Mining company seeks minerals in Santa Fe National Forest

An Australian-owned mining company wants to conduct exploratory drilling on Santa Fe National Forest land near Tererro, north of Pecos toward the upper end of the Pecos River canyon.

New World Cobalt has already staked a claim to publicly owned minerals and now wants to drill core samples in a search for metal deposits on just over 2 acres in an area that has a history of mining but is part of a forested canyon long popular for recreation.

Though lead and zinc operations closed down in 1939, it took decades and millions of dollars to clean up a waste pile left by the Tererro Mine and nearby El Molino mill, where mined rock was processed. And it took disasters like a heavy snowmelt in 1991 that washed contaminants into the Pecos River and killed fish all the way to the Lisboa Springs hatchery 11 miles downstream to spur officials to start the cleanup process.

New World Cobalt has operations in Nevada and Idaho, according to the corporation’s website, where a map indicates that the company is looking for copper, zinc and gold.

Preliminary work near Tererro has already begun. “Site specific biology, hydrology, cultural and sensitive/listed species surveys are underway,” New World exploration manager Patrick Siglin wrote in a June 4 letter to the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

While the Santa Fe National Forest can require the company to implement measures to protect resources, the federal agency does not have, under the 1872 Mining Act, the authority to prohibit the exploration and development of mineral resources on public land, the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release.

According to the corporation’s application, New World in October hopes to begin drilling holes down 500 to 4,000 feet and lift fragments of rock to the surface.

But before drilling begins, the National Environmental Policy Act requires an analysis to determine the environmental impact on resources including vegetation, soil, water, air and wildlife.

Ben Shelton, political and legislative director of Conservation Voters New Mexico, said of the mining proposal, “We look forward to a robust NEPA analysis of the impacts of this proposed mining operation on this sensitive area. We’ll be watching the process closely, along with the communities surrounding the Santa Fe National Forest.”

The Forest Service has given the company a list of measures to protect plants and wildlife, including a rare flowering plant on the endangered species list known as the Holy Ghost ipomopsis and “at-risk species such as the Mexican spotted owl, northern goshawk and Rio Grande cutthroat trout.”

With regard to chemicals to be used in the project, the application says, “All potentially hazardous chemicals will be stored within a secondary containment vessel to ensure there is no leak onto or into the ground, nearby streams, or existing boreholes. No chemicals will be disposed of onsite. All trash and waste will be removed from the site and disposed of properly.”

From 1927-39, the Tererro Mine and its mill near the Pecos River were among the most productive lead and zinc operations in the U.S. But, as was the case with other mines scattered around the West, a waste pile was left behind after Tererro closed. That waste contaminated the Pecos River, killing thousands of fish, buried Willow Creek and led federal environmental officials to declare the area a federal Superfund site.

High levels of lead and zinc from the Tererro mining waste made their way into fish and small wildlife. The animals’ tissue tested near the limit above which it would be unsafe for people to eat them, officials said.

An interruption in the flow of anglers, campers and hikers caused an economic hit for the village of Pecos.

The worst of the contaminants from the Tererro Mine were cleaned up and contained, the state has said.

The state bought the Tererro Mine site decades ago.