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By T.S. Last | Albuqueruqe Journal
September 1, 2019

SANTA FE, N.M. — A public hearing on an ordinance to amend county’s Land Use Development Code wasn’t supposed to be about the prospect of a new mining operation north of Pecos.

But nearly all of the 18 people who spoke during the hearing at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting referenced the proposed project by Comexico LLC, a subsidiary of an Australian firm that has filed an application to conduct mineral exploration in the Santa Fe National Forest near Tererro on the eastern edge of Santa Fe County.

County officials made clear that the amendments to the ordinance covering hardrock mining weren’t specific to the Comexico project.

Yet, residents of the area, geologists, attorneys and representatives of such groups as the Upper Pecos Watershed, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and New Mexico Acequia Association all expressed opposition to renewed mining near Tererro at the former site of a mining operation dating back to the 1930s. The old mine wasn’t cleaned up and resulted in an environmental disaster decades later.

The first speaker, Carlos Valdez, who said he lives in the upper Pecos valley, recalled how runoff from a heavy snow melt in 1991 sent toxic metals into the Pecos River, killing nearly 10,000 rainbow trout at a state hatchery and resulting in $28 million worth of reclamation work.

“We don’t want that happening all over again,” he said.

Joseph Simpson, whose family began homesteading in Tererro in the 1800s, remembered fish dying, too, along with trees along the riverbank.

He said companies shouldn’t have the right to take minerals from the national forest.

“This is our land. This is the people’s land,” he said.

Other speakers raised concerns about the impact mining would have on water quality, wildlife and tourism in an area that has become a popular destination for campers, hikers, anglers and summer homes.

Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation who ran as a Democrat for state land commissioner last year and once worked as a fishing guide on the Pecos River, said regulating hardrock mining was no small thing. He said there were thousands of mining claims in New Mexico and that the new county amendments would create a “line in the sand.” He also talked about the “unity of community” that had galvanized against the exploration project near the Pecos Wilderness.

“Everyone is together on this,” he said. “We’re going to stop this thing.”

County attorney Bruce Frederick said what the mining ordinance does is assert county jurisdiction on federal land. He said that while the county lacks land use and zoning authority on federal lands, it does have the authority to regulate what goes on within county boundaries.

He said the amendments adopted by the commission would cover all new mining operations, meaning whatever mining might result from Comexico’s exploratory drilling would be subject to the new county regulations.

According to county documents, under the new regulations, applicants for large-scale sand and gravel and hardrock mining operations must provide a background report that includes information about stockholders’ holdings, subsidiaries, previously owned and operated projects, and any enforcement action against them.

They also must submit a sampling and analysis plan that describes the location, geology and ecology at the site, and methods to be used. There also must be a technical and financial feasibility assessment, including an estimate of reclamation costs and schedules.

In addition, the rules mandate a greenhouse gas analysis and a plan to offset emissions. Finally, the applicant must provide a closure plan with a final report describing post-closure monitoring.

The five-member County Commission unanimously approved the amendments. When the vote was taken, the about 100 attendees applauded and were joined by some of the commissioners themselves.

Earlier in the meeting, the commission passed a resolution relating to the Tererro mining exploration project, authorizing staff to participate in state and federal administrative proceedings related to the application. In a statement provided to the Journal, Commission chair Anna Hamilton said the resolution “encourages staff to participate with state and federal agencies to maximize public participation, conduct (a National Environment Policy Act) analysis, and assures adequate and enforceable conditions.”

This article originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

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