County to mull La Bajada mine request amid neighbors’ opposition

Albuquerque-based Rockology and Buena Vista Estates have applied to rezone and mine a 50-acre parcel of land on La Bajada Mesa. A hearing on the application is scheduled Feb. 20 before the Santa Fe County Development Review Committee. Jane Phillips/The New Mexican

Four state legislators, including two from Santa Fe, oppose a basalt mine proposed for La Bajada Mesa over concerns about the operation’s water use and its impact on the landscape.

In a Jan. 31 letter sent to Santa Fe County Commissioner Kathy Holian, the lawmakers say the mine will require too much water from the county and will hurt the viewshed from Interstate 25. The letter is signed by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, and Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos.

Buena Vista Estates and Rockology have asked to Santa Fe County to rezone a 50-acre parcel on the mesa near Waldo Canyon Road and have applied to open a basalt mine. The mine would produce construction aggregate for the next 25 years from three open pits, according to the application.

The County Commission will consider the application at a public meeting Feb. 20.

“Unfortunately, the site is one that lacks its own source of water, is along a narrow and aging road, and is highly visible from I-25,” the lawmakers’ letter said. “The visual impact can hardly be overstated and the inevitable deleterious effect on the landscape and the subsequent negative impact on tourism, can easily be imagined.”

The mine will need water for both drinking and dust control. The companies have applied to transfer water rights for the mine, but that application hasn’t yet been approved by the state engineer. According to the application, the mine site would contain two 10,000-gallon water tanks. Water for the tanks would be purchased from Santa Fe County at the 24-hour automated bulk water dispensing facility at 13-B Camino Justicia off N.M. 14. There’s no annual fee for the water, and the commercial cost is 2 cents per gallon.

“Given the distance to the mine from the nearest county water hookup and the large amounts of water that are required for a mine of this size, we think it is unwise for the County to provide water to this project,” the lawmakers said in their letter.

The application claims the mine would use just under 3 acre-feet of water per year, about a million gallons.

Steve Hooper, who owns Rockology, said the mine will provide about a dozen jobs and bring in about $122,000 in gross receipts revenues to the county.

Lawmakers are asking the county to put a moratorium on mining until new regulations can be drafted, similar to actions Santa Fe County took to craft a new oil and gas ordinance.

Wirth and Egolf support creating a La Bajada Mesa National Monument. But Egolf said that would not protect the mesa from the proposed mine.

Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or smatlock@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter @stacimatlock.

(4) comments

Trevor Burrowes

I am truly grateful to have lawmakers who are this forward looking and who understand the extraordinary threat to water security faced by our country of Santa Fe and the rest of New Mexico. We need decision makers everywhere to frame development and other programs through the lens of water scarcity. What we call development today is in fact the opposite; it is mainly tearing up the land, spreading dust, increasing traffic, wasting energy. True development, IMO, is developing healthy drainage and catchment systems within watersheds, while enabling them through ecologically smart mean like conservation, cottage industry, horticulture and eco-tourism, to be sustainable and resilient.

Joseph Hempfling

Many of the same considerations can and should be used to STOP crude oil
being transfered from double length tanker trucks to rail cars at Lamy. Not to
mention the human accident factor which has been documented to be somewhere in the area of 44%. In effect an accident ready to happen and potentially contaminate the local community's drinking water, as well as Eldorado's and Gallisteo's ! Let's abide by the Precautionary Principle this time and side with prudence, common sense and the local communities loudly expressed wishes; i.e. NO CRUDE OIL IN LAMY !

Philip Taccetta

I'm pleased to hear that some of our State Legislators are supporting citizens opposition to the proposed mine. The idea of transporting by truck a million gallons of potable water, two thousand gallons per trip, for the primary purpose of dust abatement, doesn't make any sense. Using all that fuel to haul water is environmentally unsound as well. When the entire southwest is in a severe drought that will more than likely to get worse, we need to re-think water policy for extractive industries in general.

Denise Fort

Thanks to our state legislators for thrie support. La Bajada is the beautiful gateway to our city and we need to keep it that way.

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