In an action that was largely a formality, Santa Fe County commissioners voted Tuesday night against allowing a proposed gravel mine south of Santa Fe, but the battle is far from over.
The county still faces three lawsuits filed by Albuquerque-based Buena Vista Estates Inc., which applied to blast, mine and crush basalt for construction material on 50 acres the company owns on the mesa at La Bajada, an iconic escarpment near the southern approach to Santa Fe.
Commissioners had indicated at a Sept. 29 meeting that they would deny the company’s mine application, but didn’t formalize the decision until Tuesday night. In an Oct. 20 letter to the commission, Buena Vista Estates attorney Pete Domenici Jr. called the county’s actions in regard to the company’s application “illegal and unconstitutional.”
The commission had postponed a decision on the Buena Vista mine application for more than a year after placing a moratorium on applications for projects with countywide impacts. The moratorium was imposed until a preliminary sustainable land-use plan and zoning maps could be finalized. Buena Vista Estates officials said the county’s action singled out their mine application.
Buena Vista Estates and Rockology, the company hired to manage the mine, in 2013 applied for a county zoning approval to mine 50 of the 1,359 acres the company owns on La Bajada. Santa Fe County land-use staff recommended approval, but the County Development Review Committee recommended against it.
The company said the mine would create jobs and provide needed construction materials.
However, residents from around the county mounted a campaign against the mine, with several hundred turning out at one commission hearing in 2014 to voice opposition. They said the mine would ruin views, generate dust and noise, and wouldn’t create enough jobs to outweigh the drawbacks. A few state legislators weighed in as well, saying La Bajada wasn’t the appropriate place for a gravel mine.
Buena Vista Estates sued to overturn the moratorium. The company’s attorney said at the time that there was “a complete lack of justification for the moratorium other than for the sole purpose to avoid deciding the mining permit.”
State District Judge David Thomson granted a stay in the case, giving Santa Fe County until November to complete its new regulations and lift the moratorium or to make a decision on Buena Vista’s application.
Buena Vista filed a second lawsuit in March in U.S. District Court that said the county had violated anti-trust laws. The company claimed the county blocked the application because it wanted to sell a stockpile of basalt built up from blasting out rocky areas at the city-county Caja del Rio Landfill to create sites for burying solid waste.
The county says it has governmental immunity from anti-trust claims like that filed by Buena Vista.
Buena Vista Estates filed a third lawsuit in state District Court in September after the county adopted new rules to regulate “developments of countywide impact” such as landfills, junkyards and sand and gravel operations. Domenici said at the time that the new rules were vague and “the most restrictive sand and gravel ordinance in the state of New Mexico.”
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.