Gravel Lawsuit Settlement Agreement Posted

The final agreement is now available ( Part_1Part_2 ).  We were able to effect a couple of changes in the final (changes shown in underlines) that we felt better reflected the term sheet that all parties approved at the earlier negotiation.

As we indicated at Friday night’s meeting, we firmly believe this is the best settlement that can be achieved without taking unacceptable risk and cost of going to trial.  To have this agreement backed by the power of the Courts to compel correction of any breach; all mining completed in 9 years from Thursday (assuming the Commission approves as we expect); and the final reclamation done 9 months later, finally removes the big unknown that has plagued us for many years.

We know we still have work to do to open ongoing lines of communication with Vulcan–and expect that can happen once the litigation is behind us.  Meanwhile, we will be working with the surrounding HOA’s to gain consensus on items that still need to be mitigated (e.g. as this was a lawsuit pertaining only to zoning violations, there are other issues that need such a forum in order to be brought to Vulcan’s attention and mitigated; we need to know if Sundance Mesa residents want the berm, etc).

While Chair Chapman and Vice Chair Heil approved the settlement term sheet, this still must be approved by a majority vote at this Thursday’s Commission meeting.  We (the interveners) plan to be there supporting the approval action, and hope that any who might disagree will contact us so that we can share experience and knowledge gained over the last 4 years that has led us to our conclusion that we need to do this, now.

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ES-CA LPT Shares Settlement Details at Town Meeting

On Friday, July 21, ES-CA held a meeting at the Las Placitas Presbyterian church to discuss the settlement of the County’s lawsuit against Vulcan, Mt. Adams, et al.

The presentation and subsequent Q&A session was handled by Dick Ulmer and Steve Vaughan who are ES-CA members and Land Use Protection Trust (LPT) Board Directors, and were appointed to represent ES-CA in this legal action—and were approved by the court as Interveners representing ES-CA and as individual property owners claiming personal damage due to the alleged zoning violations.

We were pleased to have County Commission Chair Don Chapman (and his wife) join us for the event and share some of his thoughts about the settlement as well as providing insight into the process to appoint a new Commissioner to the recently vacated District 1 seat—an appointment that will be very important to this community.

The audience questions were excellent, and mostly involved clarification of points made during the presentation and the unexpected (by many) impact of the scope of mining in the Northeast area once designated as the “Sundance Mesa Buffer Area.” Most residents of that area, who were aware of the previous agreement made with the then mining operator, Western Mobile—did not understand that the agreement was limited to the term of the original lease and was not binding on the land owner of the property being mined.  It was a private agreement not tied to the land, and the current operator Vulcan is under a new and different lease than the predecessor operators.

The residents to the south, who had a similar surprise several years ago when the adjoining ridgelines came down before mining was completed in all other areas as we had expected to be the case, will get some relief when the mining and reclamation south of the arroyo completes in 6 years, but the most important outcome is that all surrounding residents finally have a date certain for mining to end rather than the unknown that we’ve been experiencing. All mining will be completed in phases over 9 years, and the reclamation of the final areas will be finished 9 months later.

ES-CA and the LPT committed to continuing to work with residents being affected by the mining during this remaining period, and will work with Vulcan and the County to set up lines of communications where specific issues can be addressed and mutually agreeable solutions implemented.

The County Commissioners must formally approve the agreement and are expected to do that as early as the meeting this coming Thursday If it is not approved this Thursday, Chair Chapman indicated that he would call a special session so that this can be approved as soon as possible and the countdown to mining completion officially begun. We plan to post the agreement when we get the final revisions.

Following is a link to the charts used during last night’s presentation. Please contact ES-CA through its website at if you would like more information or are ready to get involved in this important community action activity.  ESCA7-21-17TownMtg(Post)

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Sandoval County Oil and Gas Drilling Ordinance

It is extremely important that folks attend the P&Z and Cty. Comm. meetings, that they speak in opposition of fracking our land and in support of community “partners” ie. The Pueblos, Indian Health Services, Soil & Water Conservation Districts, the Sierra Club, 350 and other EXPERTS who would be able to contribute writing QUALITY oil and gas ordinances.  There are 3 things that need hammered home from EVERYONE who speaks — 1) millions of gallons of water are needed to frack 1 well, these gallons cannot ever be used again due to fracking fluid contamination 2) P&Z and Cty. Comm. staff cannot be trusted to give accurate, complete or pertinent professional advice to commissioners and 3) This issue is like no other and all proponents of fracking do not in anyway have the health, safety and well being of our community in mind.
Rarely are external costs considered for extractive industries and our commissioners are no exception.  Fracked gas transportation infrastructure and road maintenance is on the taxpayer.  All kinds of pollution results in staggering health costs to residents.  Often once externalities reach fever pitch, the oil and gas company declares bankruptcy leaving what can be cleaned up to the taxpayer.  Meanwhile seismic activity increases at a staggering rate.  Property values plummet.  The argument for economic growth and development pails, when short term profit goes out of state and taxpayers are left footing a very expensive bill to remedy.  “All of the above” is over.  In Sandoval County we have an opportunity to become the solar capital of NM USA.  We also have wind and we have a diverse workforce that can rise to a clean energy challenge.  Externalities for renewables we can live with and profit from.
There is no such thing as a pipeline that doesn’t leak.  Fracking wells, vertical, horizontal or a combination of both are essentially an in-ground deep pipeline.  If 1 well, exploratory or injected, leaks into our aquifer, the Albuquerque Basin, then our water source is over.  There is no cleanup.  Fracking is THE most important issue our community will experience in our life time.  We have an opportunity to protect our land, water and people for generations to come.  If we stay home, are silent or complacent, the beautiful community of Placitas will perish…
Pam Neas

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Sandoval County Oil and Gas Drilling Ordinance Update

The Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Commission (P & Z) met on Tuesday, July 11, 2017, to discuss the Oil and Gas Drilling part of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. It has been over one year since the Sandoval County Commission (Commission) requested that P&Z provide an ordinance to regulate oil and gas drilling. The latest draft of the ordinance is available on the County’s website.

The hearing had an overflow attendance with speakers from all areas of the County, the Pueblos, Albuquerque, and State Representative Derrick Lente.

The hearing began with a talk by Chairman Arango. He noted that the two options available to the County were: (1) proceed with crafting an ordinance that would have set regulations to apply to every application, no matter how different each one would be from another; or. (2) have no new ordinance and process each application as a special use where the P&Z, and, ultimately, the Commission would decide approval or denial based on the particulars of that application.

The next presentation was by the Assistant County Council who talked about State and Federal preemption of County ordinances. She noted that Federal and State law pre-empt County law and that the County should not adopt ordinances that either conflict or go further that Federal or State law.

Makita Hill, Assistant Director of the P&Z, made the next presentation. He said that the draft ordinance was in compliance with all State and Federal laws. He noted that State law deals with issues other than zoning and that the County ordinance deals just with zoning issues. Commissioner Maduena said that he was not comfortable with the State’s ability to inspect and enforce the regulations and asked why horizontal drilling is not regulated. Mr. Hill listed all of the State programs that deal with the issues of water quality, air quality, solid waste regulation and others.

The meeting was then opened to the public for comment. As previously noted, commenters came from all over the County and the Tribes and even from Albuquerque. Comments concerned water quality and the monitoring thereof. One person noted that water quality protection is a zoning issue and should be in the ordinance.

Representative Lente asked why there had been no outreach to the Pueblos, Navajo Nation or the towns and cities within the County.

As it stands now, the draft ordinance does not deal with any environmental, health or safety issues. It is just a zoning document. While the State and Federal governments do have regulations in place to protect water quality, air quality, manage disposal of waste and other technical issues, it is not clear that these entities require extensive prior information on how drilling would or could affect these resources and most of the enforcement is left up to the oil and gas companies.

ES-CA continues to insist that the ordinance be broadened to encompass regulations pertaining to environmental, health and safety issues and that the County assume a role in the enforcement of the regulations.

Everyone is encouraged to attend both the P&Z meetings and the Commission meetings and to become involved in this issue.

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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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