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Up Front

Dixon Apples

Dixon's Apples is located in the lava-rich Rancho de Canada about six miles northwest of Cochiti Lake.

Dixon Apples

Fill your wheelbarrow with crunchy mountain-grown apples and jugs of fresh pressed cider.

Dixon Apples

Dixon's also sells pumpkins and gift items.

It’s crunch time

—Margaret M. Nava
Apples—Adam and Eve ate one, ancient civilizations thought they were gifts from the gods that were guarded by fire-breathing dragons, and there is evidence to prove that the delectable orbs were eaten and preserved by slicing and sun drying as early the Stone Age. By the late 300s B.C., the Greeks were growing several different varieties of apples. More recently, William Tell shot an apple off his son’s head in the 14th century, and Isaac Newton thought up the Universal Law of Gravitation in the 1600s when an apple fell from the tree he was sitting under and hit him in the head. McIntosh transplanted some apple trees in 1796; “Johnny” Chapman distributed apple seeds to early settlers in the 1800s; Kokopelli may have carried apples in his satchel; and Steve Jobs created the Apple computer. Some people give apples to teachers, other people bob for them at Halloween. There are apple polishers and the apple of someone’s eye. It seems people have been fascinated with apples for as far back as anyone can remember. And why not? They are healthy, versatile, and above all, downright mouthwatering... especially those that come from Dixon’s Apples in Peña Blanca.

Just about everyone who lives in Sandoval County knows about Dixon’s Apples—that 50+ acre apple farm located in the 6,200 foot-high, lava-rich Rancho de Cañada, about six miles northwest of Cochiti Lake. Every September when leaves start changing color and the aroma of roasting chiles fills the air, hordes of apple lovers rush to this high desert location for their fair share of the apples grown here. However, unbeknownst to many is the fact that these coveted apples are grown—and sold—nowhere else in the world.

Back in 1944 when Fred and Faye Dixon drove their 1938 Plymouth onto the grounds of a failed dude ranch, they knew they had discovered a very special place. The house was run down, there was no telephone service, the children would have to be homeschooled, and what few apples grew there were wormy. Nevertheless, with the help of their children and neighbors, they cleared the sagebrush and basalt rocks covering the farm, dredged the spring-fed creek, dug acequias, and, literally, set down roots. Over the years, they battled drought, hail, frosts and freezing temperatures, deer, gophers, elk, even a bear or two, but they never gave up.

Although he also cultivated Red Delicious and Red Rome apples, Fred’s favorites were the Champagne™ and Sparkling Burgundy™ apples he developed and patented. Believing that the secret to growing good apples was to provide good irrigation, to keep the trees trimmed to no taller than a ten-foot ladder, and to leave the apples on the trees until they became “dessert quality… instead of pushing junk fruit on the public,” he nurtured the apples and built his business. Rather than being hybrids, Fred’s apples were, and still are, local wild varieties that prefer the volcanic ash soil, warm days, and cold nights of the Jemez Mountains.

After Faye passed away in 1985, Fred’s granddaughter Becky called, saying she was moving to New Mexico and wanted to “learn all about the apple business.” Never expecting she would last more than five or six weeks, Fred was amazed when Becky dug her heels in, got to work, and learned everything there was to learn. At one point, Fred actually bet several university professors $10,000 that his granddaughter knew more about raising apples than any grower or professor. He won the bet, of course.

In 1992, Becky met Jim Mullane, a student at New Mexico State University. A year later, she and Jim were married, and in 1996, Fred turned the farm over to them. Since then, the Mullanes have had three children (also homeschooled) and ran the farm with Fred’s supervision until he passed away in 2009.

Like any other business, Dixon’s Apples has seen good years and bad. According to Becky, “The past few years have been extremely challenging due to the extended drought. As the water of the creek dried up, so did the size of our harvests. But with the addition of our new micro-irrigation system, two wells, and many prayers, the farm is back on track, and the 2010 crop is looking good.”

Sometime in the next week or two (watch the Web site for the exact date), apples, cider, fritters, pumpkins, and T-shirts will once again go on sale at Dixon’s Apples. Although the farm is open only a week or two (or until the last apple is sold), people from all over the county and state will crowd the narrow dirt road leading to the farm, fill wheelbarrows with bags of crunchy, mountain grown apples and jugs of fresh pressed cider, snack on freshly-made fritters, and leave with treasures that cannot be bought anywhere else in the world… including local stores.

Dixon’s Apples does not ship out of state, but they DO invite everyone to come up to the farm… if only for a visit. For directions, information, and some mouthwatering recipes, log on to www.dixonapples.com, or call the Dixon Apple Hotline at (505) 465-2976. Also, make sure you ask about the hayrides: There’s the Apple Blossom Hayride in the spring, the Chuckwagon Hayrides in the fall, and the Cabin Orchard Hayrides over the winter holidays. Complete with a roaring bonfire, hot cider, popcorn, s’mores, and a tour of a turn-of-the-century log cabin, this two-hour holiday journey is an experience that will last a lifetime.


Proposal for local gravel plant tabled upon further review

—LA Williams

It was standing room only at the August 26, Planning and Zoning Commission meeting as Placitas and Bernalillo residents vehemently opposed the request from Fisher Sand & Gravel to temporarily use property on the southeast section of I-25 and Highway 165. The permit would have allowed for Fisher to set up a portable asphalt plant and sand and gravel screening operation.

The request for a Temporary Use permit would allow Fisher a period of not more than 24 months to operate on the site, producing materials for the NMDOT improvements to the I-25 and Highway 165 interchange.

Out of the gate at the marathon meeting, the agents representing Fisher were put on their toes as local residents peppered them with questions and concerns that they were obviously unprepared to answer. If that wasn’t enough, P&Z Senior Planner, Brad Stebleton, stated that it “looks like there is screening activity already going on although no permit has currently been given.” (Currently, the only permit given to Fisher is a grading permit.)

Throughout the nearly three-hour period residents voiced concerns of pollution, noise, property values, county and state permit application processes, survey and site requirements, quality of life issues, dust control, Fisher’s past business practices and project fines, odor and water contamination, to name just a few.

“We’ve all driven behind a roofing truck,” said Commissioner, Bob Cote, addressing the Fisher representatives, “this is why these people are here, they don’t want to smell it [and] they’re worried about their health.”

Following the barrage of multiple unresolved questions, the Commission felt it was justifiable to table the motion until the next P&Z Meeting on September 23, based on the lack of viable information and answers the representatives of Fisher were able to provide at the current time.

County Commission Vice Chairman, Todd Hathorne, who retracted an earlier motion to deny the application made clear the overriding concern when stating, “if this ends up on tribal land we’ll have no control.”


New board member shakes up ESCAFCA

—Orin Safier and Ty Belknap

Eastern Sandoval County Flood Control Authority Board of Directors welcomed new member Bob Gorrell on July 29, 2010. Gorrell was appointed by Governor Richardson to fill the seat vacated by Dan Dennison.

Bob Gorrell is the founding director of New Mexico’s Public School Facility Authority (PSFA), responsible for capital and oversight assistance to school districts throughout the state. PSFA’s duties include school building standards, long range planning, funding allocations, design development, construction and maintenance. Since 2001, PSFA has managed over three billion dollars of school capital improvement and funded over 1.4 billion of those costs. PSFA currently has a staff of 46, and currently manages an annual project turnover of about $400 million. Gorrell also serves as a Board member to Quality New Mexico and on the American Arbitration Association’s national panel as an arbitrator and mediator. He is a Graduate of Carlsbad High School, University of New Mexico, and the Anderson School of Business. He lives in Placitas.

Executive Engineer Larry Blair had previously proposed a 2011 Operating Budget of $351,300. Gorrell wasted no time in suggesting, with board Chairman Sal Reyes’ endorsement, that the operating budget be trimmed. Gorrell stated that the proposed salaries for contractors were too high and that ESCAFCA does not need an engineer as executive administrator, but instead could use a trained administrator able to work with engineers, agencies, and other parties.

After extensive work from the board members, the budget was trimmed from approximately $351,000 to $251,000. This has lowered the mil levy for operating expenses to approximately 0.66 percent, while it was 1.00 last year.

Executive Engineer Blair stated that the board had chosen to base the budget on making property taxes lower, rather than on what the needs are for ESCAFCA to fulfill its mission and execute its identified projects. Furthermore, he said that the next time the budget comes up for consideration, the ESCAFCA board should instruct the executive engineer whether the budget should be driven by the attempt to meet a mil levy figure, or by operational needs.

Gorrell stated that it should be driven by the promise made to voters when ESCAFCA was established, by the County spokesperson, that the cost to taxpayers would be as little as 0.5 mil. This figure has been vastly exceeded by the 3.5 mil that taxpayers have had to pay for combined operating expenses and bond payment. By comparison, in 2010, Albuquerque property owners paid 0.84 mil for its flood control and property owners in the Rio Rancho area paid 1.63 mil.

The cost to taxpayers in the Bernalillo/Placitas/Algodones area was misrepresented prior to the November 2008 election when the ESCAFCA tax levy was narrowly approved by voters. ESCAFCA publicized a tax levy of $67 per $100,000 appraised value, but the tax that appeared on 2009 property tax bills was $115 per $100,000. Some taxpayers were shocked when the tax bills were mailed in November 2009, not only because of the discrepancy, but also because there was no mention at all of costs on the question as it appeared on the ballot.

At the next meeting on August 8, 2010, Gorrell reported that he had read over the draft Drainage Policy (posted on the ESCAFCA web site) and found it unrealistic for the region covered by ESCAFCA. The draft was essentially taken from Albuquerque’s drainage policy (with some references to Albuquerque unedited), yet Albuquerque has a type of development and population numbers that are clearly very different from the combination of rural areas and town areas of the ESCAFCA region. He proposed that a task force, made up of members of the ESCAFCA board and community members, be formed to produce a drainage policy from scratch. 

Reyes asked Gorrell to form this task force, and to keep it small.

Remapping of Placitas for redrawing FEMA maps has been claimed as one of ESCAFCA’s greatest successes. Though mapping is necessary for ESCAFCA’s main work, Gorrell questioned whether the FEMA revision—which is not designed to directly limit flooding, but rather to help lower insurance premiums for residents—is something that ESCAFCA is authorized to do. He said that nothing in the legislation creating ESCAFCA gives that authorization, and that approximately $150,000 spent on this could be spent on other projects for which ESCAFCA is authorized.

Other board members argued that it is proper for ESCAFCA to be involved in providing this service to the community. Board member Jack Torres argued that work towards FEMA remapping has already been done for Placitas, and it would be unjust if similar work were not done for Bernalillo. He said that the new FEMA map for Bernalillo in 2008 added about five hundred homes to the flood plain, and has led to an “exponential” increase in insurance rates for the affected owners.

Gorrell moved that this work with FEMA not be performed by ESCAFCA, that instead ESCAFCA make its maps available to the public for it to work with FEMA. Legal counsel advised that due to Open Meetings Act, this would need to be an agenda item for another meeting. Gorrell will draft wording for a motion and forward it to counsel.

Gorrell proposed a Project Status Report Form which ESCAFCA would use to follow the progress on projects, so as to make clear to everyone where projects stand. Reyes asked the executive engineer to incorporate the items on this form into its present reporting.

Gorrell also introduced a method for calculating needs analysis for projects, a type of cost/benefit analysis, so as to determine whether the benefits versus the cost to the community is sufficient to justify moving forward on various identified projects. This method involves benefits, availability of funding sources, and projected expenses. No such study has yet been done. With such a study, the public would be well informed of the justification for projects that ESCAFCA pursues.

Blair voiced concern that present projects would be delayed or halted, and warned of “paralysis with analysis.”

However, the economic situation has changed considerably since ESCAFCA began its planning work. None of the relevant governmental agencies, such as the County, the Town of Bernalillo, and Sandia Pueblo, have committed any funds to these projects. Also, property tax assessments might well decrease in coming years, meaning less tax money for ESCAFCA operations. The board will need to re-evaluate all the projects, and not pour money into planning for projects that may not be practical in the foreseeable future.

During public comments on July 29, a question was raised about the “Priority Projects Cost/Benefit Analysis” that appears on the ESCAFCA web site, regarding the high cost for an item called “Bernalillo Athena Pond” for which the estimate for a planning study is $26 million, and that for construction is $450 million. Blair answered that the figures are wrong, saying the cost is closer to $26,000 and $450,000. This example calls into question the accuracy of other ESCAFCA budgetary estimates.

Tax rates for 2011 that will be recommended to the state Department of Finance and Administration are approximately 0.66 percent for operating expenses (compared to 1.0 in 2010), and 2.44 percent for debt services (about the same as 2010). Gorrell joined the unanimous vote to approve these rates—with the understanding that the public would be presented with clear cost/benefit justifications for ESCAFCA projects.

On August 2, Griffin and Associates, the public relations firm serving ESCAFCA, announced that the ESCAFCA board of directors “took a bold move and dramatically trimmed its budget to lower the tax bite to its constituents. The Board unanimously voted to cut the operating budget by 22 percent, which will lower constituent’s mil levy by the same percentage.”

But isn’t a reduction from $351,000 to $251,000 closer to 29%?

Furthermore, according to statements made at the meeting, this will lower the mil levy by 34 percent. This kind of discrepancy is typical of bogus numbers that have confused ESCAFCA funding issues since its inception.

The press release continues, “We are very sensitive to the state of the economy and the impact on the people we serve,” said Sal Reyes, ESCAFCA Chair of the Board. “We cut the budget so that we’re operating with a bare bones budget, without sacrificing the quality of the service we provide. Hopefully these cuts will help our constituents during the economic crisis we’re all facing.”

Election for two board seats is scheduled for November, 2010. Candidates are incumbent Debbie Kilfoy of Bernalillo, and JoAnn English, Doris Faust, and newly incumbent Bob Gorrell of Placitas. Voters can vote for two candidates. Board members not up for re-election this year are Sal Reyes (Algodones), Wayne Sandoval (Placitas), and Jack Torres (Bernalillo).

Concerned citizens have organized a candidates forum for the ESCAFCA Board seats. It will be held on Thursday, September 30, at 7:00 p.m. at the Placitas Community Center, 41 Camino de las Huertas, Placitas.


Sandoval County Line

—Orlando J. Lucero, Chairman

In 2009, at the request of Federal District Judges Johnson and Vasquez, Sandoval County met with representatives of AMI/Kids, a national, 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a promising future to troubled youth. The federal judges’ goal in having us meet with AMI/Kids was to locate a program in our area to serve nonviolent adjudicated youth sentenced by the federal court. A majority of these youth are Native American, and since a there is no program in New Mexico where the court can send these youth, they are generally sent to South Dakota, a distant location which often prevents contact with their families. AMI/Kids operates over 50 residential programs throughout the United States.

Following the meeting with AMI/Kids, the county attempted to find an existing facility that would meet their needs. However, after looking at several sites, AMI/Kids asked the county to consider locating the program at the Sandoval County Fairgrounds in Cuba, New Mexico. County staff reviewed the AMI/Kids program, financial statements, and operational manual. AMI/Kids’ mission is to protect the public safety of and to positively impact as many youth as possible through the efforts of a diverse and innovative staff. The United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, had issued a request for proposals to locate a nonsecure residential juvenile male services program in New Mexico. AMI/Kids responded to and was awarded the contract in May 2010, with the program to be located in Cuba. Operations are scheduled to begin in early 2011.

The county is working with AMI/Kids for many reasons. First, because the county fairgrounds master plan called for a similar facility on the grounds, and we determined that the residential facility is compatible with the county fair program. Another reason is the positive economic stimulus this program will have on Cuba, Jemez and Zia Pueblos, and the surrounding area. Several community public meetings were held in Cuba to inform the community of the residential program objectives, of AMI/Kids’ commitment to hire local staff and to purchase goods and services from the area. Being a 24-hour, 365-day per year operation housing 32 young men, there will be job opportunities for administrators, teachers, security staff, counselors, cooks, accountants and other support staff. The day ratio of staff to kids is one to eight and at night one to 16. AMI/Kids is required to establish a governance committee that will be composed of local area people. The program will work closely with pueblos, chapter houses, towns, and villages in the area. The young men will also work with the county fair, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service to improve the grounds, trails, and camping areas. All this occurs under supervision; no youth is ever out of sight and always within touch range, based on AMI/Kids policy.

The county is looking forward to a long-term relationship with AMI/Kids. A majority of their programs have been operating for close to 40 years. The residential program provides intensive guidance and round-the-clock staff, secure supervision, attention, and care. The average length of stay is six months, although some students stay up to one year. This is a win-win for the youth, their families, the community, and the county.

     

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