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At a Village Council teleconference session last month, Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block said the County landfill —which the Village of Corrales started more than 40 years ago— may be nearly full. Corrales started the landfill because Rio Rancho was not yet incorporated as a municipality but Corrales was, and State law mandated that local governments had to provide a sanitary landfill for their citizens. So Village officials made arrangements for Amrep Southwest to dedicate then-remote terrain for the dump under Corrales’ jurisdiction.

Another project the commissioner mentioned was that the U.S. Veterans Administration has proposed buying 200 acres in Sandoval County to establish a second large Veterans Cemetery, since the 78-acre Santa Fe National Cemetery also is running out of room. Earlier this month, Block clarified that he and a fellow commissioner were exploring options for the operation of the landfill in Rio Rancho along Iris Road, investigating whether to turn its operation over to a private contractor, instead of the County directly handling it.

While the landfill is getting crowded, it’s likely to be adequate for the next few years, Block said. A large Sandoval County Solid Waste Regional Center was proposed in 2017 as a solar-powered liquid extraction system, geosynthetic clay and a monitoring probe that would go 30 feet into the earth. That proposed project on a 500-acre remote Rio Rancho site evidently is still undergoing vetting.

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The cemetery project, should it occur, would go in near the Rio Rancho National Guard Armory installation on Northwest Loop off Highway 550. A major obstacle to the establishment of the cemetery is the question of mineral rights beneath the surface. According to Block, the Veterans Administration wishes to buy a parcel of land from the New Mexico State Land Office (SLO) and the parties have agreed on the price and legal description of the site.

“However,” as Block put it, “The SLO, pursuant to State statutes, cannot transfer “mineral estates” to anyone except the Department of the Interior, or any connected agency. The SLO has only worked with the Bureau of Land Management on previous exchanges, except those for tribal transactions when they worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Without those mineral estates in hand, the VA cannot begin the project. Block said the Bureau of Land Management team from New Mexico told the SLO and VA that it could not guarantee the delivery of the mineral estates to the VA within five years, and even mentioned it might be as long as 20 years.
“I have been in contact not only with our lobbyists in Washington, DC, but also our congressional delegation regarding this issue. This is unacceptable, and the VA was not happy about this bureaucratic red tape.”

He said it is “entirely a federal issue, not a County issue,” as Block put it, “This is a huge win-win for Sandoval County, and the City of Rio Rancho if we are selected as the next site to inter our nation’s veterans.”

The Santa Fe National Cemetery was established in 1870, along with many others in the country, designated initially for the burial of Union soldiers post-Civil War. Today the Veterans Administration operates 142 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico.
According to its website, “More than four million Americans, including veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA’s national cemeteries. VA also provides funding to establish, expand, improve and maintain 115 veterans cemeteries in 48 states and territories including tribal trust lands, Guam and Saipan. For veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service.”

Currently, due to social distancing requirements, the Santa Fe cemetery is not able to provide military honors, though burials continue. As for who can be interred in a national cemetery, burial is open to all members of the armed forces and veterans who have met minimum active duty service requirements, as applicable, and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

“Members of the reserve components of the armed forces who die while on active duty or who die while on training duty under certain circumstances are also eligible for burial, as are service members and former service members who were eligible for retired pay at the time of their death. “A veteran’s spouse, widow or widower, minor children, and, under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities, may also be eligible for burial. Eligible spouses and children may be buried even if they predecease the veteran.”

Back when Susana Martinez was governor of New Mexico, she started a veterans cemetery program in 2013 under the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services “to serve as a complement to larger national cemeteries. Her plan called for the construction of four veterans cemeteries over five years,” according to a report in the Santa Fe New Mexican. Her administration selected Gallup, Angel Fire, Fort Stanton and Carlsbad as possible sites. Apparently, three of the four cemeteries have been completed. In the interim Taos, not selected, initiated its own 20-acre Veterans Cemetery, beginning with a ground-breaking ceremony in the summer of 2017.

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