A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
La Jicarita Story Updates By Kay Matthews
Ditch crew ranging in age from 71 (in foreground) to 17
Two of the young kids who come out to dig. What would we do without them?
Ralph Martinez cutting the jaras
Mayordomo Fred Montoya
By Kay Matthews
Despite several pending lawsuits and continued controversy, the proposed development of Wolf Creek Village at Wolf Creek Ski Area in southwestern Colorado seems to be moving ahead (see La Jicarita News, May 2006). As reported in the May issue of Colorado Central, Texas developer Billy Joe "Red" McCombs recently held a public meeting in Alamosa to apprise the public of the progress on the development and to announce his pending closing on two ranches in nearby Rio Grande County.
According to the articles in Colorado Central, development of the Village will require "extraordinaryily deep pockets." The proposed Village will consist of approximately 2,200 homes at the base of the ski area, located at 10,300 feet in elevation. There is no nearby energy supply; the plan is to store liquified gas that will be burned to generate electricity. Neither is there nearby airplane access, but there is talk of improving the airport in Del Norte. Furthermore, there is usually more than 400 inches of snow annually that will have to be cleared to provide access.
But apparently McCombs is prepared to pay the price. As the 258th richest American, he is the billionaire founder of Clear Channel Communications who has also made a fortune in oil and gas and real estate development. Citizen groups have filed two lawsuits against the Forest Service decision to approve access from Highway 160 across forest land to the proposed Wolf Creek development, and the Pitcher family, which owns the ski area, have also sued McCombs, apparently after a disagreement over the size of the development. But McCombs has a long history of getting what he wants, and given the depressed economy of the San Juan Mountain counties adjacent to the ski area that are anxious for "a shot in the arm", it looks like he may get his ski area village, no matter what the costs-financial, social, or environmental.
In the October 2005 issue of La Jicarita News we provided an overview and history of the proposed 5,000-acre subdevelopment on the former Cristobal de la Serna Land Grant by the Weimer family, heirs to Taos merchant Alexander Gusdorf. A year and a half later Weimer Properties LLC is still working to gain preliminary approval from Taos County for its 20 to 40 acre ranchettes and preserve that will stretch from Picuris Peak to Llano Quemado.
The family's latest proposal recently hit a snag when El Valle Water and Sanitation District turned down its request to hook into its system. Weimer Properties originally intended to provide individual wells (or combined household wells) and septic systems for the ranchettes. However, because the family owns 40 acres of water rights from Top of the World Farm (TOW), purchased in 2004 from Public Service Land Company of Costilla, family representative Todd Barbee decided to approach El Valle de los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District about transferring those water rights to El Valle so that Weimer Development could become part of its system. According to Barbee, the company would pay for a 50,000 gallon water treatment plant and three and a half miles of sewer main to "jump start" El Valle's system from Llano Quemado spring to the town of Taos Sewage Treatment Plant. In return, El Valle would buy the TOW water rights from Weimer (with a loan it has already secured to acquire water rights and improve its system) and once the development was tied into the water and sewer system Weimer would pay back the cost of the loan through system hook-ups. Weimer had already been negotiating with El Valle to buy the TOW water rights before the company considered using them to develop a community water system.
La Jicarita News tried to contact Taos County Commissioner and El Valle de los Ranchos Water and Sanitation board president Gabriel Romero to find out why El Valle turned down Weimer's proposal, but he never returned our calls. He was quoted in the Taos News, however: "The sentiment in the neighborhoods is against this project. The underlying thought and the feedback I've gotten is anti-Weimer." This sentiment is understandable, considering the long and contentious battle between the Weimer family and the Cristobal de la Serna Land Grant Association over ownership of the former grant. As we reported in the 2005 article, former members of the Association have also acequired private holdings within the grant and have said they intend to develop them. Barbee insists that the "green" development plan for the former grant that Weimer Properties has laid out is the best scenario for this property that he claims was abused and exploited under the control of the Association.
The Weimer Properties 75-year water plan, based on its hydrology report developed from the drilling of test wells, is finished and will soon be released to the public. The company will soon submit its domestic well plan for preliminary plat approval by the county. But Weimer is still considering the feasibility of a community water system, and according to Barbee, the county would allow Weimer to amend its plat permit if the company is able to change to a community system.
In last month's La Jicarita News we discussed Santa Fe Country's application to transfer water to its supplemental wells and the increase in transfers from the Middle Rio Grande to the Buckman Wells and Direct Diversion. Since then, we have reviewed a hydrology report and demographic report on the Pojoaque Basin, which reveals some interesting information with regard to water use and need in the basin.
The rationale for many of the county water transfers is to meet the growing needs of the county and its obligations in the Aamodt settlement. Members of the Pojoaque Basin Water Alliance, who pulled out of the Aamodt settlement negotiations to raise issues they felt were not being addressed, have always been concerned that the water delivery system stipulated in the settlement will open the door to increased growth and development and loss of agricultural land in the basin.
A 2006 report, "Demographic and Economic Profile of the Greater Pojoaque Basin," prepared for the County of Santa Fe, corrects the misconception that the basin is already seeing significant growth and that it needs to be accommodated in the terms of the Aamodt settlement. According to the report, "Valley growth has been slow and stable over the past fifteen years. In recent years, housing growth on tribally owned lands (primarily in Pojoaque Pueblo) has been rising. Growth on privately owned lands is declining." (Tribally owned lands occupy 88% of the 65,000 acres in the Pojoaque Valley.) Basin growth has been much more stable and much less rapid than in the county at large. Between 1990 and 2000, the population grew at an average annual rate of 1.4%, less than a third of the rate of rural Santa Fe County. "Natural" growth (births minus deaths) accounts for this minimal growth, not in-migration, which is "virtually non-existent." In contrast, housing growth on tribal land within Pojoaque Pueblo has increased to an average of 22 units per year during the period of 2000-2005 and is likely to continue through 2010.
The "Evaluation of Water Supply and Demand in the Pojoaque River Basin", prepared by hydrologist James Brinkman with support and review by retired Office of the State Engineer chief hydrologist Francis West, also reveals some useful information. Commissioned by the Pojoaque Basin Water Alliance, the report addresses water rights data, the existing estimates for surface and groundwater budgets ("budgets" is the word often used in these kinds of reports to identify water resources), the uncertainty regarding that information, and the validity of the groundwater modeling used in the Aamodt settlement. The report finds that there is significant data uncertainty regarding surface and groundwater budgets. Two of the most uncertain components of the groundwater budgets are the surface water-groundwater exchange and the mountain snowmelt recharge. According to the report, "These two components are most critical in an understanding of the affects of groundwater pumping on the aquifer storage and on the effects to surface water flows." In the report summary, the author notes that the OSE Report on Domestic Wells in New Mexico states, "It is important to note that it is difficult, if not impossible to identify and quantify domestic well depletions with the existing level and accuracy of stream and monitoring well measurements in New Mexico." The report also notes that county wells outside the Pojoaque River Basin use nine times more water than all the wells located within the basin. As it stands now, consumptive use by non-Pueblo domestic wells accounts for .7 to 2.0 percent of the total water inflow into the basin.
This is interesting information in light of the fact that one of the major components of the Aamodt settlement is the goal of capping individual non-Pueblo wells and having those households become part of the proposed water delivery system. When the settlement proposal was first released, there was a mandatory requirement that non-Pueblo well owners cap their wells and hook up to the water system. However, when the federal government balked at the estimated cost of the delivery system, the settlement parties went back to the negotiating table and decided that the settlement would ask only for voluntary well capping and system hook-ups.
What many opponents to the proposed settlement believe, of course, is that the water delivery system is unnecessary and that the county of Santa Fe should step out of its role as water broker and facilitator of the Aamodt settlement. They would like to see the court acknowledge Judge Mechem's original ruling that the pueblos are entitled to 3,660 afy, and that no water be imported to facilitate growth and development.
Book Review: The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico By Joseph Masco
Reviewed by Kay Matthews
At one point in his book The Nuclear Borderlands author Joseph Masco cites a list of seven groups of people at risk from U.S. nuclear production: 1) Workers in uranium mines and mills and weapons designers; 2) armed forces personnel who participated in atmospheric testing; 3) people living near nuclear weapons sites; 4) human experiment subjects; 5) armed forces personnel who were exposed during the handling and maintenance of weapons for the Department of Defense; 6) residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and 7) the world inhabitants for centuries to come.
This list, of course, includes just about everyone on earth, but the focus of Masco's book is New Mexico, where scientists built the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The book is a ground-breaking ethographic study of how the Manhattan Project has affected the social, environmental, and political lives of the scientists who work at LANL and the Pueblo and Nuevomexicano (Masco's terminology for Indo-Hispano) communities who deal with its presence and legacy on a daily basis.
In his introduction Masco contextualizes the bomb as a national fetish, the "one true sign of 'superpower' status [for the United States] and the ultimate arbiter of 'national security.'" The nuclear economy required to build the bomb has created new concepts of time and space and produced cultural and environmental effects whose consequences we will never even know. Because nuclear weapons are designed "never to be used," they become a "technoaesthetic whose primary importance in the global order is one of appearance. In other words, while it is important for other nation-states to believe the U.S. nuclear arsenal is viable, it need not actually be so to provide a military deterrent."
The "technoaesthetic" concept is revealed in the relationship of the Los Alamos scientists who "self-consciously devote their careers to engineering the bomb so that it will never actually be used as a bomb." Masco leads the reader through the different phases of the nuclear industry at LANL and how that affects the scientists: the development of the first atomic bomb dropped to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945; above-ground testing (1945-1962); underground testing (1962-1992); and finally Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship (SBSS, 1992-2010). As the bomb becomes increasingly abstract, it has become an "increasingly aesthetic-intellectual project."
To the Pueblo communities that surround LANL, the bomb is something quite different, but ironically, according to Masco, "The arrival of the Manhattan Project on the Pajarito Plateau . . . brought together multiple secret societies . . .": U.S. military nuclear science top-secret projects and "Pueblo nations [that] have used secrecy as a way of mediating colonial experience since the seventeenth century . . . ." So while the sovereign pueblos eventually created a government to government relationship with LANL, their silence regarding the Lab "cannot be dismissed as either implicit support or lack of interest."
Masco's chapter dealing with the relationship of the Nuevomexicano community with LANL is subtitled "A Nuclear Maquiladora?" Just as Jake Kosek did in his chapter on LANL in Understories (see La Jicarita News, January 2007), Masco explores the complex and often contradictory relationship between the Lab and Nuevomexicanos as one that posits the question, "Does LANL destroy the past by contaminating the future, or does it enable new kinds of futures by stabilizing the present?" For many Nuevomexicanos LANL has destroyed the land and culture that sustained their communities for hundreds of years. For others it has provided jobs that have enabled people to stay on the land and feed their families. But like the maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexico border that activist Devon Peña describes as "postmodern factories", LANL produces a product that is meant for a global, not local market. Not until the mid-1990s, after employee lay-offs, did norteño groups organize to challenge the hiring and promotion practices by the Lab, just as they were fighting the U.S. Forest Service and environmentalists over access to the forests of northern New Mexico.
Masco goes on to explore the relationship of the Pueblo and Nuevomexicano communities with the antinuclear "environmental" activists in the succeeding chapter, "Backtalking to the National Fetish, The Rise of Antinuclear Activist in Santa Fe." Beginning in the early 1980s activists came together to challenge the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, a permanent nuclear waste facility near Carlsbad, and by the mid-1990s were beginning to focus their attention on the environmental and health effects of LANL after the devastating accident at Chernobyl and the revelations of environmental contamination at Rocky Flats (Colorado) and Hanford (Washington).
According to Masco, however, "[U]nlike Nuevomexicano and Pueblo activists, who maintain complex investments in LANL requiring difficult (and at times impossible) acts of translation between communities, antinuclear NGOs [non-governmental organizations] in Santa Fe are more resolute in their condemnation of the laboratory." They were able to focus on the Lab as the source of pollution and radioactive contamination, as the origin of the bomb, and as the center of the post-Cold War U.S. nuclear project. Scientists at LANL told Masco that they regarded Santa Fe-based antinuclear groups "the single greatest threat to the implementation of LANL's post-Cold War nuclear mission."
As we've been highlighting the last few months in La Jicarita News, that mission is quickly becoming much more than the original Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship, which is supposed to research, largely through computer models, how aging effects on any single component of nuclear weapons might alter safety and performance over decades of storage. Now we're looking at the possibility of increased production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads and consolidating U.S. nuclear projects at LANL.
Masco's book is an important read for all New Mexicans-Pueblo, Indo-Hispano, antinuclear activists, and all the rest of us whose lives are impacted by what he refers to as the nuclear uncanny: the dislocation and anxiety created by an industry that functions in secret, blurs the line between what is real and what is imagined, and profoundly changes the nature of our relationship to our environment.
The "Elevator 6" will be going to trial in Albuquerque on May 18. This is the group of peace activists who staged a sit-in in the elevator of the federal building in Santa Fe after Senator Pete Domenici's staff refused to meet with them last September. They were attempting to get the Senator's signature on the Declaration of Peace, which called for an end to the war in Iraq and the return of American soldiers. Domenici's staff refused to allow all nine activists into the office, and the protesters ended up sitting down in an elevator whose electricity had been turned off and reading aloud the names of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens who had been killed in the war. The group was eventually cited for "failing to conform with signs and directions" and scheduled for trial. Two of the nine activists have accepted a plea bargain, and charges against another, who is 15 years old, were dropped. The remaining six, who include Father John Dear, other Catholic activists, and individual activists, will have their day in court on the 18th. La Jicarita News will continue to follow the story.
Both the proposal for the community cultural center made by Helen LaKelly Hunt and the proposal for the "El Genizaro" lodge made by Seledon and Alice Garcia that were the subject of last month's article "Abiquiu Divisiveness and Discord" were approved by the Rio Arriba County Commission on April 26. La Jicarita News plans to visit both sites and discuss development plans and their potential effects with a cross-section of community members in an upcoming issue.
The Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health approved a petition that could ease the way for hundreds of sick workers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and their survivors to receive compensation and health care, but rejected the majority of a similar petition from Rocky Flats employees. Workers sick from radiation exposure are eligible for compensation and medical coverage under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act. However, the act requires claimants to prove the link between their illness and occupation following detailed guidelines, which are difficult for ailing workers and their survivors to meet. Groups of workers can petition the advisory board to receive automatic compensation without proving how much radiation they were exposed to or the cause of their cancer. These workers are given Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) status. The board granted SEC status to workers at LANL who developed certain cancers after having been employed for at least 250 days in certain technical areas between March of 1943 and December of 1975. The SEC will aid 400 to 600 ailing workers from LANL in receiving up to $150,000 in payments and medical coverage. Survivors are also eligible for the payments.
La Jicarita News will interview a former LANL employee who was denied compensation in an upcoming issue.
Hispanic Homesteaders on the Pajarito Plateau: An Unconstitutional Taking of Property at Los Alamos 1942-1945
Editor's Note: This article is an abridged version of a comprehensive report written by historian Malcolm Ebright.
In the summer of 1942, with the prospect that the war against Germany and Japan would be long and drawn out, a group of physicists under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer began meeting to develop plans for designing and building a nuclear weapon. It soon became clear that a laboratory to house the scientists who would build the bomb needed to be located at a remote site that would be protected from populated areas. Oppenheimer, who was familiar with the Los Alamos area from the pack trips he took there from his summer home near Pecos, New Mexico, was instrumental in picking the Los Alamos area where the Los Alamos Ranch School was located.
The Los Alamos site was not the first to be considered by the Corps of Engineers under the direction of Colonel Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Engineer District, commonly known as the Manhattan Project. He rejected a site near Los Angeles on security grounds, and one near Reno was considered unsuitable because of winter snows. In late October, Groves assigned the task of choosing a site to Major John Dudley of the Manhattan Project staff. Dudley first picked a site near Oak City, Utah, but rejected it when he realized "if we took over this area we would evict several dozen families and we would also take a large amount of farm acreage out of production." While the U.S. government was able to avoid the eviction of farm families in Utah, that is exactly what happened at Los Alamos with the dispossession of Hispanic homesteaders on the Pajarito Plateau without fair compensation for their land.
The Army Corps of Engineers was unaware for the most part of the existence of these homesteads and of the long history of occupation of the Los Alamos area, first by Native Americans and then by Hispanics. Prehistoric Indian ruins dot the Pajarito Plateau surrounding the land taken by the U.S. government for the Manhattan Project. In addition, the Los Alamos Ranch School was just north of a Spanish land grant called the Ramón Vigil grant that dated from 1742. The Ramón Vigil grant was eventually purchased by Ashley Pond, one of the owners of the Ranch School who operated a dude ranch there until the water source dried up in 1917. That same year Pond purchased land north of the Vigil grant where the Los Alamos Ranch School was built and operated continuously from 1917 until 1942.
The first homesteaders on Los Alamos Mesa were said to be Antonio Sánchez in 1885 and Donaciano Gomez in 1899. By the time the government decided to take over the Pajarito Plateau, the area was covered with homesteads operated mostly by Hispanic farmers/ranchers. These homesteaders were paid only a fraction of what the Ranch School was paid for its land. In fact, one of the reasons the Los Alamos site was picked over the competing choices was "ease of acquisition." Of the 54,000 acres to be acquired, only about 8,900 acres were in private hands, and aside from the Ranch School, the Corps of Engineers considered this land to be largely unoccupied grazing land that could be acquired at little expense to the government.
Once the federal government decided to acquire the Los Alamos site, the procedures followed in evicting the homesteaders were often appalling. Many of the homesteaders were not notified that they were evicted from their land until May of 1943. The case of Marcos Gomez, one of the children of homesteader Donaciano Gomez, may have been typical. The Gomez family was at the ranch when two men from the Army Corps of Engineers drove up in a jeep. These men carried rifles and approached the family members, one of whom was in the fields planting. These government representatives told the family they would have to gather the possessions they could carry and leave by the next day. The Gomez family had an extensive homestead operation with three log cabins, a log storeroom, and perimeter fencing. Six family members were living at the ranch where they farmed about 40 acres of the 160 acre homestead raising squash, beans, and alfalfa, among other crops. They also kept about 40 cows and 300 goats, all of which were lost. Marcos Gomez testified in 1998 as follows: "What I remember is that they came and they decimated everything . . . buildings, corrales, and homes. And from there they had us under guard. . . . They took us to where the school is." Other family members recalled that the buildings were bulldozed away and the animals, like those of many of the other homesteaders, were shot by M.P.s.
For the loss of their 160 acre homestead with all the improvements, Donaciano Gomez was awarded $1,300. A check for a little over $1,100 was mailed to Donaciano Gomez at a fictitious address and there is no record that Gomez received it. Donaciano Gomez was never personally notified of the condemnation proceedings or given an opportunity to contest the "appraisal" of his property. His experience was typical of the other homesteaders and is in sharp contrast to the procedure followed by the Corps of Engineers in regard to the Ranch School. Most of the homesteaders lived on their land at least part of the year, and some of them lived on their ranches year round. When they lost their property they lost their means of support from the land that made them virtually self-sufficient. None of the homesteaders were able to reestablish themselves in comparable situations. Instead, many of them were forced to accept low-paying jobs working at the Los Alamos lab.
Condemnation proceedings were commenced on 15 December 1943 (condemnation is the government authorized seizure of private property for public use with constitutionally mandated payment of compensation). Most homesteaders were not personally served with notice of the condemnation proceedings, but instead were mailed a notice (if their address was known) telling them that the War Department was taking immediate possession of their property. Theoretically, the homesteaders then had the opportunity to negotiate the fair market value of their property with government representatives, as did the Ranch School. But, in fact, no such negotiations were carried on with the homesteaders' property in the condemnation proceedings. Instead, a Declaration of Taking was filed in lieu of the condemnation, an amount was deposited in court equal to the estimated value of the homesteaders' property, and title to that property immediately passed to the government. Now the only remaining question was the value of the homesteaders' property. But since the homesteaders, in most cases, were not represented by counsel, and did not even have notice of the proceedings, they were at a distinct disadvantage. And since title to their property and the right of possession had already passed to the government, they would have had very little bargaining leverage if they had known about the appraisal proceedings.
Each tract was described by township, range, section number, and the portion of the section involved. The name and address of the owner was included and a figure described as "estimated compensation" was provided. Often the address of the owner was listed as "address unknown," and in most cases the estimated compensation was quite low in comparison to the amount eventually awarded, and was a tiny fraction of what has been determined to be the actual value of the property. For instance, Enrique Montoya, the owner of a tract containing 62.5 acres with a fair value of $17,500, was offered as estimated compensation the total sum of $425. He was finally awarded $1,250, though he did not enter an appearance in the proceedings. Montoya's address was listed as "address unknown", and he and his wife were given notice only through publication in a local newspaper. Mr. and Mrs. Montoya and their family lived on the land year round and had cleared, planted, and fenced substantial portions of the land. When the Montoya family was evicted from their homestead ranch, they were told by A. J. Connell of the Ranch School that they should accept the amount offered by the government: $425.
In contrast, the government negotiated an award of $335,000 plus interest with the Ranch School officials. These officials submitted financial records to the government and the government made an unusually detailed listing and appraisal of the personal property that would be acquired. By comparison, the total amount of appraised value for all buildings and improvements of the twenty-three homesteaders was about $4,900. The appraisals for the homesteaders' property were about 1/20th of the land values the government had agreed to for the Ranch School, and the homesteaders were not given the opportunity to challenge these values.
According to one expert on the Manhattan Project's land acquisition, "the small landowners held more than two-thirds of the privately owned land . . . but they received less than an eighth of the money." Peter Bacon Hales goes on to explain why the Hispanic homesteaders were treated differently than the owners of the Ranch School. "[The homesteaders] were not people the District took seriously . . . whatever objections these representatives of ancient land claims might have had to the loss of their claims on the mesa, they were inconsequential to the District and the Real Estate Branch. . . . The Anchor Ranch and the Ranch school . . . were judiciously rewarded for giving up their claims. But those who held the oldest title to the region, those whose families had resided on land grants [and patented homesteads] for centuries, were the easiest to uproot. . . . In gathering up the land, timber rights, and the grazing rights of the 'small landowners,' District officials reported 'no special problems were encountered!'"
The Hispanic homesteaders on the Pajarito Plateau were deprived of their property without due process of law and without receiving adequate compensation. Many of the homesteaders received no compensation at all. The estimated value of the homesteader's land was $642,272 at the time of the taking, and $6,679,633 in today's dollars. This figure does not include compensation for the violation of the property owner's constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment, including compensation for the manner in which they were evicted.
The treatment of these Hispanic property owners is a shameful chapter in U.S. history. The facts of their eviction and the government's active misrepresentation of the valuation process and willful failure to notify the homesteaders of the condemnation proceedings reveal a flagrant disregard for the homesteader's rights. This period of U.S. history contained an even more egregious example of constitutional rights abridged in the Japanese-American internment camps. Both actions were considered justified by the government as a wartime necessity. In 1988 Congress finally provided compensation for the survivors and heirs of those Japanese-Americans.
Several of the homesteaders died soon after they were evicted. None of them were able to continue their lives as they had in the past, and in each case a way of life was wiped out. The homesteaders and their heirs can never fully be compensated for their loss.
Post script: Some of the homesteaders on the Pajarito Plateau recently received a belated settlement of their longstanding claims. La Jicarita News will provide the details of the settlement in an upcoming issue.
Copyright 1996-2006 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.