Corrales is in court in a contract dispute with the firm that re-built upper Meadowlark Lane. “I guess I would have to say we are in litigation” over the Village’s refusal to fully pay for work it considers unsatisfactory or incomplete, Village Administrator Ron Curry said July 3.
Attorneys for Blackrock Services LLC filed a civil suit in the Thirteenth Judicial District Court May 13 asking a judge to order Curry to issue a “notice of substantial completion” and, presumably, to be paid for that. Although Curry has been tight-lipped about exactly what remains to be done, or re-done, on the road-building project that began in March 2019, the dispute likely involves stormwater drainage features in and along the roadway.
“What happened was that they filed for a motion for a writ of mandamus to order me to sign a ‘substantial completion’ notice that would allow them to be paid, but I would not sign that ‘substantial completion’ notice because they haven’t conformed with the rules and regulations,” Curry explained.
“The judge ruled in our favor, and said ‘no, this is not a ministerial decision, it is an administrative decision.’ And that we were correct, that the court couldn’t order me to sign a document saying the project is complete.
“So what Blackrock has done is they have gone back to the court and asked for a declaratory judgement saying that we just have to pay them. That’s kind of where we’re at. We would like to sit down and visit with them, but apparently at this point, they’re not interested in that. We’ve made some offers and they’re not responding.
“We continue to look for a way to resolve this, but at this point, that’s not happening.” Curry said that legal tangle has stalled the planned second phase of the Upper Meadowlark Project, construction of bicycle lanes and an equestrian path along the road shoulders.
“We want to get through this before we move into Phase 2 pretty much. And I talked to Councillor Dave Dornburg about Phase 2, and we’re going to go back and start over again. We’ll go back and get public input to see what people want now to start once we get past litigation. Then we’ll start on Phase 2 immediately.”
Curry said gathering public input for the trails portion of the Upper Meadowlark Project would probably have to be done “virtually or some sort of white-board display that we put up some place where people can go by and look at them.”
Curry was skittish about the project when he took over as Village Administrator in July 2019. He expressed concerns almost immediately that if the work was not done correctly, funding arranged for it, primarily through the Mid-Region Council of Governments, would be withdrawn —if that happened, it would drain the Village’s coffers by more than $1 million.
When construction began 15 months ago, it was supposed to take most of the first three months to install a stormwater drainage pipeline along the north side of upper Meadowlark’s road shoulder. The drainage pipe was designed to divert stormwater from the planned medians between the future westbound and eastbound lanes. Those landscaped medians have features beneath to collect run-off, which, after being shunted to the pipeline, would drain to a ponding area along the west side of Loma Larga.
After that drainage pipe is buried between the Corrales-Rio Rancho boundary and Loma Larga, an asphalt bicycle and pedestrian path was to be constructed over it, which would connect Corrales’ bike lanes along Loma Larga to Rio Rancho’s along Meadowlark and to that city’s Thompson Fenceline Trail along the escarpment.
The project has been envisioned —and endlessly discussed— for a decade. It will take advantage of the unusually wide right-or-way along Meadowlark Lane between Loma Larga and the boundary with Rio Rancho.
Until a year ago, that right-of-way on either side of the pavement mostly has been taken up with landscaping as the frontage for each adjacent landowner’s home. First described as a bicycle trail linking Corrales to Rio Rancho more than a decade ago, the project won funding through the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) at that time, but the money was returned because upper Meadowlark residents protested, saying the funds were insufficient to address drainage concerns. At the June 28, 2011 Village Council meeting, councillors voted unanimously to send back $160,000 for proposed trails along upper West Meadowlark Lane.
But just after giving back the $160,000 offered for the Meadowlark bike and pedestrian paths, councillors unanimously resolved to ask MRCOG for a new grant to construct trails along Meadowlark or some other road that could connect to Rio Rancho’s bike paths.
That is the origin of the current project which is now stalled.
The project was amply aired in numerous public meetings for more than five years. In 2013, a planning firm was hired to conduct a charrette to elicit optimal public input. When it became clear that the upper Meadowlark project would actually be constructed, adjacent property owners were asked to remove their landscaping and other items in the Village’s right-of-way to clear the way for construction. After considerable delay, that began to happen about two years ago.
The biggest hang-up in getting the over all project started was getting the N.M. Department of Transportation’s concurrence with design changes to the westerly end of the proposed bicycle and pedestrian trail. The department had withheld approval for the earlier design that depended on a waiver from the Americans with Disabilities Act. The original engineering plan was rejected because the slope was too severe (both east-west and north-south) for persons in a wheelchair.
In Judge James Noel’s June 4, 2020 “Final Order Denying Petition and Quashing The Alternative Writ of Mandamus” sought by Blackrock, he sided with the Village of Corrales, stating, “Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, which is only available when there is a clear ministerial duty to be performed by a public official and where there is no other adequate remedy at law; and
“The issue of whether there has been substantial completion of the Meadowlark project does not fall under the category of a ministerial duty on the part of Respondent Curry. Rather, Respondent Curry has discretion in determining whether Petitioner has met the criteria for the issuance of substantial completion; and
“The Court further finds that there are adequate remedies at law available to Petitioner, such as an action in contract, so that mandamus is not an appropriate remedy, and for the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ordered that the Petition for a Writ of Preemptory or Alternative Mandamus is hereby denied, and the Respondent’s motion to quash the Alternative Writ of Mandamus issued by the Court in this case is hereby granted, and the Alternative Writ of Mandamus is quashed.”