The two men who work for an Oklahoma trucking company didn’t expect to be talking down an occasionally menacing crowd in the Tumbleweed Room, a chandelier-decked space adjacent to the barroom of the old Legal Tender Saloon. And, months ago, nobody in the occasionally menacing crowd of more than 200 expected to pepper two outsiders with sometimes personal questions.
Nor could many have predicted that at the end of the hour-long ordeal, one of the Oklahoma men would wrap his arm around the shoulders of one of his more antagonistic local skeptics and flash a smile for the cameras.
But on Saturday, news crews descended to document the surge of populism in Lamy, adjacent to Eldorado, whose residents have risen up against a deal between Santa Fe Southern Railway and the oil trucking company the men represented, Pacer Energy Marketing, LLC.
Santa Fe Southern has agreed to lease sidings of the railroad tracks in Lamy so Pacer can make crude oil transfers in the old whistle stop town, described in a fact sheet provided at the meeting as a 135 year-old village that has "been home to gunslingers, saloon girls, outlaws, hippies, artists and everything in between."
Sometime before April, Pacer expects to dispatch 10 to 15 trucks per week on the typically lonely US-285, where the diesels will chug toward the new terminal site in Lamy. At the site, Pacer truckers will use pumps and hoses to transfer crude oil—purchased from wells in Farmington—to railroad tanker cars.
Area residents are angry that the plan apparently didn't require any public vetting. Some residents fear that spills could contaminate their nearby water wells and the Galisteo River; that the tractor trailers will pose a danger to kids getting on the school bus; and that the additional noise pollution will harm property values of residents.
But the deal has drawn attention from lawmakers, including state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who showed up at the meeting; US Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, who sent a representative; and Kathy Holian, the District 4 Santa Fe County Commissioner who represents the region.
"The reality of the regulatory situation though is that counties may have limited authority over train transportation within their boundaries," reads a statement Holian issued for the meeting. (She had a family medical priority.)
Courts have limited local control of railroads, she wrote, noting that the feds have been asserting primacy over these matters. The county is conducting core sample tests on County Road 33 to determine its weight limit and is investigating its authority to limit the weight of vehicles that use county roads, she wrote.
"We stopped (oil and gas development in) the Galisteo Basin, and we'll stop this too if we need to," said Rainy Upton, an Eldorado resident, at Saturday's town hall. "Our water is so limited... So we're not talking about a lot of water if one of your guys has a little accident! We're talking about not being able to use water, turn on the faucet." She added that, "children who live here can't even get out if something happens. So my question to you is why would you look for trouble if you want to come to Lamy, Eldorado, Galisteo?" Not all residents attended the meeting to express outrage, however.
A Lamy man who gave his name as Augie says he hopes the deal will bring jobs for residents, some of whom he says are poor Hispanic families that have lived in the village for generations.
"Looking at the job market in Santa Fe the way it is, if I can get a job working right next door, why the hell not?" he says. "…My standpoint isn't so much, 'Can I do anything to stop it?' It's, 'once it's here, is there anything that's in it for me?'" Donnie Tulk, director of operations for Pacer, couldn't answer many of the audiences questions, such as how much the firm will make from the deal, but he promised to bring the resident's concerns back to corporate. They said the company had an "excellent" safety record, saying that all the drivers and transloaders go through extensive training.
Tulk says the company hopes to hire locals for rail loading, security and other jobs.
As for whether the two were "looking for trouble," one of the Pacer representatives—who said the pair got a last minute order to attend the meeting—replied: "That's a good question! We ask that ourselves!" The remark earned some welcome laughter from the audience.
"Basically, like I said, we're not looking for any trouble or anything like that," continued Tulk in a slight drawl.
"Honestly we're not. We're just working guys, and you know, we live in communities too."