being assured by now departed town officials that a building permit was not required and after the state approved his plans. Brad Hays, Dordoni’s attorney, said an appeal of the council decision to district court is “more than likely.”