Sandoval Signpost

 

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Photo credit: Bill Diven
Larry Blair of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority meets with Algodones residents after serious flooding in their community.

Algodones flooding

—Bill Diven

When July thunderstorms twice sent runoff rampaging through Algodones, residents joined forces to do what they could for their neighbors. Now, the question is whether they can do the same to press for the flood control that they say is long overdue.

“You see the water coming. What do you do? Where do I put the animals? It’s scary,” Martha Romero, a resident of Las Colonias Road, told the Signpost.

The first storm boiled up on July 23, dropping a reported one inch of rain in under an hour, east of Interstate 25. Runoff charging through freeway culverts took dead aim on the community first ponding against the crescent-shaped Algodones Ditch, bordering the community’s east side. Water quickly topped the acequia’s east bank, filling the irrigation ditch with water, then silt, and then spilling west into fields and residential property.

Six days later it happened again.

“The first was bad, and that hit everybody. There was water everywhere,” Romero continued. “The second one we had some protection—the sandbags—and we called the fire department right away. The neighbors helped each other. We all pitched in.”

Romero was luckier than some of her neighbors. The muddy water didn’t enter her home, although it did destroy her garden and the floor and some contents of her pump house. Others reported two feet of standing water, landscaping washed away, and having to pay to have septic tanks pumped out twice.

Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon, first to wade into the scene on July 23, said water flooded about seven houses and an auxiliary building at the Algodones fire station.

The Sandoval County Commission approved a disaster declaration for the Algodones area on August 1, and on August 6 Gov. Susana Martinez, citing flood damage in numerous counties, formally declared a statewide emergency. The declaration made $750,000 dollars available and directed the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to coordinate requests for assistances.

However, the money can only be spent on public infrastructure and resources, not private homes and land. At an Algodones community meeting, punctuated by raised voices on August 6, residents were not surprised when an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies said there was little they could do in the short term to protect the town other than offering training in how to use sandbags.

“You cannot sandbag your way out of trouble,” Jeffrey Daniels of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Albuquerque District told the fifty or so residents. He and others advised organizing to work first with local officials and then up the government food chain toward real flood control.

Simply developing a plan could take three to five years, Daniels said.

Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District Board Chairman Derrick Lente said that while his agency is now responsible for the acequia, it was formerly a community ditch. That leaves his agency with no extra right-of-way to widen and strengthen it, the Sandia Pueblo resident said.

Others pointed to the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority, which has studied flood issues in Algodones but so far has focused most of its spending on Bernalillo. A 2010 report found a combination of holding ponds and a way to convey water to the Rio Grande currently is estimated to cost five to seven million, said Larry Blair, ESCAFCA’s executive engineer.

The authority has about three million dollars in the bank already committed to other projects. They are planning to ask November voters to approve a bond issue raising about two million dollars. Their list of current needs totals thirty million dollars.

“We cannot get these done with our current bonding capacity,” Blair said. “We need help from somebody else, whether it’s the state or the feds.”

A 2008 ESCAFCA report attributed much of Algodones’ trouble to its location on relatively flat land where development over time blocked historic drainage paths. The community benefits from there being little development between the Algodones Ditch and I-25, allowing space for a major diversion channel, the report added.

Some residents criticized the New Mexico Department of Transportation saying the three sets of culverts under I-25 “shotgun” water toward the community. Others questioned whether upstream gravel mining is adding extra silt to runoff.

“Something has changed,” one farmer who grew up in Algodones told the Signpost after the meeting.  “We’ve had floods in the past but not like this.”

County Commissioner Orlando Lucero, who organized the community meeting, said he’s been in touch with numerous agencies and residents since then. All have a role to play, and most said they could help with flood control, although it will take time and a few million dollars, he said.

“If everybody could do a little bit of something…” he told the Signpost.

Lucero also said he toured upstream property east of I-25 with owner Al Baca and was surprised to learn Baca sold land for a retention pond to the developer of the Terra at Algodones subdivision. The pond was never built, and Lucero said research into that possibility is underway although complicated by a bank having taken over the developer’s land.

A 2008 news account touting the subdivision mentions that the developers set aside two acres “to create a small wildlife refuge with a watering pond.”

During the community meeting Baca was asked if he would donate land to ESCAFCA for flood control as some Bernalillo businesses have offered there. Baca told the crowd he was open to selling or exchanging land to to help with flood control.

Late in August, Romero said she was helping to set up a seven-member committee to work on the issues within Algodones and press for outside aid. At last report, she and two others were looking for four more volunteers.

Additionally, some neighbors of the Algodones Ditch granted easements to the MRGCD to help make improvements to the irrigation facilities. That, however, doesn’t qualify as flood control.

“We can’t come in and build a flood-control arroyo; that’s not what we do,” district spokesman Tom Thorpe said. “That’s up to ESCAFCA and the county. We’re victims, too. We had to go back in there and rebuild it twice in a week.”


Art gallery event to benefit Placitas Fire Brigade

The second annual benefit for the Placitas Fire Brigade, sponsored by Arte de Placitas gallery, is around the corner. Twenty well-known local artists have donated 12”x12” art (paintings, glass, pottery, wood, etc.) for silent auction. Bidding will begin on September 6 in the gallery and will continue until 3:00 p.m. on September 13. A trip to the gallery anytime during the week will put you on the bidding list, with bids accepted until exactly 3:00 p.m. The winners will be announced on stage at 3:15 p.m.

A free concert will take place between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. The gallery’s stage will be located immediately in front of the gallery in the Homestead Village parking lot. During the free concert, emergency personnel will pass a firefighter’s boot for donations.

The Placitas Fire Brigade has a thirty-year history and provides 911 services to a 45-square-mile area of Placitas, as well as mutual aid to Bernalillo, Algodones, and other surrounding communities. Responders serve over 1,700 households.

The volunteer firefighters and a truck will be on site by 2:30 p.m. and will provide red reflective house numbers that help the firefighters or ambulance personnel find a specific address day or night. The window “Pet Finders” label will also be available to alert emergency personnel about animals living within.

Bring your children to meet a real firefighter, and to say “Thank you” to the community’s emergency professionals.


Wood Chipper Day returns

Firewise Placitas is pleased to announce a Chipper Day at the Placitas Community Library (453 Hwy 165), sponsored by the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District on September 20, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. 

Consider having a neighborhood Firewise clean up. Prune. Thin. Bring branches and small trees no more than six inches in diameter (ends aligned and facing the same way with no construction waste or barbed wire). Be careful that loads don’t litter the highway or local roads. A donation of $15 dollars per pickup load is suggested.

Wood chips can be kept for landscaping by people bringing wood slash for chipping or left for other residents to pick up with the following caveats: spread chips no deeper than two inches, at least three feet from any structure, and outside any tree drip lines.

You can make a difference by helping make Placitas fire wise. Join us at our monthly gatherings between 10:00 a.m. and noon on Thursdays September 4 and 18 in the Collin Meeting Room at the Library. For more information, contact Vicki Gottlieb at 404-8022, or placitasfirewise@gmail.com.


SC Fire Department taking applications for Citizens Fire Academy

—Sidney Hill

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a firefighter, you can have most of your questions answered by attending the upcoming Sandoval County Citizens Fire Academy.

The Sandoval County Fire Department created this 11-week program as a means of helping county residents understand how fire and emergency medical personnel go about their jobs.

“We hope this program will enhance the public’s awareness of the department’s capabilities, as well as its limitations,” Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon said. “We hope that opening our doors and letting citizens see how—and why—we respond to specific situations in certain ways will promote cooperative relationships between firefighters and the citizens of Sandoval County.”

Chief Maxon also believes the academy will make citizens more aware of the dangers of fire and the benefits of prevention, as well as give them a better idea of how long it takes the department to respond to an emergency.

This knowledge will be gained through a series of 2.5-hour classroom sessions, taking place on Wednesday evenings, starting September 10. There also will be one Saturday session on November 15 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Wednesday sessions are scheduled for 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.

All sessions will be at Sandoval County Fire Station #21 located next to the Santa Ana Star Casino on Tamaya Boulevard.

The following topics will be covered: Sandoval County Fire Department History/Introductions, Community Risk Reduction, Fire Prevention: Inspection/Public Education & Fire, Investigations, Dispatch (911) and Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), SCBA-Search and Rescue, Heavy Rescue/Hazardous Materials, Vehicle Extrication, Fire Extinguisher Training, Hose Evolutions, Simulated Fire Evolutions, and Graduation.

Academy participants must be at least 18 years of age and live in Sandoval County. Applicants must submit to a background check and sign a waiver releasing Sandoval County of all liabilities while participating in the Academy. There is no charge to participants, however, there will be an opportunity to purchase a Citizens Fire Academy t-shirt, hat, and coffee mug.

For additional information, and an application, visit the Sandoval County Fire Department website at sandovalcountynm.gov/fire.


Women in wildland fire boot camp

—Mark M. Chavez

The women in wildland fire boot camp is a two-weekend training session to help participants expand their skill set and increase their marketability in the field of wildland firefighting. Although the training focuses on women in wildland fire, all interested persons are encouraged and invited to attend.

The camp will be on the weekends of September 5 and 6 and September 12 and 14, and will be held at the USFS Southwestern Regional Office in Albuquerque.

The first weekend will offer a comprehensive introduction to wildland fire‐fighting, including required training to meet the Firefighter Type 2 (FFT2) qualifications.

Weekend Two will complete the required training and fieldwork and provide enhancement sessions to help participants how to seek job opportunities in wildland firefighting. Attendance at both weekends is required.

For additional information and the nomination form go online to: fs.usda.gov/main/r3/fire‐aviation.

 
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