Mind the Mining
SF County Commissioners listen to details of mining ordinance set to lift yearlong moratorium on mining operationsLocal NewsTuesday, June 30, 2015
Santa Fe County Commissioners listened Tuesday afternoon to the details of a proposed ordinance designed to lift a year-long moratorium on sand and gravel mining operations that is set to expire in mid-September.
Staff said the proposal, modeled after the county’s oil ordinance and gas ordinance, also addresses the less contentious but always pesky subjects of landfill and junkyard operations in the county.
But the need for a new ordinance really grew out of a controversial plan last year that called for the mining of 50 acres of Waldo Canyon, located inside La Bajada mesa and known for its basalt.
It's a majestic, historical piece of rugged terrain that sits 18 miles southwest of Santa Fe that can be seen along the I-25 corridor. The land itself, with its swooping descents and ascents, is what's coveted for protection among environmentalists, historians and neighbors.
And so when proposals to expand mining edged closer to a reality, there was an outcry, which led to the moratorium that is now the subject of pending litigation between the county and Buena Vista Estates Inc. and Rockology LLC., the owner and the mining company respectively. Both want to mine it for its basalt.
The informational meeting was sparsely attended. There was no protest or public outcry, in stark contrast to a little under a year ago when hundreds of angry residents from surrounding communities showed up in the name of protecting La Bajada mesa and their quality of life.
Penny Ellis-Green, the county’s growth management director, and Graham Billingsley, a consultant with Orion Planning Group, based in Boulder, Colo., outlined the rules and regulations that commissioners could expect to find in the proposed law.
Standards regarding the operations of landfills and junkyards, always a nemesis among neighbors who live in their midst, were also incorporated into the ordinance. But the bulk of the 40-minute presentation centered on gravel and mining operations, and they touched on standard fare subjects: Protecting the watershed and wildlife, preserving the water table, keeping noise, traffic and dust to a minimum while ensuring that no drilling would occur within a quarter-mile of a residence.
Most importantly, they said, there would be oversight, environmental impact reports, yearly monitoring, and the county would be able to intervene and stop operations if the standards in the law were not being adhered to, and all of this applied to sand and gravel mining operations in general.
The history of the mesa has been resurrected now that mining operations are imminent. It’s part of the Camino Real trail, a well worn path that travelers used between the 17th and 19th centuries. It’s a rugged piece of terrain that is somewhat of a major undertaking today in four wheel vehicles, let alone back in the day.
Buena Vista Estates and Rockology LLC, both of Albuquerque, are now waiting for the moratorium to be lifted. Peter Domenici Jr., the lawyer representing the two in district court, said last year that the moratorium wasn't justified, and that it was specifically aimed at preventing the mining of La Bajada on behalf of the county.
County Commissioner Miguel Chavez, before the meeting, said the county was exploring the options of transferring development rights, which serve as a possible solution to the problem. Perhaps basalt could be mined someplace else, he says.
While he wasn’t opposed to the Waldo Canyon operation, Chavez says it’s important that the county have an ordinance that adequately regulates it.
Ellis-Green says after the meeting that the proposed ordinance had been a long time in coming and was always on the radar of county staff because landfills, junk yards and mining operations are key concerns among many Santa Fe county residents.
A series of community meetings will be held in the coming month to unveil the ordinance and how it will play into the greater scheme of their communities, she says.