Sandoval Signpost
An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Pipeline workers test lines along Las Huertas Creek in Placitas.

Sandoval County District 4 Fire Chief Humberto investigates the scene.

Pipeline watch

—Ty Belknap

On August 12, Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade responded with lights and sirens down Camino de las Huertas (formerly Pipeline Road) to a reported loud pop and flames shooting into the air near a residential neighborhood. When they ended up in my dead-end driveway, my wife pointed out the pipeline valve manifold in the open space about a quarter mile away and explained to them that crews had been flaring gas off and on all week. They checked with the dispatcher and confirmed that advance notice of this operation by the pipeline company had not succeeded in preventing their emergency response. Hopefully, the practice run will continue to be unnecessary.

I had stopped by the manifold operation just the day before after riding my bike in the open space. After identifying myself as Signpost reporter, I was given a tour and a thorough explanation by Maintainance Coordinator, Chuck Lee. The loud pops and flames shooting in the air were a necessary part of replacing thirty-year-old valves and installing a receiving-and-launching trap for the insertion of cleaning pigs and smart pigs. Smart pigs are electronic devices that are periodically run through pipelines to check for dents and corrosion. Cleaning pigs brush and scrape the interior of the pipe and are moved through the pipeline by the flowing product. Gas is flared while bleeding off pressure in the trap.

Lee said that the manifold is an important component in this pipeline system that moves various petroleum products from Wyoming to Houston. This manifold is difficult to work on because it is surrounded by archeological sites, and that the surrounding desert in the open space has to be sprayed down with water prior to flaring the gas.

Lee has been working on these pipelines since 1984 and has watched residential development spring up all along the formerly remote right of ways. ”I used to argue with those developers about putting houses around these pipelines. When you dig around these high pressure lines, they can be real dangerous,” Lee said. “We were here first, but we do everything we can to keep things safe for the people who live out here now.”

There are check valves downstream of the valves at the manifold and emergency shut downs at I-25 and Camino de Rosa Castilla in Placitas. Properly maintained pipelines are the safest way to move petroleum products, but just google “pipeline accidents,” if you want to become justifiably terrified of potential catastrophies. A lot of people live near the thousands of miles of pipeline that crisscross the country. Most of us are reasonably safe.

In recent years, the pipeline companies have covered pipes in the Las Huertas flood plain with a concrete mat system that seems to be working okay. Of course, the system has not been tested by major floods like we saw in 2006.

Lee told me that his company plans to add another sixteen-inch line to the system by 2014. He assured me that it would not go in Las Huertas Creek and would probably bypass Placitas altogether because of the probable public outcry. He said that the number of pipelines through Placitas would not increase and might even decrease.

Las Placitas Association hosts the second program in its 2011 Water Series

—Las Placitas Association

On September 17, at 9:30 a.m., Robin Irwin of Murray Drilling Company (Bernalillo) will talk about maintaining water wells. LPA will present a slide-show, provided courtesy of Peggy S. Johnson, Senior Hydrogeologist, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Tech. It is her study on the hydrogeology and water resources of the Placitas area of north-central New Mexico that provides the scientific framework for the area’s regional water planning.

At 10:30 am, Melanie Sanchez, Environmental Scientist in the New Mexico Environment Department Ground Water Pollution Prevention Section, will present Water Fair: free well water testing. The service is for residents of Placitas and the surrounding area in Sandoval County with private wells, not connected to a public water utility.

How to Collect the Water Sample: use a clean glass or plastic container (at least a quart); do not use containers that have a strong odor, such as pickle jars; let the water run for a couple of minutes before collecting the sample; collect the sample as close to the time of testing as possible; cover the container with a clean lid; collect the sample before any water treatment systems such as reverse osmosis, water softener, or carbon filter.

If available, provide well depth, depth to water, well casing material (i.e., steel, pvc) and distance from well to the nearest septic tank/leachfield system.

Limited analysis will be performed the same day, and you can either pick up results or have them mailed to you. Drinking water will be tested at the water fair for the following parameters: electrical conductivity, nitrate, iron, pH, fluoride, and sulfate.

Contact Cosmos for more information at (505) 217-9384 or

Placitas Recycling Center: the rest of the iceberg

—Robin Brandin

Most Placitas residents are familiar with the Placitas Recycling Center’s Saturday morning operations, when a team of a half-dozen volunteers help them offload their recyclables. But the Saturday collection times are only the tip of the Placitas recycling iceberg. Not many people know what it takes, week after week, to get the center ready for the next Saturday’s influx of materials.

The recycling center is managed and operated by the Placitas Recycling Association (PRA), a nonprofit organization run by eighteen volunteers that comprise its Board of Directors. Each week, one of the Directors supervises the other community volunteers, who make it possible to open the center to the public on Saturday mornings from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. At the end of a typical shift, the trailer holding No.1 plastics is generally full, the newspaper trailer and cardboard truck and trailer fill up about every two weeks. Other trailers fill up more slowly but also need to be emptied at least every month.

The Placitas Recycling Center is not a government service. The PRA not only operates the center on Saturday mornings, it also disposes of the collected materials. Board member volunteers make on average two to three trips to Albuquerque every week to haul trailers of materials to buyers. The plastic has to be baled before it can be taken in. This is not something that can be put off—trailers have to be emptied weekly, or they will not be able to accept materials the following Saturday.

Every Saturday, after the center closes, the supervising Board member takes an inventory of the status of each trailer. This information is passed on to John Richardson, the Yard Coordinator, who schedules other Board members and volunteers to bale plastic and transport materials as necessary to ensure that the trailers have adequate capacity to accommodate the next Saturday’s recycling. Other activities that have to be performed on a regular basis include maintaining and refueling the truck and trailers and keeping the yard itself clean and functional. Richardson estimates that these “invisible” activities require over ten hours per week, on average, on top of the three hours the center is open.

In addition to yard activities, a team of six community volunteers has to be scheduled for each Saturday mornings when the center is open. The PRA has a list of about 150 volunteers and is constantly looking for new volunteers to replace those who leave. At the beginning of each week, Max Pruneda, the PRA’s Volunteer Coordinator, provides a list of volunteers for the coming Saturday to the supervising Board member, who contacts each one to confirm his or her availability. Frequently, unexpected events will interfere with a volunteer’s ability to work on his or her assigned Saturday, and Pruneda has to find a last-minute replacement.

As a self-sustaining organization, the PRA depends on the proceeds from sales of the materials it collects to pay its operating expenses. The Placitas community can assist the PRA to obtain adequate funds. First, and most important, is by helping to avoid contaminants that can reduce the price buyers are willing to pay for the materials. This includes ensuring that plastic items brought to the center are appropriately separated, only include No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, and bottle caps are removed. It also includes separating white and light pastel office paper from other, mixed paper. Inserts that come with a newspaper can be recycled with the newspaper, but other magazines and advertisements need to be recycled as mixed paper. Other guidelines can be obtained at the center or online at

Another way residents can help the Placitas Recycling Center is by using as their search engine or making purchases through its online shopping service, GoodShop. GoodShop provides access to over 2,500 online stores. GoodSearch is powered by Yahoo and donates fifty percent of its revenues to charity. Users can type in “Placitas Recycling Association” as their cause and the PRA will receive a donation.

Residents can also help by volunteering. Volunteers typically work two to three times a year. Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up at the recycling center on Saturday mornings or call Max Pruneda at 877-7745.

The Placitas Recycling Center is located on Highway 165 about a quarter mile east of the I-25 interchange. It accepts cardboard, white and pastel office paper, newspaper, mixed paper, No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, aluminum, polystyrene peanuts, printer ink cartridges, and rechargeable batteries. Collection times are Saturday mornings from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., except posted holidays. For more information, visit the PRA website at





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