The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Department will issue a decision Thursday, Sept. 1 regarding the Mt Taylor Mine operator's application to keep the site open.
At a four-hour hearing last night at Cibola Convention Center in Grants, the state MMD listened to testimony from mine operator Rio Grande Resources as well as environmental groups and the public regarding the status of the mine. The site, which is located about 12 miles northeast of Grants outside the tiny town of San Mateo, has the US's largest store of high-grade uranium, but has not been actively mined since 1990. Partly because the profitability of mining for any substance fluctuates over time based on various factors, RGR has sought to keep the site on "standby" for the next five years, with the option to begin mining again within that period.
New Mexico Environmental Law Center represented two environmental groups at the hearing—Taos-based Amigos Bravos and Albuquerque-based Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment. The latter group sought to protect not only environmental but also cultural interests, based on the significance of the Mt Taylor area to many native American groups.
The public in attendance at the hearing was polarized on the controversial issue, with members of the public aggressively cross-examining other public speakers. At one point a man tried to shoot down arguments made by Juan Juanico of Acoma Pueblo, who expressed concerns about the mine's effects on water quality and noted that several of his family members died of cancer. Acoma is about 20 miles southeast of the mine site.
"We have yet to identify the causes of cancer in the majority of people who passed on here," Juanico said.
The other man stood up and began questioning Juanico regarding whether smoking is allowed in casinos at Acoma, suggesting an alternative source of carcinogens.
Walter Leach was among the mine's cheerleaders, asking mine manager Joe Lister how many jobs the mine could bring to Grants if it goes back into operation.
"If we operate at full capacity, in historical terms it would be somewhere around 1,000 men," Lister replied.
Leach pointed out that the mine could potentially bring a boost to the area's tax base if it went into operation.
"If we're going to re-start America it starts locally," Lister said in agreement. "It starts in rooms like this across the country."
But Candace Head-Dylla scored a point for the anti-mining contingency, getting Lister to admit that RGR contributed to environmental contamination at the site in the past, though at first he said RGR hadn't, to his knowledge. When Head-Dylla then asked whether he could promise that RGR wouldn't cause contamination again, Lister replied, "I can't make that statement."
For more of SFR's coverage of Mt Taylor Mine, see the print edition that comes out Wednesday, Aug. 24.