An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Placitas area in danger of mineral drilling and mining

—L.A. WILLIAMS
The Rio Puerco Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is quickly nearing the end of its scoping period for collecting public comments and input regarding possible future uses of the nearly one million acres of public land under its jurisdiction. The entire BLM Rio Puerco district is currently undergoing a four-year Resource Management Plan (RMP) revision process to establish updated land usages for approximately the next twenty years. The RMPs are updated periodically to accommodate changes in resource demand, demographics, and public land use preferences.

There are three BLM parcels in and adjacent to Placitas. These parcels are in Unit 5 of the Rio Puerco District, and include the approximately five thousand acres of BLM land north of the Placitas Open Space, a 240-acre parcel located north of the Overlook subdivision, and the roughly one thousand-acre Crest of Montezuma, situated northeast of the old village of Placitas.

Several Placitas communities were at one time owned by the BLM. When this land was sold for private development, the mineral rights might not have been included and homeowners do not necessarily own the mineral rights beneath their homes. There are those who have claimed these mineral rights and several companies have currently placed mineral claim stakes on the BLM Placitas property. Although such claims do not permit mineral rights owners to begin drilling or mining, it does establish a priority when or if the area is opened for such use. The mineral claims that have thus far been staked include oil and gas drilling (liquid minerals) and uranium mining (solid minerals).

Although the BLM must justify what they deem are reasonable uses for land under their jurisdiction and why they have concluded the uses are reasonable, they cannot altogether assume what activities affect nearby residents and the land. This is the reason for the public input period, and this is the reason for the BLM’s request for residents’ interests, thoughts, and ideas on future usages of the lands. There are five main criteria that the BLM uses as its measuring sticks: air and water quality, quality of life, cultural and resource preservation, wildlife, and recreation.

Most Placitas area residents are well aware that the BLM Rio Puerco lands are in close proximity to urban centers and in some cases surrounded by residential areas. These lands often provide a recreation source and buffer from commercial and additional residential development. Hundreds of Placitas homes abut BLM lands and a majority of the homes in Placitas have a view of these BLM lands. The Las Huertas Creek Watershed in Unit 5 is a natural system for wildlife migration and is home to a variety of wildlife and birds. The land lies in the path of the Continental Mega Linkages called the Spine of the Continent corridor, which runs over 3,976 miles along the Rocky Mountains from northern Alaska through northern Mexico and links areas of wildlife migration together. Many groups and individuals maintain that protecting these lands provides a cornerstone of conservation, is essential to the rewilding efforts in North America, and is vital to maintaining biodiversity.

As pro-energy development policies gain traction, the prices of these mineral resources escalate to levels that make previous exploration efforts seem economical, giving those with mineral claims all the more incentive to exercise their options. Using the Placitas-area BLM lands could be especially attractive to energy companies as they work to figure out geologic trends and possible petroleum deposit connectivity in a much larger area, extending from west of Los Lunas and Albuquerque through Placitas and on up to the Galisteo basin. The Galisteo reserves have already been proven and BLM has indicated there is much activity now in the zone west of Los Lunas and Albuquerque. The energy companies involved in the region have been somewhat quiet about what they are finding, due to the highly competitive atmosphere. The Placitas area BLM lands are the only public lands in the large area in between Los Lunas and the Galisteo basin, which must be a very attractive prospect.

Currently, of the thousands of Placitas-area residents, only several hundred have replied during the BLM’s initial scoping period, which ended May 31, 2008. Fortunately for area residents, the BLM has extended its timeframe, and public comments will be allowed through September 30, 2008. Lew Fisher, a Placitas resident who has established an ongoing dialogue with the BLM Rio Puerco Field Office, recommends that residents who are opposed to allowing drilling or mining on the BLM property around the Placitas community use language in their submissions along the following lines: “I respectfully request that the BLM land adjacent to Placitas be withdrawn from mineral entry, to include both solid minerals and liquid minerals. The land areas encompassed within this request include the Placitas Block, the 240-acre tract to the south, and the Crest of Montezuma land, which spans an additional one thousand acres. Placitas is a growing community of over 5,500 residents, and mineral extraction activities are incompatible with this residential area.” Mr. Fisher continues, “Feel free to modify it, but please be sure to keep your desired meaning clear. The financial sacrifice may be a postage stamp. One thing, one time, one paragraph.”

There are several options to register your comment or opinion. They include:

The BLM comment form at: http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/nm/field_offices/rio_puerco
/rio_puerco_planning/rpfo_rmpr_planning/rpfo_rmpr_docs.Par.74837.File.dat/eCommentForm.pdf
. (You may fill out and submit the attached PDF comment form electronically by clicking “Submit by email” on the upper right of the form.)

Send an email to nm_rpfo_comment@blm.gov.

Fill out and submit the PDF comment form by printing it from the above-listed website and mailing to:

Bureau of Land Management
Attn: Joe Blackmon
Rio Puerco Resource Area
435 Montaño NE
Albuquerque, NM 87107

You may also visit www.oneplacitas.com for more information.


Bernalillo Town Council workshop

Members of the Bernalillo Town Council attend a roadside workshop, in front of the site for the proposed One Placitas Development.

Bernalillo Town Council rejects annexation

—TY BELKNAP
At the July 28 Bernalillo Town Commission Meeting, there was lively discussion of an ordinance extending and increasing corporate limits, and implementing an initial zoning to Special Use for a master-planned retail shopping and business center just below Piedra Lisa Dam, east of I-25 near exit 242. The Council previously tabled action on this issue on May 8, 2008.

Preliminary planning for this development started in August 2006 when the council heard a presentation from its financial advisors concerning the advantages of creating a tax-increment financing (TIF) district. As presented, a TIF district would have been a separate political entity controlled by the town for the purpose of increasing the area’s capacity for collecting property and gross receipts taxes. The town would be able to issue a bond on the district to develop infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, signage, etc.) to attract private development of stores, restaurants, and other businesses that would contribute to town revenues. At that time, the application was tabled pending study regarding drainage and flooding issues

Planning was further interrupted by a moratorium on such developments in areas surrounding the Rail Runner stations. Since the moratorium was lifted in November 2007, S-U zoning and Transit-oriented Development/Mixed-use have become catch-all classifications designed by the town’s planning and zoning department to give developers a freer hand.

At the July 28 meeting, several councilors again expressed various criticisms of the proposed resolution. They worried that FEMA participation was not yet spelled out, and that the Coronado Soil and Water Conservancy District (CSWCD) concerns had not been adequately addressed. One commissioner pointed out that this would have an impact on the neighbors in Placitas—quite a few of whom were attending the meeting.

One Placitas resident wished to read into the record a public comment, stating that this planning should be part of Sandoval County’s general planning process for the Placitas area, in which Bernalillo is now a participant. However, town attorney George Perez told him that the public comment part for this resolution was closed in 2006.

The council voted unanimously to table the resolution and requested a walk-through of the area with the developers, which was scheduled as a workshop for August 5.

The company proposing this development is One Placitas Corporation, represented at the roadside workshop by Eric Schoen. Schoen told the Mayor Patricia Chávez and the town councilors that the commercial development would fill the land from the toe of the dam to the frontage road at I-25 (exit 242). He proposed a traffic signal at the intersection with NM 165 and the extension of the frontage road to exit 240.

The center could have a grocery store, sit-down restaurants, a multiplex cinema, and a hotel. Schoen said that Placitas residents had indicated these amenities would enhance their quality of life. He said the development would bring hundreds of jobs and several million dollars in gross receipts taxes. The corporation would pay for all infrastructure, purchase water rights, and assume all liability.

Responding to questions from councilors, Schoen and the One Placitas engineer said that traffic issues would conform to Department of Transportation standards. It would not violate the flood control regulations of FEMA, Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and the Town of Bernalillo. S-U zoning would control the master plan; building permits would be applied for as required.

A disgruntled crowd of mostly Placitas residents (especially concerned about traffic issues) was reminded several times that public comment was not allowed at town work sessions. Some Bernalillo residents object to the annexation because they are concerned that it will overextend the town’s public services, such as fire and police protection. Some contend that S-U zoning for this development is inconsistent with the town’s zoning regulations. They question the the wisdom of deferring gross receipts tax by offering a TIF to the developers. They also question the wisdom of moving the gross receipts tax base away from established main street businesses.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the Mayor and town staff answered a few questions from the public. Annexation of adjacent property, they were told, is the prerogative of a municipality and is not a public process. They also informed attendees that the public-comment period for this development had already occurred; however, the town would welcome concerns submitted by Placitas residents and neighborhood associations.

Coronado Soil and Water Conservancy District chairman Will Ouellette repeated his concerns that in the event of a dam failure in a catastrophic flood, One Placitas would be the first part of Bernalillo that would be flooded with up to two feet of water. He said that the dam, which is managed by the CSWCD, is in terrible shape. He said that despite previous agreements, he had recently received a letter from the mayor declaring that Bernalillo was not included in the CSWCD.

A vote on the annexation and zone change was scheduled for the August 25 Town Council meeting. The town attorney advised the council that the annexation and zone change should be voted on separately. The One Placitas developer again presented the project to the council. Councilor Montoya’s motion to annex was met with silence from the other councilors, despite urging from Mayor Chavez. The motion died without further action, rendering the vote on a zone change unnecessary since One Placitas is off the table for now.


Sandoval County Commission Watch

—SIGNPOST STAFF
The County Commission had a busy month in August with an agenda full of requests, some of which will appear on the November 4, 2008 ballot.

County Manager Debbie Hays received an approval to place the request in support of hospitals in Sandoval County to impose a tax levy of 4.25 mills each year, for not less than four and not more than eight years, on each dollar of net taxable value of property in Sandoval County, to pay contracting hospitals in accordance with health care facilities contracts.

Phil Rios presented on behalf of Bruce Rizzieri, Mid-Region Council of Governments, and received approval for a request that Sandoval County impose a one-eighth of one-percent gross receipts tax which shall be dedicated to the Rio Metro Regional Transit District in equal portions for the purpose of management, operations, capital, planning, construction, or maintenance of the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, and for the management, operations, capital, planning, construction, or maintenance of the Rio Metro Regional Transit District system, pursuant to the Regional Transit District Act.

Sandoval County Fire Department’s request for a billing service agreement with ESO Solutions, which provides a web-based patient transport billing system, was approved. The current system is a manual system that lacks online quality assurance. With the new system, the county may anticipate an increase in revenue, due to quicker, more accurate billing. It will require minimal staff and from an information technology standpoint, is low cost.

The Division of Public Works received approval on a number of requests including the Capital Cooperative Agreements for 2008 Legislative Appropriations between Sandoval County and the State Department of Transportation for Highway 165 and the Northwest Loop Road for funds to mainly benefit access for the new Placitas Library. There were also approved requests for a Memorandum of Agreement between Sandoval County and the State Department of Transportation for participation in the 5311 program for public transportation in rural and non-urbanized areas. The vote to increase landfill fees was unanimously approved, due to the fact many non-residents of the county use the landfill and the cells are quickly nearing their capacity, meaning new cells will need to be built.

Moira Gerety presented an update on the Sandoval County Broadband Project. She told the Commission that although the team was doing a good job, they did encounter their first real delay, a setback that will probably cost them six weeks time. There were problems with the sites of three towers, in particular the sites in Cuba, Placitas, and Pajarito. The Forest Service denied the use of the site in Cuba, but there are alternative locations available. Gerety says that a benefit from having to locate alternative sites has been discovering a possible new relationship and partnership between Sandoval County and the Navajo Nation in Pajarito. With just a small time delay, the group is still expecting to complete the project within budget.


County Line

—JOSHUA MADALENA, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION
Now arriving at homes throughout the County: an up-to-date edition of the highly popular Sandoval County Residents’ Guide.

The colorful thirty-two-page guide includes information on almost everything you’ll want to know about the many programs and services available through the County, from the duties of the County Commission to ways residents can locate missing pets, how to dispose of household trash, or who to call for help getting to medical appointments.

Want to know how your property taxes are determined? Look in the County Assessor’s portion of the guide for the important steps in the appraisal process. You’ll also find information on how to claim exemptions from property taxes for heads of household or qualified veterans, as well as how to protest property valuations if you don’t agree with the amount assessed on your property.

Want to get married or buy a home? The County Clerk’s portion of the guide outlines the requirements for a marriage license or how to make sure a deed is transferred and recorded in your name. The Clerk’s Office also lets you know how you can register to vote or run for political office.

In the County Treasurer’s section, you’ll learn how to pay tax bills and how to get refunds if you overpay. The section also gives an overview of the Treasurer’s duties, a list of important dates in the taxpaying process, and information about where your tax dollars are being spent.

Starting on page twelve of the guide, the County Sheriff’s section provides information on the County’s principal law enforcement office, as well as the many programs available through the Sheriff’s community relations efforts. Included in the Sheriff’s section are helpful tips to locate a missing pet, as well as a list of important phone numbers for both emergency and non-emergency calls.

The guide was produced by County employees to provide practical information that residents can use in both day-to-day dealings with County government or for once-in-a-lifetime needs.

Included is a comprehensive listing of County government phone numbers, as well as those for area recreation centers, youth activity programs, schools, and city and tribal governments.

It will never replace open, face-to-face communications between County residents and staff, but does offer a way for residents to access the programs and services that may benefit them or someone they know.

The guide was first published in 1997 and is now in its fourth edition. New this year are suggestions for day trips or quick getaways that offer glimpses of our County’s history, multicultural heritage, and diverse scenery, while not requiring much gasoline or travel time. This year’s guide also includes advertisements from local businesses and services that offset the booklet’s production and mailing costs.

The guide is being mailed to residential addresses throughout Sandoval County. If you don’t receive your copy in the next few days, stop by County offices in Bernalillo and ask for a free copy. Information contained in the guide also is available on the County website at www.sandovalcountynm.gov.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Madalena can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004, or by email to commissionermadalena@yahoo.com.


 

ESCAFCA launches website to provide information to residents

The Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) has launched a website to educate and inform people about flood control in the area, the need for it, the cost, and what people can expect the new authority to do if the ESCAFCA bond issue is passed in November. The website is www.escafca.com

The home page features pictures and video footage of the summer flood in 2006 that destroyed parts of Placitas, Bernalillo, and Algodones. Additionally, there is a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section, maps of the flood control districts, and information on proposed projects that will be designed if the funding is approved in November.

“Our goal with the website is to have a resource for people so they can have their questions answered, understand why we need flood control, and have a mechanism to communicate with us,” said Sal Reyes, ESCAFCA Chairman. “People can also sign up for our e-newsletter and will be kept abreast of future plans and meetings.”

Residents in Bernalillo, Algodones, and Placitas will vote on the ESCAFCA bond issue in November.


 

Bernalillo Matachines

One of Bernalillo’s oldest traditional celebrations, dating over 310 years, Las Fiestas de San Lorenzo is held annually in August. In the drama and recognition of historical religious influence, dance performers of Los Matachines progressed through the town in a spectacular event which dates to the 1600's.


Presbyterian Church opens food bank

The rise in the cost of fuel, food, and utilities has had a devastating impact on many Placitas households. In addition, the increase in the cost of gasoline leaves families unable to travel from Placitas to Bernalillo, where there are several food banks. To address this immediate need, Las Placitas Presbyterian Church plans to open a food bank in Placitas, to be named Casa Rosa. The bank will be located in the pink home adjacent to the church on Highway 165 and will be open every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to noon, beginning August 30, 2008.

Suggested donations include peanut butter, jelly, canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned meat, canned soup, canned or bottled juice, dried milk, bottled water (in gallon jugs or two-liter bottles), toilet paper, bar soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and boxes or bags for recipients to take the food home. Anyone wishing to make a monetary donation should make their check payable to Las Placitas Presbyterian Church and in the memo line write “Casa Rosa.” Also, anyone wishing to volunteer at the food bank should contact Ellen Baker, chairperson for Casa Rosa, at 867-9623. All donations will be gratefully received to help the church attain their goal of assisting Placitas residents.


Placitas area planning continues

—KATIE WILLIAMS, SIGNPOST
Long-range planning for the Placitas area continued this past month with residents and county officials packing into a meeting space at El Zócalo in Bernalillo.

The August 14 gathering was headed by county long-range planner Moises Gonzales and Cliff Spirock, an independent planning consultant hired by the county to act as a facilitator between Placitas residents and government officials. Also presiding over the meeting was Todd Hathorne, Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission Vice Chairman.

After introductions and the laying out of ground rules to prevent the meeting from turning into a madhouse, Gonzales reintroduced the County’s intentions for a master plan for the Placitas area, and which residents were qualified to participate in the planning process. Originally, the first phase of the process excluded many residents of the Placitas area. Due to the public outcry at the first meeting, County officials changed their original game plan for gathering consensus from Placitas residents.

The majority of residents are now welcome to participate in the area planning, including those individuals who live in the ETZ and parts of Diamond Tail Ranch.

Another new addition to the planning process was the introduction of the independent facilitator. This was due to the public accusing the government of hidden agendas in the process. Moises Gonzales, in an interview, wanted to make it very clear that “the County, including all the planning and zoning officials, were working in the best interest of the Placitas residents.” He went on to dispel any rumors that he or anyone else in the County was working for developers.

The meeting continued with Bernalillo Planning and Zoning director Kelly Moe speaking to residents about the Town of Bernalillo’s role in the development of the Placitas area plan. “Bernalillo has a small vision of itself,” he told the crowd. He assured the residents that the town’s participation in the meeting was by invitation and that Bernalillo had no plans to annex the area to the east known as the ETZ. Moe took his position one step further by distributing a handout that reiterated Bernalillo’s involvement with respect to annexation.

The handout was a way for residents to submit their concerns directly to the Town by requesting information about what parcels of land the Town is planning to annex or has already annexed along the I-25 frontage road both north and south of NM 165.

After the discussion on existing conditions in Placitas and planning issues, residents were allowed to give their input on the process and what they felt was important to include in the plan. Orin Safier, president of the Los Ranchos de Placitas Property Owners’ Association, was a voice that stood out of the crowd. He talked about Placitans’ dedication to making the planning process work. He noted, “Residents can work, shop, and dine in Bernalillo,” which is why, in his opinion, Placitas doesn’t need any commercial development. Mr. Safier proposed to the planning and zoning officials the need for a “moratorium on planning, annexation, and rezoning until the area plan is finished.” Gonzales recognized Mr. Safier’s suggestion and agreed the County would research imposing his suggested restrictions. After over an hour of public input, the meeting concluded with information about Part II of the plan schedule, the implementing of plan goals. The next meeting is on Wednesday, September 17 at 6:00 p.m. at El Zócalo in Bernalillo.

For additional information about the planning process, contact Moises Gonzales, County Development Department at 867-7656 or mgonzales@sandovalcounty.com.


 

Forum focuses on wildlife passageways

—TY BELKNAP
On August 16, Las Placitas Association presented a three-hour educational forum on the Placitas role in regional wildlife corridors. The forum was opened by Cirrelda Snider-Bryan, who presented a progress report on the Protect Our Wildlife Corridors mural, which is being installed on the walls of the Placitas Recycling Center (see Arts section, this Signpost). The first two of eight panels were completed in August with the help of over two dozen local artists. The goal is to spread the word about the passageways for wildlife in the mountains of north-central New Mexico.

David van Hulsteyn and Laura Brookins, representing Wild Prairie Partners, explained how their organization is working with a Placitas group called Pathways to secure wildlife corridors from the Sandia foothills through the Galisteo basin and north to the Sangre de Cristos.

Ethnobotanist and storyteller David Wyllie spoke of his relationship with the burrowing owls near his home on the bosque near Tomé, New Mexico.

The Wildlands Project‘s Dave Parsons is the carnivore biologist responsible to a large extent for the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf (Lobo) to the Southwest. He described the eradication of the wolves and the slow progress of efforts to save them from extinction. Parsons said the wolf and other top carnivores including bear and mountain lions are considered “keystone species” that are crucial to a healthy ecosystem. Large carnivores limit the population and ensure the evolution of large herbivores like deer and elk.

He explained how the reintroduction of top predators to Yellowstone and Olympic National Parks has improved the complexity and diversity of plant life and small herbivores. It led to a decrease in the population of midsize predators and an increase in bird life.

Parsons said that, in order to survive, top predators need a lot of space—a minimum of five- to ten-thousand square miles of protected wildlands. They also need corridors to move between the protected lands throughout the continent. The reintroduction of Mexican wolves to seven thousand square miles of the Gila and Apache National Forest was a good start, hampered mostly by the politically-entrenched livestock industry, which opposes the reintroduction. Ninety-five percent of public lands provide open range for cattle.

Initial gains in the wolf population have lost ground since a new management plan was put in place in 2003. Any wolf with three documented cases of cattle predation can be removed. Many wolves have been killed illegally. The Wildlands Project is looking into the purchase of grazing permits as a permanent solution. Parsons said that they are trying to hang on to what’s left of the wolf population through the last months of the Bush administration, hoping for better days ahead.

The next speaker was Dave Foreman, a lifelong environmental author and activist, famed for his wilder days with Earth First! Foreman worked for the Wilderness Society and lobbied for the Sandia Mountain Wilderness designation. He said back then he realized two things: protected areas are necessary to save the wilderness, and a grassroots effort is required to create this protection. “These efforts are more crucial than ever,” he explained, “in this time of major extinctions—the greatest since the dinosaur age came to an end.”

Foreman recently founded the Rewilding Institute, based on a vision of a wildlife corridor on a continental scale. These “wildways” would extend throughout the western spine of North America from Alaska into Mexico. Foreman said that one of the biggest gaps in this corridor was from the Placitas area to the Sangre de Cristos, where the connectivity is threatened by development. He said that we are struggling against major obstacles, and praised the artists who are creating the mural at the recycling center and local environmentalists who are working to protect the corridor.

The final speaker was Kurt Menke, one of the founders of the Safe Passages Coalition, a volunteer organization founded in 2004 to open up Tijeras Canyon to wildlife migration. “I-40 and Route 66 present one of the greatest barriers on the entire continent,” he said. “Recent progress shows that it is possible to overcome such obstacles. Safe Passages has worked with the New Mexico Department of Transportation to study wildlife trails through the canyon and road kill on the highway. They worked together throughout the GRIP highway reconstruction project to include fencing, the clearing of underpasses, cameras, warning systems, and signs.” Menke added that these efforts have significantly reduced road kill and have opened up the wildlife passages.

 

 

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