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By Robert Nott | Santa Fe New Mexican
August 27, 2019

The Santa Fe County Commission on Tuesday unanimously added requirements to the county land code regarding hard-rock mining.

Applicants will have to submit a background report that includes whether a proposed project has the potential to adversely impact public health, safety and welfare; a sampling and analysis plan regarding potential impacts to the county’s water, soil, vegetation and other natural resources; and a greenhouse gas analysis.

The county also wants mining companies to conduct a technical and financial feasibility assessment that includes a description of debt and equity at each phase of the operation and estimated annual costs. Finally, all large-scale sand and gravel mining operations in the county must provide a closure plan.

“This spells out what our options are going to be for regulating any mining applications we get,” Commissioner Anna Hamilton said.

Tuesday’s vote was the latest action in a series of public discussions on rules governing mining operations under county jurisdiction. Currently there are no such operations, county spokeswoman Carmelina Hart said.

An Australian-owned company wants to conduct exploratory drilling for minerals on Santa Fe National Forest land near Terrero, north of the village of Pecos. New World Cobalt is seeking federal permission to begin exploration this autumn.

The county ordinance can’t prevent that operation, County Attorney Bruce Frederick said Tuesday, noting federal law allows mining operations on federal forest land that comply with environmental standards.

However, several people who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting said they hope the county’s adoption of the new rules will have some impact on the Pecos Canyon project.

“If companies can’t commit to the safeguards we put in this ordinance, maybe they shouldn’t be coming here,” said Roger Taylor, president of the Galisteo Community Association.

Some 100 people attended Tuesday’s hearing, with about 20 speaking on the issue. No one spoke against the ordinance. But a woman, who said she represents the sand and gravel industry, said the hard-rock requirements could have an “umbrella effect” that could cause problems.

Issues concerning hard-rock mining in the county have come up in the past. Some five years ago, hundreds of county residents protested a proposed basalt mining project on La Bajada Mesa, saying it would ruin scenic views and stir up dust and noise from blasting. In 2015, the county commission rejected the mine proposal.

This article originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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