Rearview: Fumes flummox town officials and post offices pique suspicions


10 years ago - 'Seco still divided over new post office location'

By Andy Dennison, Feb. 28-March 5, 2008

Getting mail in rural communities can be difficult.

Between no door-to-door service and sometimes limited hours at one-room post offices, people have to go out of their way to pick up bills and birthday cards and check the bulletin board for upcoming water meetings or acequia cleanings.

Efforts by some Arroyo Seco residents in 2008 to make getting the mail easier, by relocating it next to the community center, were sidelined by myriad complications.

As Neal Ogden, an Arroyo Seco resident and board member of the Arroyo Seco-Valdez Neighborhood Association from 2002 to 2007, said in an op-ed to the newspaper, the post office location on the outskirts of the village on State Road 150 "presents a problem for postal patrons because of its location between two blind curves and the lack of sidewalks, paved or otherwise, to the site."

The location wasn't the only issue. The Valdez post office had closed down and an already growing waiting list to get one of the 280 actual Arroyo Seco post office boxes expanded even further.

As a solution, some in the unincorporated but affluent community proposed relocating the post office to the two-acre campus of the Arroyo Seco Community Center, the historic adobe school that for the past several decades has been used for community programs.

"The idea made a lot of sense," Ogden wrote. "It would alleviate the vehicular and pedestrian access problem, move the post office back closer to the village, get people out of their cars within easier reach of village businesses, provided desperately needed funds to operate and maintain the Arroyo Seco Community Center, and generally regain the role of community hub that small town post offices have traditionally played in New Mexico and across America" .... "it was a public building on public land performing a vital public function."

As much merit as that idea may have had, few people seemed to have an appetite for it. At a community meeting held Feb. 20, 2008, about 60 people from Arroyo Seco and neighboring Valdez turned out for a discussion held by the postal service; support for the community center location waned in those hours, adding to the protests already levied against it (including protests by two neighborhood association board members who owned the land on which the post office was located).

Furthermore, the community center campus was owned at the time by Taos Municipal Schools. A two-year negotiation finally ended in the summer of 2008 with Taos County taking charge of the building and deeds.

Even the people who didn't want the post office moved to the community center still wanted the former school to be a hub for the community, with a modern playground, updated facilities and generally more access.

A decade later, the post office is still sandwiched between blind curves. And the community center has experienced some of those improvements in the past year. A longstanding issue with the septic tank forced the county to close the center temporarily, during which time county crews petitioned the state to fix that issue.

25 years ago - 'Gas fumes close town streets'

By Mike Stuffer, March 4, 1993

An unknown source of gas and worries about a potential explosion caused the town of Taos to close part of Paseo del Pueblo Sur for four hours.

During a routine call to investigate a blocked sewer line to Pueblo Alegre Mall (on the western side of the Couse pasture), "a town crewman lifted a manhole cover on Pase del Pueblo Sur and was overwhelmed by some petroleum-type odor," according to Mike Valerio, the town's water resources director.

Town officials said the vapor readings were "way beyond safe, in the danger level."

Because of the issue with "unknown volatile gases in the sewer lines," one of the town wells had to be shut down.

In order to avert a potential explosion, the town crew, along with reinforcements from the state, put dry ice into the system to "displace oxygen with carbon dioxide, thus reducing the possibility of an explosion or fire."

Some gases, such as methane and hydrogen sulfide, are always in sewer lines. But crews were sure the new vapors came from a petroleum-based product. Yet even armed with that knowledge, Taos officials weren't attempting to deal with it on their own.

"Volatile and dangerous levels of gases…are still present in the water table. Taos lacks the technical expertise to identify the source of the contamination and the means by which to correct the health and safety problem," according to a declaration of emergency passed by the town in order to get further financial and technical help from the state.

The road was closed only from 5:30 until 9 p.m. Within a day, the levels of dangerous vapor were back down. The following week, The Taos News reported the cause of the gas fumes were still unknown.

50 years ago - 'One-Third of Postal Boxes Defective, Inspector Reports'

Staff report, Feb. 29, 1968

In other mail-related news from Taos' history, a Santa Fe-based inspector for the U.S. Postal Service declared that a whopping 30 percent of all mailboxes in Taos are "defective, invite further tampering and therefore should be replaced."

Just before Christmas of 1967, thieves stole letters from about 14 post office boxes in the Taos Post office, prompting an investigation. Although those responsible for the initial thefts weren't caught, the investigation revealed a more serious problem with the mail infrastructure of Taos.

Peter Mau, the inspector, realized that "anyone could 'jiggle open' a third of the boxes in the building. He called the situation "very poor" and added -- with a level of honesty enviable by today's standards -- "the Post Office's method of accepting the lowest bid on equipment usually ruled out the possibility of obtaining the more expensive key systems."

Apparently, the Christmastime mail crime was a common one. Mau had investigated five similar occurrences in Taos over the previous five years, and the Taos police "hadn't presented any evidence on which his department could being an investigation."

The biggest handicap to postal investigations, he said, was "a lack of cooperation from community residents who might have knowledge concerning the incident. He said the majority of such cases involved juveniles."

To cut down on more thefts, the post office limited the hours people could get into the building when no employee was on duty. The postmaster at the time was already bracing herself for "some squawks" from the community's most diehard mail fans.

A Denver-based technician was sent from the regional office to take care of the repairs and upgrades.