Placitas Packs the Room at 5/4/2017 Commission Meeting

Written by Dick Ulmer of the ES-CA Land Protection Trust:

At the May 4 Sandoval County Commission, the Commissioners met in closed session to discuss the litigation with Vulcan. A pending settlement agreement has been reached between Vulcan and the County. However, if the Commissioners agree to such a settlement, it will allow an expansion of the area to be mined by removing a key buffer area protecting residents surrounding the mining operation, and further extend the duration of the mining activity. Thanks to all the Placitas residents that attended this meeting.

We expect our County government to fight for us. We expect that County staff will work in the best interests of Sandoval County residents. We do not believe that the proposed settlement is in the best interests of Sandoval County residents. We had a standing-room-only packed commission chambers and several of us delivered our messages during the public comment period so that the Commissioners are informed and we have the proper information on record (the meeting was recorded and can be reviewed on the County website). What we felt to be an acceptable solution is fair and equitable to all parties.

The commissioners were not permitted to comment as it was regarding “pending litigation.” At the end of the session they went into closed session to talk about the case. When they came out they still didn’t have anything to say (although on the video that the chairman said, “no action was taken”—but we do not know what that means to us).

We had expected that one of the terms of the Vulcan proposal would require that the settlement would be filed in 5 days—and we have not seen any notice of that happening. We will continue to fight for a fair settlement and we will post new information as we receive it.

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Mandatory Trash Collection

By George Franzen, Sandoval County is proposing to award a franchise to a single exclusive waste collection company to operate in unincorporated [outside city limits] Sandoval County. This means if you do not want that company to pick up your trash you will be responsible for disposing of the trash yourself. Basically, meaning you will have to take the trash to the landfill yourself. No other person, small operator or entity will be authorized to pick up your waste material. There will be no competition on service or pricing. In addition, a 10% franchise fee will be paid to Sandoval County by the company based on the gross residential collection fee.

Where is Sandoval County in this process? The “request for proposal” [RFP] was authorized in July 2016, issued to all companies in August 2016 and 2 finalists were selected in October 2016. Sandoval County posted on the 19th of January 2017 [which was a Sunday], on their website, dates for 4 public hearing on this subject. The dates were the 23rd, 24th, 25th, and the 26th of January 2017. Due in part to the huge out cry at the 25th of January public hearing in Placitas the county decided to hold another public hearing/work shop sometime in March 2017, the date is still TBD.

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New County Resolution against gravel?

By Dick Ulmer – On Thursday evening, January 12, Placitas showed the new slate of County Commissioners just how strongly we feel about the gravel mines that threaten our property values, our water resources and even the air we breathe. Wearing the bright yellow stickers (thank you, Doug and Pat Sporn for providing those) which literally shouted from the Commission chambers “Stop Placitas Gravel Mining!”—the 70 seats in the room went quickly and even the standing areas were filled. The Commission Chairman wasted no time in acknowledging the Placitas presence, stating “We’ve never had this many attend one of our meetings—and thank you for being here!”

Bob Gorrell, ES-CA President, and Dick Ulmer, LPT Chairman, briefly shared with the Commission the research done in cooperation with Las Placitas Association—showing them the substantial economic benefits of those who had been attracted to our community by its peace and beauty. But then Big Gravel raised its ugly head, expanding without reclamation or concern for the impact on surrounding residents—and now with the potential of yet another “top 5” sized mine with the potential lease/sale of BLM land increasing the gravel sandwich of Placitas neighborhoods. We shared results gathered recently from the particulate monitor installed by NM Air Quality Bureau and on water use comparisons from local water cooperatives—all of which point to the importance of having conforming uses of Placitas lands, and not continued mining activity.

Our purpose with the Commission was twofold:
1) To enlist their continued help in communicating to state and federal officials the inconsistency with County policy as represented by Placitas Plan
2) To impress on them the importance of the Commission providing the resources and need for urgency in winning the current lawsuit filed by the County to enforce zoning terms on landowners and gravel operators arguing that no such oversight exists.
As we told the Commission—our residents need to know that we can “count on the County” in protecting our properties and conforming land uses against those who choose to be non-conforming.
We were encouraged by the attentiveness and questions that followed the presentation. They have agreed that they should look again at the Resolution that was issued by the prior Commission, with the intent passing it again and for the purpose of demonstrating the continued support by this Commission for uses of the BLM land which are consistent with the shared vision of the County and Placitas residents.

As the Commissioners could not publicly comment on the pending litigation, we will closely watch what happens in the courtroom for confirmation that they also understand the significance of our second request. . . and the opportunity for the County to regain its economic potential by restoring the quality of life that brought us to Placitas.

We thank each and every one of you who turned out in order to put a really big exclamation mark at the end of our message!

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Voting Is The Minimum Requirement

By Mike Neas – Periodically some of us find ourselves wondering how to make ourselves heard on a specific issue. More often than not this is with regard to political issues and decisions that can affect our daily lives and the health, safety and general welfare of the public. This reference to “the health, safety and general welfare” of the public is often included within the written content of various statutes and ordinances and is included in our US Constitution and the New Mexico Constitution.

In order to be heard we might need to research certain documents that led to decisions that we want to reference, or make comment on, or question interpretations. This research in itself might cause many of us to throw our hands up and change our minds about speaking out. But research can be very rewarding especially in its educational value. Instead of taking someone else’s opinion as gospel, our own research can lead us to know that others among us have interpreted incorrectly, or are possibly just ignorant of the real facts.

Sometimes we might encounter interpretations of the rules we live by that are arbitrary, or capricious, another term that is important in researching an issue. This happens occasionally with bureaucratic decisions as in planning and zoning decisions. Also sometimes when volunteers are interpreting things like residential restrictive covenants on architectural committees, personal agendas can cloud decisions. A liberal interpretation as opposed to a literal interpretation can often times lead to confusion which might require one to read and reread the document or documents involved in a question.
It is up to us all to protect our rights and even the rights of others when we feel strongly.

We are the “somebody” in; Why doesn’t somebody do something about this? We can’t always leave it up to others to get it done for us. They may need us, or they may be busy elsewhere at the time. And the time is now. We can’t continually procrastinate when there is work to be done. But where do we start? Who do we talk to?

The New Mexico Legislature begins a sixty day session on January 17, 2017. The NM legislature website is loaded with very important information and a visit to the Roundhouse and committee hearings is well worth the free price of admission. And in between hearings see our Capital art collection which is possibly the best collection of taxpayer owned art in New Mexico.  The following list and links are just a beginning resource that can help us get started in participating in our system and making a good government work for us all:

The website can link you to • Bill Finder • Find Your Legislator • Districts • Senate’s Webcast • Interim Committees.  The very important NMSA statutes already in existence which we are expected to live by can be found at

Check out these links and learn more about the legal world that we live with. I will also create an article discussing the important public transparency tools known as the federal Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), the New Mexico Inspection Of Public Records Act (IPRA), and the New Mexico Open Meetings Act.

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How many oil rigs on 6.6 million acres???

By Mike Neas – The New Mexico State Land Commissioner is attempting to transfer 6.6 million acres of federal split estate mineral rights to the New Mexico State Land Office. In this case a split estate is where the federal government owns the subsurface mineral rights and the land owner owns only the surface rights. This should be a wake-up call to all of us!

The State Land Office intends to lease out those split estate mineral rights. Undoubtedly much of it would be leased for oil and gas development. This is not only about fracking on a grand scale and turning the Land of Enchantment into a bona fide Gasland, it’s about land and mineral grabs for our federal lands. I am referring to any attempts to transfer ownership of our federal land and, or mineral rights from the federal government.

This mineral transfer attempt could soon become the business model and lead to others in our state and elsewhere around the west. We know changes are coming that will impact land uses. These changes will impact federal and private land and they are about profits over people. This federal mineral right transfer might be billed as good for economic development, and a cure-all for our educational budget shortfall, but serves only to keep our state hostage to the oil and gas industry, keeping the Land of Enchantment and its citizens in a vulnerable, submissive position.

Very few counties in New Mexico have protective oil and gas ordinances in place. Few Commissioners can agree on the need. In most cases the subsurface rights are the dominant right and most of us don’t own any mineral rights at all. Given that New Mexico is rich in recoverable oil and poor economically, a fracking boom could someday sweep across our state, and we aren’t prepared. This could happen whether Mr. Dunn acquires the 6.6 million acres of split estate mineral rights or not. Many cities in oil rich states must deal with the oil business within city limits, next to homes, churches and schools. Given the incoming administration’s attitude toward regulations on the oil and gas industry and business in general and without strong county oil and gas ordinances, it could be the same in New Mexico.

Oil and gas fracking processes despoil billions of gallons of water in New Mexico, every year. Fracking is dependent on water. Education in New Mexico is critically dependent on oil and gas revenues which are often achieved by fracking. The future of our water here in New Mexico may soon be closely tied to education which is dependent on oil and gas revenues. Environmental concerns and policies may soon be weakened beyond any benefit, or they may soon go away altogether. Dr. Daniel Fine, associate director at New Mexico Tech’s Center for New Mexico Energy Policy and an energy policy analyst for the state of New Mexico says that all of the regulations the industry has confronted as small producers, were created under the umbrella of climate change. “That umbrella has been pulled out, all of that will go away…What we have now is a reversal, and a rollback on all industry regulation.” Fine predicts coal will enjoy a comeback and oil and gas policy will become part of national security. As disconcerting as Dr. Fine’s words are, they may soon be true.

New Mexicans should fight to keep our federal lands federal. This includes federal mineral rights. We must assure that the areas we have already protected within our state stay protected as we intended. We must be involved and participate in the processes which affect us all and the land we live in.  (sources below)

Dr. Fine —

State Land Office News Release –

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P & Z Meeting Summary _Sage Development

By Jacque Moise (ES-CA Watchdog); October 26, 2016; Commissioners present were: Arango, Vester, Clayton, JoAnne Roake (new member), Maduena – not present. Makita Hill, Senior Planner represented staff.

There were three items on the Agenda. Commissioner Arango amended the Agenda so that Item C would be heard before the two items having to do with the Placitas Sage Co-Housing requests. Item C (CU-16-002) involved a 51.3 acre parcel in the La Jara community. This item was approved by the Commissioners.

The hearing commenced at approximately 6:15 p.m. on the two remaining items on the Agenda having to do with the Placitas Sage Co-Housing requests for a zone change and a variance (ZNCH-16-001 and V-16-001). Commissioner Arango noted that this was a continuation of a prior hearing that commenced back in May and/or June. He further noted that all testimony and correspondence from the prior hearing would be included and that anyone who spoke before would be allowed to speak again. It was the goal of the Commissioner to close testimony by 8:00 p.m. and adjourn by 8:30 p.m.

Joyce Thompson, from Sage Co-Housing gave a general history of how this project came into being and a summary of their requests. This was done for the benefit of the new Commissioner(s) and also the general public. She spoke at length about how this project was a model for living for seniors 55 and older.

David VanDriessche was the first to speak in opposition to both items listed on the agenda with regard to the Sage Co-Housing Project. Specifically, he addressed how it does not follow the Placitas Area Plan as adopted in April of 2009 and noted that the West Placitas Community District can only be developed in single family RRA one acre lots. Attached is a copy of Agenda and Mr. VanDriessche’s statement (click to view 26oct2016-pz-agenda_dv-ltr). His position was supported by many of those in the audience in opposition to this project.

A summary of other concerns about the Sage Co-Housing project follows: There was a concern expressed about spot zoning. Specifically, that the worship center as proposed would not justify a zone change. Concern was also expressed about the mixed uses, noting that many homes in this area have galleries and religious and/or spiritual areas. It was noted that a Conditional Use Permit would meet the residential use requirements and avoid this ad hoc spot zoning.

The road was also mentioned as being very dangerous with 3 separate 90 degree angles. Another concern about the road was whether it could handle all the construction traffic as well as the increased traffic to the development once the project was completed. Another person noted that the model on display did not reflect the terrain accurately and that there was a huge arroyo running through the parcel.

Many persons noted that they were in support of the project but the developers chose the wrong location and that there were other locations available in Placitas that were already properly zoned.

There were also many persons in support of the Sage Co-Housing project noting that they believe it would enhance the area and would allow persons over 55 to continue to live in the community they love at a reasonable cost.
However, it was noted by another person in favor of the project, but opposed to its current proposed location, that 52% of the Placitas population is already over 55 and that affordable housing already exists in Placitas.

Joyce Thompson was granted time for rebuttal. She appeared with an attorney for the Placitas Sage Co-Housing project, Christopher Graeser of Graeser & McQueen. Commissioner Arango asked if Sage Co-Housing was pursuing a claim under the federal law having to do with Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 USC2000cc. Mr. Graeser did not commit either way and Commissioner Arango advised that if they were going to pursue that avenue, that they would have to make a new application.

Mr. Graeser did speak briefly stating that he was impressed with the proposed plan and the staff and believes that it is a high quality project that would give persons 55 and older an opportunity to stay in Placitas.

Arango noted that a number of questions would need to be answered before they could make any kind of a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. Those questions, in part, have to do with the following issues:

1. Is a zone change appropriate?
2. Does it threaten the health and safety of the area pursuant to Section 2 of the Ordinance?
3. Is the project properly placed on the lot pursuant to all the standards set forth in the Ordinance?
4. Is this a large project or a mixed use project? (According to Makita Hill, Senior Planner, this project does not qualify as a mixed use project because galleries and community centers are not allowed in Placitas West).
5. Receipt of an opinion from the County roads division regarding the road concerns expressed at this hearing?

Commissioner Arango said the next meeting of the P&Z will be confined to answering these questions before making any kind of recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners.

Next meeting of the P & Z, according to Makita Hill, will be November 30, 2016 at 6:00 p.m.  Meeting adjourned at 8:05 p.m.

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2016 ES-CA Hospital Tax Survey Results

ES-CA sent a survey out to 283 recipients asking if they supported the 2016 Hospital Tax. ES-CA received 105 responses and 60 included comments. Results were that 89 or 87% do not support the tax and 13 or 13% do support (percentages rounded). Summarized comments, the hospital ballot question, and the property tax analysis are as follows:

HOSPITAL TAX COMMENTS IN FAVOR: Hospitals provide needed health services, jobs and tax revenue to the County, and that they support health care facilities that are nearby and convenient.

HOSPITAL TAX COMMENTS OPPOSED: The 2008 tax was to be for eight years only, and used for bricks and mortar to help reduce overcapacity of existing hospitals, and not for supplementing hospital operations costs. Both hospital groups are very profitable and can support themselves including further expansion of facilities and services. Some stated concerns were that the tax would not reduce cost of visits, that administrative salaries and bonuses were outrageous, that the tax question was not smaller, no plan to phase out the tax, and that the tax was not asked as two questions allowing some to support only UNM as a teaching hospital.

2016 HOSPITAL TAX QUESTION: For the purpose of supporting hospitals in Sandoval County, shall Sandoval County. New Mexico impose a tax levy of four and twenty-five hundredths (4.25) mills each year for eight (8) years, on each dollar of net taxable value of property in Sandoval County, to pay to contracting hospitals in accordance with health care facilities contracts?
2016 HOSPITAL TAX ANALYSIS: The single-year tax amount per $100,000 of full assessed (market) value is $33,333 x .00425, or $142 per year, so the 8-year tax would be at least 8 times that amount, or $1,133 (more, if property values rise). The 8-year figure for a house assessed at $300,000 would be at least $3,400.


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Oil and Gas Drilling

Regulating Oil and Gas Operations in the Albuquerque Basin: Slow Down and Get it Right

In response to the SandRidge Energy request to allow oil and gas drilling on 2 acres in Rio Rancho Estates last year, Sandoval County and Rio Rancho are working to enact Oil and Gas Ordinances. The County has published a “bare bones” Draft Ordinance. It has had two public meetings and received many comments from the public and from the Oil and Gas Industry. An updated Draft is proposed to go to the Planning and Zoning Commission next month. That’s too fast. Most participants, including people from the Oil and Gas Industry have urged the County to slow the process down and get it right.

The proposed SandRidge site was on 2 acres in Rio Rancho Estates, part of the 55,000 acres in Sandoval County AMREP leased out for the purpose of exploring for, developing, producing and marketing oil and gas. These 55,000 acres sit atop the Albuquerque Basin Aquifer, the sole source of water for most residents in southern Sandoval County and an important source of water in Bernalillo County.

Although the SandRidge request was withdrawn, there will be future requests to drill, because the financial stakes are high. AMREP was paid approximately $1,000,000 upfront for this oil and gas lease, and will receive 14 percent of the proceeds from produced oil or gas. When the next wells find producible oil or gas, and when the price of oil and gas rises, an oilfield of 1000-2000 wells could spring up in the Rio Rancho area. Such a large well field would have large impacts beyond the Rio Rancho area.

Sandoval County has enlisted the help of New Mexico Tech to provide guidance on the geological and water resource issues of oil and gas drilling. However, the presence of a large oilfield will have impacts on many other issues including but not limited to the effects on:

Air pollution

Water use and pollution



Real estate values

Property taxes.

Law enforcement and fire response resources

County budget

Financial impacts of possible County Liability

Impact of a large number of outside workers coming into the area.

Before Sandoval County proceeds further with ordinance development, the County should undertake an Impact Analysis of Oil and Gas Operations in the Albuquerque Basin. The County needs to be thoroughly educated about the choices that need to be made to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare, the environment and the public pocket book.

This analysis will help in producing a better Oil and Gas Ordinance and a complete Comprehensive Plan (the overall master plan for Sandoval County).  Currently, the words oil or gas are not even mentioned in Sandoval County’s Comprehensive Plan.

During what needs to be a very deliberative process of developing oil and gas ordinances, which requires investing in economic, water and other impact studies, the county needs to pass a moratorium, with a time limit, on any new oil and gas drilling applications

The Sandoval County Oil and Gas Ordinance is being built under the Precautionary Principle which in essence states:  if there is a chance of harm being done either to people or the environment from an activity and there is not enough scientific consensus or research, then policy makers should err on the side of caution and preclude the activity or heavily regulate it.

It makes sense to slowdown and err on the side of caution.

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2016 Hospital Mil Levy Question

By Mike Neas – On the upcoming November Election Ballot is another Hospital Mil Levy Question. Should we continue to support two Sandoval County Hospitals with another $110 million for eight more years? Do these hospitals require a continued infusion of $1.125 million every month for another 96 months?

The hospital lobbyists advertise an incredible return on investment. But the fact is that our return on investment is maximized if we stop these payments now. Our return on the first $110 million will continue for years to come just like a good work truck after all the payments have been made. Who continues to make payments after the thing is paid for?
The maximum return on investment was on the first $110 million and would be severely diluted by continuing to make the payments. In fact if we were to double down we would lose the opportunity to invest in other options like infrastructure and education and/or to simply reduce the taxes we pay.

Since the return on the original hospital investment will continue for years and we have the chance to invest in other needed programs which in turn will also return on investment, what sense is there in to putting all of our tax money in a single option? Vote No on the Hospital Tax Question!

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ES-CA Board Meeting of September 12, 2016


The ES-CA board met on September 12, 2016.  Board members present:  EM; Susan Fullas (SF); Bob Gorrell (BG); Chris Daul (CD); and John McNerney (JM).  Members absent:  Lynn Koch and Jerry Saxton.  A quorum was present.

CD reported that the Signpost printed our article for September.  EM noted that he had received an email from KUPR about coordinating calendars with all of the Placitas organizations.  EM will be attending a meeting on 10/6 to discuss.

JM reported on the status of his communication with the State concerning the pipelines.  He noted that one of Enterprise’s pipelines is intrastate, and, therefore, regulated by the PRC.

Dick Ulmer reported that a court hearing was held on 8/5 to review the judge’s prior ruling permitting LPT to be joined as a party to the County lawsuit against Vulcan.  The judge clarified her ruling to allow LPT to participate in matters only concerning the zoning violations charged by the County.  Dick said that the next step will be the sending of interrogatories to the parties as part of the discovery process.

Dick reported that there is now 3 months’ worth of data from the new NMED air monitoring station.  While the data shows contaminant levels to be within the acceptable range, the numbers are above most of the other air monitoring sites in NM.

BG reported that the County has released a draft of the oil and gas drilling ordinance.  However, he believes that it is too stringent for the County to adopt and that there will be changes made before it is presented to the P&Z.

The Placitas Sage Co-housing application will be discussed at a P&Z meeting in September.

BG reported that Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to introduce legislation in the US House that mirrors the legislation introduced by Senator Heinrich that would prohibit BLM from selling or leasing any land for sand and gravel mining.

The consensus was that the candidates forum was a success and that ES-CA should look to partner with other organizations to co-host the next forum in 2 years.

Upcoming events include the Adopt a Highway Cleanup:  Scheduled for 9/24.  Volunteers are needed.

Membership Appreciation:  Scheduled for 10/16, from 3-5 pm at the Placitas Library.  SF will need volunteers to help.

Next meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 3, beginning at 6:30 pm at the Placitas Fire Station on Rte., 165.  All are welcome to attend.

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