The company trying to put a basalt mine on La Bajada has sued Santa Fe County and the Caja del Rio landfill operators for allegedly violating antitrust laws and preventing competition in the market for crushed aggregate, a material used in paving and construction.
Albuquerque-based Buena Vista Estates sued the county and the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on April 9. The company said the solid waste agency is crushing and selling stockpiled basalt at the landfill commercially “without proper permitting and zoning,” according to the lawsuit.
A county spokeswoman said the county doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
It was the latest salvo in a fight between Buena Vista Estates and the Santa Fe County Commission over the company’s attempt to open a 50-acre basalt mine on La Bajada, east of Interstate 25. Buena Vista owns 1,359 acres of the escarpment that many consider an iconic part of the landscape.
County staff recommended approval for Buena Vista’s mine application because all requirements had been met under existing county regulations.
The public unleashed a barrage of protests against the proposed basalt mine with hundreds voicing their opposition at hearings, saying the escarpment was an unsuitable place for an open-pit operation that involves blasting.
As the mining application was debated, the county was in the midst of finishing a new land-use plan. Under the new plan, it was unlikely a mine would be allowed on La Bajada.
After three public hearings, the county commission in August postponed a final vote on the Buena Vista application. In September, the commission approved a one-year moratorium on applications for landfills, junkyards and any sand and gravel operations that require blasting. The moratorium delayed a decision on the Buena Vista mining application.
Buena Vista’s lawsuit alleges the county’s moratorium and the solid waste agency’s plans to sell aggregate are preventing competition, costing Buena Vista profits, and limiting choices for basalt buyers.
The county and the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency operate the Caja del Rio jointly. The facility operates under a 20-year permit from the state Environment Department and has applied for a new one.
Last year, the landfill blasted out and excavated 590,000 tons of basalt to create a new cell for trash. The basalt was stockpiled. The solid waste management agency signed an eight-year contract with DelHur Industries of Port Angeles, Wash., to crush and sell the aggregate, according to Randall Kippenbrock, the agency’s director.
Kippenbrock said in a recent phone interview he estimates it will take between seven to 15 years to sell all of the aggregate.
While not commenting directly on the lawsuit, Kippenbrock said he believes the agency did everything appropriate for blasting, crushing and selling aggregate.
In a July 2014 letter included as part of the Buena Vista lawsuit, Kippenbrock wrote that the agency and the county, “have a moral obligation to ensure the stockpile of unprocessed basalt rock is used first before approving another rock quarry.”
Buena Vista said the county’s ability to halt the company’s mine operation while allowing the landfill to still crush and sell aggregate is an unfair advantage, “designed to eliminate Buena Vista Estates as a competitor.”
The lawsuit says the landfill’s permit with the state doesn’t authorize blasting or sale of aggregate materials.
The state Mining and Mineral’s Division said no state permit is required for aggregate mining operations.
Kippenbrock said the landfill has a blasting permit from the county. He said the landfill alerted the state Environment Department and the county 48 hours before blasts were set and doesn’t anticipate any more blasting “for 60 years.”
He said the original state permit doesn’t mention rock removal, and nor does it prevent it. “You have to remove rock or any material in order to build the landfill cells,” Kippenbrock said.
Kippenbrock declined to comment on the lawsuit or whether he thinks the agency had an unfair advantage in selling aggregate.
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.