Mining the Resistance

Pecos residents expand the reach of opposition to new mining activity

"The majority of the visitors we get into the Pecos area actually live in Santa Fe. Santa Fe needs to be on this and we do need more people on this, though we already have tremendous support from many," Frank Adelo, president of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association, tells SFR outside Hondo Volunteer Fire Department No. 2 on Saturday. He had just attended the most recent community meeting about a mine proposed by an Australian company, New World Cobalt, through its US-based subsidiary Comexico LLC.

The fire station sits about 11 miles from the Santa Fe city center, just past the intersection of Old Pecos Trail and Highway 285. While many of the more than 100 attendees drove from Pecos and Las Vegas, up to an hour away, organizers say part of the purpose of holding the meeting there was to make it easier for Santa Feans to attend. Getting people in Santa Fe to see the potential mine as their problem, too, is part of a grassroots strategy to oppose the development.

Comexico's original proposal speculated that the site near the Pecos Wilderness Area could potentially hold more than 5 million metric tonsof extractable ore at sites near the old Tererro mine. But the path from a proposal to full-fledged mining operation is a long one, and Comexico is still in the first stage of applying for a prospecting permit to drill for ore samples at 30 spots across the proposed site to confirm to investors and regulators that the site can bear out the claimed potential.

Even if the Forest Service approves the prospecting permit, Mike Haynes, general manager and CEO of New World Cobalt, told the Santa Fe New Mexican in August that there is only a "1 in 200 or 1 in 300 chance that there is enough mineralization there to look into a mining feasibility study," adding that residents were responding to "hysteria and misinformation."

But a vocal contingent of Pecos residents are determined to stop even the slightest chance that striking a rich mineral vein could lead to another mine there.

"Even if the chance was 1 in 1,000, we'd fight back," SFR overheard one woman tell another at Saturday's meeting. Both wore identical gray baseball caps with the words "Tererro Mine" struck through in red.

"The people who live around here, we are citizens, we are taxpayers, we are voters, many of us are property owners and business owners, we have an investment here and the executives from the mining company do not have a stake in this community," said Roy Montibom, a resident of Las Vegas who added that Hayes' comments were a "complete mischaracterization" of local concerns.

According to the company's original timeline, residents should have been able to expect public hearings on the permits to begin as early as November, but Comexico's applications to both the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division and the National Forest Service are still pending due to the company's delays in providing the required cultural and natural resource reports.

Now, grassroots organizers expect hearings might not begin until after the first of the year.

They say they plan to use the time to continue building resistance. Reaching a wider audience than the 1,300 residents of the Pecos village itself is an important part of the plan.

Already, the efforts are gaining traction. A group of students from the UNM Wilderness Alliance were among the attendees at Saturday's meeting, and opposition to the mine has attracted the support of both Santa Fe and San Miguel counties, as well as from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

"We have such small amounts of intact public land left and it's really important for us to protect what we have left for future generations," UNM student Kai Hollenberg tells SFR at the meeting.

Rachel Conn, projects director at Amigos Bravos, a Taos-based organization for the protection of New Mexico waters, tells SFR by phone that organizers are asking concerned residents to call the state agencies and request they hold upcoming public hearings in Santa Fe and Las Vegas as well as in Pecos to allow a wider swath of impacted New Mexicans to publicly raise their concerns.

Organizers have also encouraged attendees to comment on the Santa Fe National Forest's draft of a new forest management plan before the deadline for public comments on Nov. 7. The plan is a 20-year update on forest management policies that dictate everything from forest fire and prescribed burn management to roads and hard-rock mining requirements.

Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Anne Overton tells SFR the new forest management plan will likely not go into effect for at least a year and concerned residents can take more immediate action by commenting on the National Environmental Policy Act process involved in Comexico's application for a prospecting permit during the upcoming scoping period.

Several organizations are seeking signatures for petitions to federal agencies like the Forest Service in opposition to the mine. But Overton tells SFR that petitions are not an effective way to take action.

"Comments are most valuable when they are original, -substantive and include specifics … these comments very much help us define the scope and requirements of a project," Overton says. "Comments are not votes … quantity is not a determining factor. Substance is."

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