Alibi V.20 No.4 • Jan 27-Feb 2, 2011 

Council Watch

A Toxic Mess

The city’s decision to curb the use of Albuquerque Police Department’s cruisers after hours continues to overshadow City Council meetings. At the Wednesday, Jan. 19 meeting, a dozen or so police officers were present again, many wearing “A Berry Bad Mistake” T-shirts.

As of Jan. 1, officers living beyond an 11-mile radius from the Big I have been barred from taking their police vehicles home from work.

APD Lt. Jan Olstad told councilors that even though he did not have to, he stopped using his vehicle off-duty to support the officers under his command who were required to do the same. He said when he used to drive his patrol unit to and from work, he would do patrols and swing by busy school zones to slow drivers. Now, he said, it’s hard to fit all of his cop gear into his private car, and he drives directly to and from work. “When I get there, I am grumpy,” Olstad said.

Police union president Joey Sigala said in an interview with the Alibi that he hopes the Council overturns the policy. If the new rule can't be lifted, Sigala said he'd like to see it changed so that people hired after a certain date abide by it, but officers already on the force are allowed to continue taking their vehicles home.

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Gulton’s Leftovers

From 1956 to 1979, Gulton Industries assembled circuit boards and other electronics at its Tijeras Canyon plant using chemical solvents as part of the process. When the company pulled out, it left behind contaminated groundwater and soil. Council President Don Harris sponsored a memorial asking the state Environment Department to declare the area polluted enough to be considered a Superfund site. If deemed as such, federal dollars would be available to extract the hazardous waste. This would give the city its fourth Superfund site.
This is not the first time the Council has asked for help cleaning up the mess Gulton left behind. In 2000, former City Councilor Michael Brasher introduced a similar memorial asking the company to get rid of the mess. At the Jan. 19 meeting, councilors asked state Environment Department Program Manager Dana Bahar about the extent of pollution at the site and when the cleanup would begin. Bahar said that at 180 parts per billion, the trichloroethene pollution is significant. Federal regulations allow up to five parts per billion. She said if all goes well, cleanup could start within six months, but it will take a long time to complete due to the fractured bedrock underneath the site. In 2002, while working as a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, I wrote about a lawsuit filed by the Carnuel Land Grant against Mark IV and its predecessor, Gulton, that attempted to force the removal of the chemicals leaking into the groundwater. Flash forward. It's been nine years, and the problem still hasn’t been addressed. While there was an attempt by the company to clean the toxic area, it soon went bankrupt and left the problem to the state and feds. Even if the Gulton site is finally dealt with, it may be too late. The fractured and cracked bedrock under the site allows for the pollutants to leach more quickly into the groundwater. And since the chemicals have been spreading through the soil and water for more than three decades, the cleanup could take years, while toxicity continues to grow. Of course, with the new administration in Santa Fe, efforts to dismiss environmental inspectors are underway, and it’s not clear how motivated the state will be to remove toxic waste left behind by companies.
Costly Fire Code

Councilor Isaac Benton sponsored a year extension on an ordinance requiring all restaurants and nightclubs 5,000 square feet and larger to install sprinklers. The requirement stems from a 2003 international fire code change. The city passed the code in 2005 but gave large restaurants and nightclubs four years to comply. In late 2009 another extension was given to businesses. The international fire code does not allow for the grandfathering in of older, larger buildings.
Councilors listened to a couple of business owners who asked for the extension. According to city documents, there are about 15 businesses affected by the updated code. Steve Paternoster, owner of Scalo and two other restaurants said he needs more time to retrofit his Nob Hill eatery. A representative of Dion’s Pizza said his company has two buildings that will have to be retrofit at close to $70,000 each. Councilors seemed conflicted over safety and making business owners cough up big bucks. But they passed the year extension anyway. The 2003 alterations to the international fire code came after a large fire in a Rhode Island nightclub killed 100 people. Over the years, city leaders have been sympathetic to the bigger restaurants and nightclubs burdened by the hefty cost of adding sprinklers. But now it’s time to start bringing these buildings up to code. While the expense is a consideration, the improvements benefit the patrons as well as the owners. Sprinklers give everyone more time to get out if a fire starts and also lessen property damage