Council discusses Rendija Master Plan

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By Jennifer Garcia

Los Alamos residents looking for recreational space may one day find it in Rendija Canyon.

During Tuesday night’s county council meeting, Community Development Director Rick Bohn gave councilors a presentation regarding the Rendija Canyon Master Plan.

A portion of the canyon containing approximately 884 acres, excluding an area currently known as the Sportsmen’s Club and the Poor Man’s Shooting Range, is scheduled to be transferred from the Department of Energy to the county, possibly in September but no later than 2012.

“Our recommendation is that the land transfer be accepted and that it be used for open space,” Bohn said, pointing out that this is a rare opportunity for the county to control and own a valuable resource.

Though the recommendation has been made to use the area for open space, County Vice Chair Mike Wismer was concerned with wording contained in the master plan. The wording in question relates to the housing that had been planned for development in Rendija Canyon in 1987.

“I would suggest all references to housing and development be taken out,” Wismer said. He went on to say the canyon should be open space for recreational use.

Wismer also had some concerns about the possibility of a wildfire in Rendija Canyon because of the density in that area. He asked Bohn if there was a way to start efforts for clearing the area to reduce the fire hazard risk.

“Can we partner with the DOE to look at mitigation efforts?” he asked.

Bohn pointed out that Open Space Specialist Craig Martin is very concerned about the possibility of a fire starting in Rendija Canyon.

“I don’t know if we can partner with the DOE now,” Bohn said, but suggested that perhaps they need to prioritize their commitments.

Wismer also let it be known that he’s concerned with the safety of Los Alamos residents because the land is adjacent to the Poor Man’s Shooting Range. Currently, there is no supervision at the range and Wismer is worried about what will happen to residents doing recreational activities in the area, if the conditions there remain the same as they are now.

“If that condition remains, there’s a danger to our residents because of shooting, etc. Can we clean up or lock down that area?” he asked.

Bohn said this is quite an issue.

“With ownership comes added responsibility,” he answered. “I’ll have to talk with the county attorney. This will need to be addressed.”

Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro told council the Sportsmen’s Club and the shooting range had been carved out of the agreement because of budgeting problems, citing a price tag of $6 million that would be associated with clean-up of that area.

Councilor Ralph Phelps said he’s also concerned with user safety in that area.

“We need to find a way to manage and control the Poor Man’s Shooting Range to preserve safety for all Los Alamos residents,” he commented. “I’d like to keep the Sportsmen’s Club and all its functions intact.”

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle, who participated in the meeting from California via phone said that he approves of this plan.

“The land has not been utilized to the fullest extent as far as recreation and open space. It will attract tourists,” he said.

Los Alamos Police Department Operations Division Captain Kevin Purtyman was present during Tuesday night’s meeting, as well. Council Chair Michael Wheeler asked Purtyman what sort of resources will be needed to protect and preserve the Rendija Canyon area.

“Legitimate activities will shine light on illegitimate activities,” Purtyman began. He said currently, officers do patrols in the area and they also get noise complaints from the Barranca Mesa area, about parties being held in Rendija Canyon.

“In the 20 years I’ve been a police officer here, I’ve never run into anyone shooting down there,” he said.

He also said that only time will tell what resources will be needed. “It’s kind of early to tell what the demand will be,” he said.

Following further discussion about the plan, Bohn said changes will be made to the draft and a public meeting will be held to discuss the plan.

“Depending on how that meeting goes, we might have a second meeting,” Bohn said. “We’ll also make our rounds to the boards. We’re aiming to be ready at the end of September with this plan.”

A few residents seized the opportunity to speak out about Rendija Canyon.

Judy Opsahl of the New Mexico Orienteers said that she has not seen many upright trees in the canyon, however there are some fallen trees that could pose a fire danger.

“I’m disappointed that the county is not taking over the Poor Man’s Shooting Range and getting the trash out of there,” she said.

David Yeamans told council he came to Los Alamos in 1954 and has since watched natural features, to include trailheads, disappear because of development.

Another resident, Mike Dempsey, said he’s lived in Los Alamos for 16 years.

“If you close the Sportsmen’s Club you’ll get 100 Poor Man’s Shooting Ranges,” he said. “I love the Sportsmen’s Club just the way it is. I don’t want to see it change.”