Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Runoff from heavy rain in Placitas and the Sandia Mountains in July 2006 surged down Las Huertas Creek washing out Camino de las Huertas and exposing pipelines buried under the stream bed.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Pipeline meeting held to discuss hazards

~Bill Diven

Eight years, to the day, after a first stakeholders meeting on pipeline safety in Placitas, a second gathering convened with only one of the original participants present and some significant players absent.

In the intervening years Las Huertas Creek, which drains eastern Placitas and much of the northern Sandia Mountains, flooded numerous times, scouring its channel ever lower and exposing high-pressure pipelines once buried six-feet deep. Three years before the 2009 meeting, a memorable flood washed away the Camino de las Huertas stream crossing and its tall culverts, uncovered as much as one hundred feet of a gas-liquids pipeline and left a boulder resting on top of a carbon dioxide (CO2) line.

Then, two years after the 2009 meeting, Placitas withdrew from a flood-control district that had proposed measures to limit erosion on a two-mile stretch of stream bed where homes on the bluffs overlooked four pipelines.

Minutes of an August 17 las Placitas Association special board meeting show 14 people attending to talk pipeline safety, including state Rep. Jim Smith, Sandoval County Manager Diane Maes, Fire Chief James Maxon, representatives of Senator Tom Udall's staff, and members of the state Pipeline Safety Bureau and Enterprise Products, which owns three of the four pipelines.

“I think you now understand the problem,” LPA board member Dwight Patterson told the Signpost. “Those pipes are in the creek, and there's no flood control.”

Three lines daily carry millions of gallons of fuels and gas liquids at pressures up to 1,650 pounds per square inch (psi), according to an LPA handout from the meeting. The fourth transports CO2, which is not flammable but, at 2,100 psi, could damage neighboring pipe should it rupture.

Beyond the dubious wisdom of planting pipelines in a flood-prone watercourse, starting in the 1970s, Placitas also set back potential remedies by dropping out of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA) in 2011. The authority covering Placitas, Bernalillo, and Algodones had been approved by voters who were later shocked that the property tax increased to twice what had been advertised.

That anger, aggravated by an additional tax hit for new hospitals in Rio Rancho, spilled into the Legislature, which excised Placitas from ESCAFCA, although the community still is paying off its share of the authority's first round of debt.

Regardless of who made various decisions over the years, the risk of a disastrous pipeline breach remains, Patterson said. "Nobody is not guilty… Everything here is bringing us closer to the break."

With ESCAFCA out of the picture, another key player from 2009 also skipped the August meeting: the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Kinder Morgan, operator of the CO2 line, was also present at the first meeting but not the second.

ESCAFCA did take a serious look at Placitas, however, winning a $200,000 federal grant for a 2010 engineering study of seven miles of Las Huertas Creek from where it leaves Cibola National Forest to the Placitas Open Space where the pipelines exit the streambed. A second grant of $50,000 paid for a 2011 engineering report on controlling erosion in flooding portion of the pipeline corridor.

The 2010 report forecasts portions of the streamed dropping six feet by 2030, while the 2011 report with its flood-control recommendations found some pipe under only two feet of earth. The recommendations included four grade-control structures, essentially a series of steps intended to stabilize streambed levels and four locations for armoring bends to protect the banks and maintain the existing channel.

The consultants suggested protecting the banks with riprap—walls of large, loose rock—and warned against structures of wire-caged rock known as gabions dams as too rigid and subject to undercutting. An existing two-hundred-foot gabion dam, which the engineers said should be monitored, six years later has partially rolled over.

Enterprise Products, owner of the Mid-America Pipeline Company (MAPL) gas-liquids lines, and Kinder Morgan have taken steps to protect their pipe. Some trouble spots have been covered with flexible mats of cable-connected concrete blocks, although those have been disturbed by rushing water.

Enterprise staff members participated in both the LPA meeting and the 2009 meeting, organized by the now-defunct Citizens for Pipeline Safety. Rick Rainey, Enterprise vice president for public relations, said the company stresses safety and meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements.

In an email response to questions from the Signpost, Rick wrote: “MAPL’s comprehensive safety and integrity program utilizes a combination of proven technology for pipeline in-line inspections, trained field personnel, and public outreach and education initiatives that help ensure protection of its assets, the public, employees and the environment. The company has worked diligently to address issues before they become a problem and continues to do so. In addition, MAPL coordinates with stakeholders to keep them apprised of activities and communicate any significant developments affecting operations.”

The only person present at both meetings was Bill Patterson, no relation to Dwight, who hosted the 2009 meeting at his home on Las Huertas Creek near where the pipelines leave the streambed. Pipelines run on both sides of his house, and he has witnessed the banks-full power of flash flooding in the creek.

"It's imperative the community be involved in the pipelines," he said. "It's very easy to forget things are under the ground there."

Residents also shouldn't discount the possibility of pipeline operators wanting to run more lines through the Placitas corridor, he added.

Bill Patterson said that while pipelines may be the safest way to transport raw and refined petroleum, failures often happen during excavations, maintenance work, and other human activities. The main Placitas issue, though, is flooding and erosion, which may require reviving something like ESCAFCA, he added. "We're just a bunch of Davids against three or four Goliaths," he said.

LPA unsuccessfully opposed adding the third gas-liquids line built in 2000 and has adopted one of the 2009 recommendations: relocating both the streambed pipes with the addition of a 62-year-old crude-oil line running past the Placitas Community and Senior Center and near Placitas village.

The move would require a new seven-mile corridor, leaving the current route from near Interstate 25 and moving north and east to higher ground, through the Bureau of Land Management Buffalo Tract and across mostly undeveloped private land to reach the east side of the Sandia Mountains.

None of the pipeline companies have signed on to the idea, and Enterprise declined to comment on it.

Beyond moving the pipelines, LPA, at its meeting, said that frequent inspections of the pipelines in the creek, where they cross adjacent arroyos, could help remedy the issue, as would implementing the 2011 recommendations and reestablishing a flood-control authority for Placitas.

Prescribed burns planned in the Valles Caldera

~Kimberly DeVall, Chief of Interpretation and Education, Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera National Preserve will initiate a prescribed burn project on October 25, dependent upon suitable weather and fuel conditions. The prescribed burn will take place within an approximately 2,330-acre project area in the Banco Bonito district of the preserve—north of NM State Road 4 near mile marker 30. The burn operations will be completed within a three-to-ten-day period. Brief traffic delays may occur during this time, but are not expected to cause road closures or disrupt visitor activities elsewhere on the preserve. 

Through the prescribed burn, National Park Service officials hope to decrease the potential for future high-intensity fires by reducing hazardous fuel levels while restoring the beneficial role that fire has played in the ecosystem for thousands of years. The area has been previously thinned and larger materials have been removed from the site. This pretreatment will allow firefighters to safely use low-intensity fire to clean up residual slash and remove seedlings that sprouted since the thinning last occurred.

Because of the location and elevation, smoke from the burn may be visible from all directions coming into the Jemez Mountains area. Smoke can linger for a few days after the burn and can be a nuisance to some people. It may be a health concern for children, pregnant women, senior citizens, and those suffering from allergies, asthma, chemical sensitivities, or other heart or lung diseases. To reduce exposure to smoke, stay indoors as much as possible with windows, doors and vents closed. Avoid or limit physical activities outdoors. Information on health impacts from smoke can be found by calling the New Mexico Department of Health at 1-888-878-8992, or at

For updates on fire activity at Valles Caldera National Preserve, visit

New archaeological report on Jemez Historic Site now available

~Matthew J. Barbour, Regional Manager, Coronado and Jemez Historic Sites, and, President, Archaeological Society of New Mexico

Giusewa: Laurens C. Hammack’s 1965 Excavations for the Visitor Center Water Line at Jemez Historic Site, Sandoval County, New Mexico, by Regge N. Wiseman, was published October 13, 2017, by the Archaeological Society of New Mexico. The report details the excavation of six rooms at Giusewa Pueblo. These rooms were occupied by the Jemez people during the seventeenth century and revealed a plethora of artifacts and features associated with pueblo life under the Franciscan Mission of San Jose.

The publication is available for purchase now at events attended by the Archaeological Society of New Mexico including “Fiesta of Cultures” at Coronado Historic Site on October 21, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for $10. Starting on December 9 at “Light among the Ruins,” the publication will also be available at Jemez Historic Site for a donation of $20. All money raised from purchases at Jemez Historic Site will go to support the ongoing preservation of the Giusewa Pueblo and San Jose de los Jemez Mission. Publication inquires can be directed to Archaeological Society of New Mexico President and Manager of Jemez Historic Site Matthew Barbour at 575-829-3530 or

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