Bishop’s Lodge Neighbors Consider Legal Action

Residents hold meeting to discuss wastewater discharge proposal

News Tesuque Village residents gather at the Tesuque Volunteer Fire District to discuss a proposal to discharge wastewater effluent from Bishop’s Lodge Resort into the Little Tesuque Creek. (Evan Chandler)

Some Tesuque village residents say they are considering legal action in response to a proposal from Bishop’s Lodge to discharge treated wastewater effluent into the Little Tesuque Creek over the winter.

Approximately 60 people gathered at the Tesuque Volunteer Fire District Thursday night to discuss the draft proposal submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. The requested permit coincides with a new miniature plant for Bishop’s Lodge Resort after its old facility hasn’t functioned for years.

Self-described fourteenth-generation Tesuque villager Elissa Eccles, who hosted the meeting, tells SFR going to court is “not out of the realm of possibility” for residents.

“We are considering legal action,” she says, “and there’s an anonymous benefactor who has offered to pay legal fees.”

She notes the proposed permit does not only affect the Tesuque Pueblo and Tesuque Village, “but all other downstream communities” that the creek runs through until it reaches the Rio Grande.

“What ‘treated’ means is the question and cause for most of our concerns. Whether your home is on a private, a shared or a community well, these are all sustained through the Tesuque aquifer, which, if contaminated, can be detrimental to the community,” Eccles said at the start of the meeting. “If the Bishop’s Lodge is negligent in any way at any point, this puts us at great risk for PFAS, also known as cancer-causing forever chemicals, and other contaminants in our water.”

Eccles says she held the meeting to encourage others to request a public hearing with the EPA and an extension to the current public comment period on the proposal, which ends July 1, as well as to combat misinformation. The permit will become effective 30 days after the comment period closes.

“Most of our community are not water experts, but we’re questioning so many things in this permit,” Eccles says. “If we don’t have our questions answered, it’s like we don’t have a voice in the matter or a choice in the matter.”

But most who attended the meeting didn’t just want answers—they wanted the proposal stopped in its tracks.

Rusty Day, another resident who attended the meeting, said he believed the purpose of the plan was to “transfer the harm and the risk” from Bishop’s Lodge Resort to the community.

“That’s what’s most objectionable here,” Day said.

Day added that while residents won’t know the long-term effects of the wastewater effluent discharge for potentially 20 to 30 years, he believed Bishop’s Lodge Resort could be legally liable for violating state tort law. A ‘tort’ refers to an act or omission that causes harm to persons or property.

“EPA is not the only law that applies here, and it has no jurisdiction and no power to authorize one neighbor to commit a tort against another neighbor,” Day said. “I don’t think the lodge wants to look at the liability to everybody in this room and everybody out there and all the pueblos for contaminating your aquifer, your drinking well and your crops.”

The draft proposal requires the hotel to complete routine testing of the water—as well as submit quarterly reports to the EPA—and establishes limits for various pollutants, New Mexico Environment Department Point Source Regulation Manager Susan Lucas Kamat, who works within the department’s Surface Water Quality Bureau, says.

“Our staff also monitors those reports and monitors that data,” Lucas Kamat tells SFR, “so it’s not like a permit is issued and no one ever does anything ever again.”

County Commissioner Justin Greene, whose district covers the area, also attended the meeting. He tells SFR because the permit is through the EPA, “Santa Fe County does not have regulatory oversight, so there is—at a certain level—little we can do.”

However, county officials have been in contact with Bishop’s Lodge representatives and state officials and suggested alternatives such as a leach field—an area of land where water from a septic tank can percolate back into the ground, Greene adds.

“No is not an answer, how is the answer, so we’re trying to say, ‘Come to the light,’” he said during the meeting, noting county officials helped organize an upcoming public meeting with the NMED and Bishop’s Lodge officials next week. “We’re trying to be as realistic as possible but also trying to dial down on the level of fear.”

The meeting will take place from 5 to 7:30 pm Monday, June 24 at the Tesuque Volunteer Fire District, where officials will answer questions and take comments.

Also in the works, Greene says, is a plan to create a regional wastewater system that would connect resorts, the opera, the Tesuque Pueblo and more, which “would certainly eliminate the need to discharge wastewater effluent” into the creek. Santa Fe County officials put the first $250,000 in the budget to do a preliminary engineering report to develop the project, he adds, though the project itself is “more long term,” as planning, design, construction and implementation would take years.

“We have been working on a regional solution since I took office, and the current situation at Bishop’s Lodge Resort is risky and somewhat dangerous given they are holding large amounts of wastewater on site and trucking it across our roads,” Greene says, “so this new facility is a good first step, but if we can avoid the discharge into the river, that would be the better solution.”

Bishop’s Lodge representatives did not respond to SFR’s request for comment by publication time.

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