Rural Conservation Alliance News, August 24, 2015

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The Santa Fe County Commission, at an August 11 hearing, approved new stronger gravel mining regulations that will apply countywide: Article XVII. This is being regarded as a good step forward in substantial ways. The new Developments of Countywide Impact (DCIs) ordinance should give the county stronger authority to rule on an application to mine an area like La Bajada Mesa or any site that might require blasting. It is expected that other DCI and non-DCI mining ordinances may be reviewed by the county over the next few months for possible alteration coincident with the enactment of the new county code (SLDC).

IT'S TIME TO CELEBRATE WITH A PARTY! A shared love for La Bajada mesa brought so many people together to rally for positive change in Santa Fe County. RSVP here via our Facebook site. Also, from Facebook you can read articles about the hearing.

View of endangered La Bajada Mesa

>>>>>>>>o<<<<<<<

TAKE  FIVE!

Thanks also to all those who wrote or spoke out at the hearing asking for strengthening the ordinance and for a mine size reduction in the definition of Level 1 mines. This concern remains.

Level 1 gravel mining operations should at most TAKE UNDER 5 ACRES, NOT TEN as the new DCI regulations now mandate.

Although the new DCIs ordinance means that Santa Fe County now has the power to make smarter choices, these regulations only apply to gravel mines with blasting or zones targeting 10 acres or more, or over 20,000 tons of extraction.

At the hearing there were many requests to extend DCI classification down to 5 acres or more. An editorial that morning in the New Mexican supported this request. We can't know for sure, but some believe the Commissioners could have been persuaded to vote for a reduction in size, but for a surprise rationale from a County subcontractor who argued to retain a 10 acre DCI cut-off instead of 5. He said that a "five hundred foot buffer on all sides is a total of 5.7 acres of buffer so no one could then possibly do a 5 acre mine". But as was pointed out at the hearing, his math was clearly wrong. Furthermore, there are no such specific instructions within the ordinance for such internal mine zone setbacks that would reduce the actual size of a pit to less than 5 acres. His intentions were likely positive. Read more on this issue below in the August 10, Pre-Hearing Posting.

For now a mine zone application of less than 10 acres will be dealt with as "small", will be exempt from DCI classification, and will instead be subject to "lesser standards" as county staff has expressed it. These lesser standards will need to be strengthened to insure that such essentials, such as successful reclamation are assured, and that the siting criteria is also stringent.

Correcting ordinances may take more time than some of us would like, but we're committed to getting it right on both levels.

Stay tuned for news on this and regarding developments on Rockology's & Buena Vista's law suits against the County.

And meanwhile . . . come to the party!

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August 10, 2015 Pre-Hearing Posting:

There is nothing "small" about a 10 acre zone, the number in the draft regulations for minimal impact mines based on state criteria, averaged from mining operations that also include large ore and hard rock mines.

The county plan (SGMP) encourages the use of local building materials, but with a "slump" in construction in Santa Fe and an increase in Albuquerque, it doesn't take a degree in economics to determine that gravel mined from "small operations with lesser standards" in Santa Fe County could end up being largely exported.

Tuesday, August 11, no sooner than 5 PM it's expected Santa Fe County Commissioners are likey to decide the siting criteria and operational guidelines of new gravel mines countywide. Regulating gravel mines is part of new regulations for Developments of Countywide Impacts (DCIs). Larger "Level 2" mines would be governed by the new rules (Article XVII) with the existing rules (Article XI and later 10.19) applying to smaller "Level 1" operations.

At the first hearing (July 28), Commissioner Liz Stefanics broached consideration of lowering the minimal impact category Level 1 mines to under 5 acres instead of 10. This should be supported far and wide for several reasons:

--A state 10 acre minimal impact definition is based on a statewide average, which would include giant mines far from Santa Fe County as well as ore mines which are often huge.

--It would be a better fit for the proposed limit of 20,000 tons, and lessen the possibility of more extensive disturbance of lands with marginally recoverable materials

--There is the concern that with a larger 10 acre zone Land Use Administrators or their assistants, or Commissioners would be asked by mining companies for waivers to exceed the limit in tonnage (20,000) thus sidestepping the new regulations they would otherwise be required to use.

Short of recyclables, we understand that gravel is needed but we also need strong mining regulations, and ultimately large scale mining is hardly sustainable.

The draft regulations are pretty good, but final encouragement from a concerned citizenry for strengthening these rules--also meant to protect the public welfare and the environment--is dearly needed, as follows.

--County Staff has proposed (& this is good!) that for a minimal impact new operation permit, besides a limitation on size and tonnage, the project must also meet the definition of Minimal Impact as found in the New Mexico Administrative Code (19.10.1.M.(2) NMAC). But this is something we now think must be included in the future regulations: the strengthening of regulations governing the "small" mines. Check this website for updates.

Summary of important items needed:

--reduce minimum impact Level 1 mines to under 5 acres
--assure that the regulations are not invalidated by other contrary statutes in the code
--allow for unannounced site inspections
--visual impact analysis
--mitigation of negative impacts on properties beyond the properties immediately surrounding a mine (or as the Moratorium ordinance itself expressed it: "DCIs . . . have the potential to affect the environment and public health, safety, and welfare beyond the impacts on immediately neighboring properties.")
--require applications to first seek non-potable water for dust control
--require that a NM approved professional reclamation specialist design and oversee reclamation
--specify that no more than 2 acres may be disturbed or remain unreclaimed at any given time.

Considering that mining machinery could be used just 1/2 mile from residents, for years, there's a need for discretion to require crushers and loud equipment be enclosed in sound-insulated structures and back-up beepers be mitigated through site design where possible.

Such outstanding and basic issues yet remain, however with your encouragement through letters to the editor, to your Commissioner, along with your attendance on Tuesday (5 PM), our democratic process will surely help to get it right: to protect the public welfare and the environment while locating gravel mines appropriately.

Where: The hearing will be in the in the Santa Fe County Commission chambers, 102 Grant Ave, after 5 PM.

Contacts for the Commissioners and the Newspaper:

Write the County Commissioners
o Robert A. Anaya: ranaya@santafecountynm.gov
o Henry Roybal: hproybal@santafecountynm.gov
o Miguel M. Chavez: mchavez@santafecountynm.gov
o Kathy Holian: kholian@santafecountynm.gov
o Liz Stefanics: lstefanics@santafecountynm.gov
Or all the Commissioners: Robert A. Anaya <ranaya@santafecountynm.gov>, Henry Roybal <hproybal@santafecountynm.gov>, Miguel M. Chavez <mchavez@santafecountynm.gov>, Kathy Holian <kholian@santafecountynm.gov>, Liz Stefanics <lstefanics@santafecountynm.gov>

Please be respectful, sign your name, and give your address. Remember, we're supportive of the county's intentions but need these regulations to be strong enough to do what they're meant to do--protect the public welfare and the environment. Also, these regulations are designed to cover a variety of DCIs. As these regulations are to apply to all gravel mines, please do NOT directly reference La Bajada or prior mining applications.
      Note the above issues in your letter, but your message will be more effective if you can personalize your message. For maximum impact, place your commissioner first in the "To" line.

If a final vote is postponed on the 11th, write letters to the Editor of the New Mexican: Send either letters (150 words) or My Views (600 words) to letters@sfnewmexican.com . Must include the writer's name, address and phone number to be considered for publication.


Some HISTORY OF THESE ISSUES:  Last Fall, after massive public outcry over a proposed gravel mine on La Bajada mesa, the county placed a one-year moratorium on certain kinds of "developments of county-wide impact" (DCIs), including sand & gravel operations requiring blasting.
      Since then, the county has drafted new regulations to manage future high-impact development. We sincerely appreciate the hard work and good intentions that have gone into this effort. But the draft regulations still fall short and all our work to save La Bajada mesa depends on strong DCI regulations.
      The moratorium expires mid-September, so the hearings are on an accelerated time line. You can read about the history of the struggle below. Track this via FACEBOOK/Savelabajada!

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FACEBOOK/Savelabajada!    ISSUES OVERVIEW!    SIGN THIS PETITION!    DONATIONS, PLEASE!!!

 Actions To Take:
--Thank the Commissioners for the Moratorium.
--Read the Moratorium
-- (Adopted as drafted here, first item in this BCC Packet, Part 5, 7 pp, 8 MB pdf).
--Listen to Public reaction to BCC Postponement of decision, August 12, 2014--Joe Day interview.
--See video of testimony from June hearing!
--Write an email letter to the County & newspapers
--Watch a wonderful video overview of the threat to the Mesa
--Sign our petition   
--Consider a donation to pay for experts and signs
--Please tell friends about &
supporting www.SaveLaBajada.org & the RCA!

 

 

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News & Information:
--Download Index of Documentation
related to the Commissioners' questions at the June 11th special hearing & provided to the county by the RCA
--Read: "The Ranch", Santa Fe Reporter, May 18, 1978, a 'round-robin' sales between La Bajada Mesa speculators, "From $300 to $1200 per Acre in One Day". (27 MB pdf)
--Read RCA's detailed response for the BCC and
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Read RCA's "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law"
--Listen
June 3: KSFR's Radio Café discussion on La Bajada Mesa with Mary-Charlotte
--Watch KOB News coverage March 15
--Listen "Living on the Edge" with David Bacon discussing La Bajada Strip Mine, Lamy Oil, and Santa Fe Gold. Click the podcast icon. (2/6/14)


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MORATORIUM  ITEMS:

      --The ordinance places a 12-month moratorium on DEVELOPMENTS OF COUNTYWIDE IMPACT (DCIs) that include "sand and gravel extraction activity requiring blasting". This description covers La Bajada strip-mining proposal. The "DCI Moratorium Ordinance" (short title) will "allow for the creation of legally and scientifically sound plans, policies and regulations."

      --Will the new regulations reinforce a County Commission's discretionary authority to deny applications for mining zones on such cultural landscapes as La Bajada mesa?

      --All hinges on the development of strong DCI regulations that will clearly allow for a denial so that "No mining use activity will be permitted if it is determined that the use will have a significant adverse affect on health, safety, morals or general welfare of the County or its residents." (Article XI, 1996 Code) For more views & current news follow Facebook.

      --The County Staff has indicated that they may hire someone to draft the language and perhaps hire experts on what to include and how to write the Code requirement.  The RCA has expressed interest in seeing who they are considering, and understanding his/her background and prior project recommendations. Staff further is contemplating that there would be a "study group" where public input on the details will be requested.

      --During the writing of the new regulations, again citizen's input will be essential to make sure that La Bajada mesa and "places of the heart" in Santa Fe County, remain protected. We must emerge with strong and unequivocal laws.    

Strengthen, don't weaken!

RECENT BACKGROUND: At the August 12 hearing the BCC again postponed any decision on strip-mining this NM cultural landscape, La Bajada Mesa. Before an overflowing chamber and after having heard testimony from the public for 3 hours, the County Commission retired into a closed session with the county attorney. When they reemerged 90 minutes later, the result was not a long awaited vote. Instead they announced that they are taking Rockology's & Buena Vista's mining application "under advisement" intending to issue a "written order" sometime in the future.  Instead of such a written order, the Commission opted to call for a moratorium that would postpone any decision on Buena Vista & Rockology's application to strip La Bajada Mesa of its primordial basalt layer. 

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La Bajada Mesa is the stunning tabletop, 15 miles south of Santa Fe on I-25. Mining here would destroy this historic, iconic landscape and the sustainable economies that depend on it.

"Significance: La Bajada represents a key landscape demarcation between what the Spanish colonial world termed the Rio Abajo and Rio Arriba regions of New Mexico--the lower and upper lands with their distinct ecologies and climates. It also represented the greatest single obstacle for movement across the land...." --NMHPA, 2003.

Reducing [La Bajada Mesa] to crushed basalt for road base would be a travesty in its own right. Overdrawing the regional water budget - which is already over-committed - for such a destructive purpose would be a double travesty. --RCA Protest witness, Kim Sorvig, Professor, UNM School of Architecture and Planning

More Information:
La Bajada is one of New Mexico's "Most Endangered Places"

Rural Conservation Alliance
Contact RCA:
Questions, thoughts? Email: murlock@raintreecounty.com
and put "La Bajada Mesa Threatened" in the Subject.

Background:
An application
(pdf, satellite pdf, site sheets pdf) to mine a 50 acre section of La Bajada Mesa was submitted to Santa Fe County near the end of 2013. La Bajada Mesa is a historic landmark that the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance (NMHPA) has recognized as one of New Mexico's "Most Endangered Places".  

The application aims to strip the basalt cap--according to their figures--to a depth of 61 feet, and crush it for gravel for a proposed 25 year period using blasting, multiple crushers, hauling trucks. ["Concerning years of operations" along with location maps of past mining proposals, click here.] This application comes under the jurisdiction of the 1996 Land Development Code, Article XI, not the new Sustainable Land Development Code. 

The County Development Review Committee (CDRC) voted (3/20/14) to deny Rockology & Buena Vista's application. The case automatically is forwarded to the 5-member Board of County Commissioners (BCC) who are expected to vote for or against the mining of the Mesa.

The water source for dust suppression has been modified. Rather than the County supplying hauled potable water, Rockology has obtained an additional permit for effluent water from City facilities on 599. The route would be 599 to I-25 to Waldo Canyon Road. Both the County and City possess water policy shortsightedness.

Has the City, like the County before it, unwittingly committed to years of providing water for the destruction of La Bajada Mesa? They have apparently done so in times of pending drought when water shortages could demand that scarce water resources might be needed more directly for the public welfare rather than for such industrial development.

The new County Code would classify such a mine as a Development of Countywide Impact . Using water, City or County, to enable the degradation of this historic NM cultural landscape would not benefit the public welfare.

Meanwhile, to our knowledge, Buena Vista has not withdrawn their water rights transfer application for mining on over 5,000 acres from the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) that the RCA and others are protesting. For information on the water protest see the September 2013 update.

The proposed mine site is identical as diagramed in their 2008 application as shown here along with other past siting proposals. The 2008 application, along with theirs of 2005, had been withdrawn because of uncertain water sources and perhaps because County Staff was then recommending (as reported in the New Mexican March 25, '08) "denial of the permit based on a 'cadre' of issues . . . ." These included impacts upon historical and archeological resources.

There are shortcomings in the application that have also been noticed by county staff, but the staff Case Manager is recommending approval of the permit. The County Development Review Committee wisely did NOT follow staff's recommendations in this case, but it's the County Commission that will make the decision.

A final rejection of a permit will happen only through citizen's continued and unequivocal input and attendance of the hearing to reject the travesty of reducing La Bajada Mesa to base course. Santa Fe County has an excess of such aggregate already.

The amount of water needed is not clear. (The application claims a total of 710,000 gallons a year or 2.19 acre feet, which we think would be woefully insufficient to accomplish the suppression of dust.)

The submittal does not address water for reclamation. A letter from the Office of the State Engineer notes that since certain documents were not provided, a technical analysis was not performed. And the OSE appears to toss the issue back to the discretion of the county. 

It is most important to attend the Board of County Commission (BCC) hearing on this to show your opposition. The great public showing of concerned citizens mattered in the just decision of the CDRC to deny Buena Vista and such a showing will again matter dearly before the BCC on Wednesday June 11 at the Santa Fe Convention Center.

We must keep sending letters to the Case Manager and county officials so that with your help we can once-and-for-all press the county to deny the siting of such an irreversible, ruinous use of this vital, historic New Mexico cultural landscape. The state, the county, the city of Santa Fe and citizens all need to work together to find a way to preserve La Bajada Mesa & Escarpment, which is worthy of being part of a National Monument.

Spread the word to individuals and organizations, gear up and write letters to the county and newspapers, and resolved to help save the Mesa from a speculative travesty. 

Send an EMAIL to All of the County Commissioners

ACTION RATIONALE: Hearing from the public definitely made a difference with the County Development Review Committee (CDRC) and is making an impact on the Board of County Commissioners (BCC).

Write to your County Commissioners (best in your own words) thanking them in supporting the moratorium on Developments of Countywide Impact and for their encouragements that proceedings be held before the public. (Treat them with respect.)

INSTRUCTIONS:
1) Put in SUBJECT:
Re: Thanks for supporting a moratorium on DCIs and gravel mining

2) Send to these: Robert A. Anaya <ranaya@santafecountynm.gov>, Daniel "Danny" Mayfield <dmayfield@santafecountynm.gov>, Miguel M. Chavez <mchavez@santafecountynm.gov>, Kathy Holian <kholian@santafecountynm.gov>, Liz Stefanics <lstefanics@santafecountynm.gov>,

3) Cc: pengreen@santafecountynm.gov, gshaffer@santafecountynm.gov, sross@co.santa-fe.nm.us, SaveLaBajada@gmail.com

SIGN THIS PETITION!

 

*The RCA is an all volunteer organization. Please give tax-deductible donations on line HERE or write check to:
    Concerned Citizens of Cerrillos, & put "For RCA Fund" in the memo. And send to: CCC, P.O. Box 245, Cerrillos, NM 87010. 

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ISSUES (pdf) OF POOR SITING AND INCOMPATIBILITY

PRESERVATION, IMPACTS, WATER, SPECULATION . . .

PRESERVATION
--La Bajada Mesa, listed by the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance as a Most Endangered Place, is the gateway to the city of Santa Fe and needs to be a protected cultural landscape. The arts, including paintings, drawings, pottery, photographs and films attest to the profound significance of La Bajada Mesa to New Mexico's culture and economy.

--The current owners have no protected rights to demand a rezoning as they purchased the property with the current agricultural/residential zoning in place. The County has no obligation to enhance the value of the property (which is also for sale) to the detriment of the County and State as a whole.

IMPACTS
--Mining the Mesa would ruin the geological integrity--the grandeur of this oceanic Gateway along I-25 into Santa Fe & Waldo Canyon Road, the road leads into the Galisteo basin park lands, a sustainable and growing economic resource.

--Mining in this site would result in environmental and cultural degradation of a landscape that has been historically, culturally and environmentally significant to New Mexico for hundreds of years.

--Development of such an industry poorly sited on an otherwise open landscape would result in impacts including increased pollution from carbon emissions and fugitive dust from multiple crushers, conveyors and heavy industrial traffic, along with blasting and night lighting.

--Mining in this location would not only negatively impact the Gateway vista from I-25 and Waldo Canyon Road--the western access to the Cerrillos Hills State Park--but would be a blight from the higher elevations of the trails that lead from the Cerrillos Hills State Park on BLM lands up Grand Central Mt. and from other recognized scenic vistas from the south and east.

--No visual impact report has been done for views from I-25, Waldo Canyon Road, the higher trails above the Cerrillos Hills State park, NM 14, and residential areas.

--The New Mexico State Parks, through the "Cerrillos Hills/Galisteo Basin State Park Feasibility Study" in 2006 concluded that the best access to the future state park would be from the I-25 corridor. An intensive expanding mine in this location along Waldo Canyon Road would have a discouraging impact upon a significant number of park visitors encountering unanticipated industrial activities, including the trucks on the road and the visual impacts of the mine itself.

--There is no need for another basalt gravel mine in the County or another gravel mining operation off of I-25 as there are several existing gravel mines within reasonable proximity that can provide these materials to Rockology itself, an Albuquerque based company.

--Reclamation would be next to impossible after stripping some 20 feet of basalt. There is little surface topsoil to set aside for reclamation. There are no strong standards to insure that reclamation would be a success and there is the likelihood that what would be left behind would be an endless source of dust.

WATER
--Hauled water should not be considered adequate for long term mining operations. Santa Fe County should develop a policy that does not by default provide water to all Developments of Countywide Impact including oil and gas, mining, CAFO's etc. and not allow them to evade needed acquisition of commercial / industrial water rights. When a proposed mine is sited well (which the Buena Vista / Rockology isn't) it should have its own long-term water supply on site so as to eliminate the impacts of water hauling that includes traffic hazards as well as additional carbonization and infrastructure impacts from heavy trucks.

--Precedence? With a precedent was set for mining any portion of the Mesa, and then a mining company were to buy any or all of the remaining thousands of acres that are for sale on the international market, with such a precedence, what would become the county's ability to halt further mining applications from new corporate owners?

--Because hauling water for needed dust control is expensive, and because the company may be underestimating the amount needed, it may be they simply will not keep the dust contained, and especially if state air quality enforcement resources prove inadequate in providing oversight.

--Can Buena Vista / Rockology be trusted to spend money on sufficient dust control? Contrary to Rockology's application of 2008 which claimed that the mined materials were needed for the Railrunner construction project, it was revealed by the press that NMDOT already had secured all the materials they would need. Their true intention appeared to be to start a 50 acre operation until at least 2020. Why should we trust them now in 2014 to go to the extra expense needed to haul sufficient water for dust control?

--The acre feet of water suggested by Buena Vista (2.19) is woefully insufficient to accomplish the intended uses, which in their application does not include reclamation.

--The amount of water needed is not clear. The application claims a total of 710,000 gallons a year or 2.19 acre feet, which we think would be woefully insufficient to accomplish the suppression of dust. Even this amount would generate thousands of heavy water haul truck passes a year and contribute to deterioration of our roads, the repair of which the taxpayer would have to subsidize.

--In keeping with the county strategy to allow growth only where it is wanted and timely, this is also not a good location.

--It is not in the public welfare to use valuable water to open up an unsustainable relatively short-term operation that would permanently degrade a long recognized historic and cultural landscape--a landscape that can otherwise contribute sustainably to the county's economic welfare through the tourist industry.

SPECULATION
--The current owners have no protected rights to demand a rezoning for the extractive industry as they purchased the property with the current agricultural/residential zoning in place. The County has no obligation to enhance the value of the property by shifting its economic worth from the value of an acre to the cubic yard.

--The property is for sale on the international market. Buena Vista is marketing the entire property of approximately 5217 acres and is including in the purpose the mining of basalt and other minerals.

--The applicant is seeking to rezone a portion of La Bajada Mesa from agriculture/residential to mining for its narrowly focused economic interests. Any such mining zone would likely be subject to expansion. The whole mesa is capped by basalt. Example: in 2002 JR Hale Contracting proposed a 500 acre strip-mine there that overlaps the current 50 acres as diagramed.

--County staff in the past (2005 & 2008) recommend denial of the permit based on a "cadre" of reasons including the threat to historical and archeological resources and because they did not want to create a new mining zone. Has anything changed since 2008 that would make gravel mining in this location any more or less suitable? Less, YES! Since then, a State Park has become a reality offering a sustainable resource just east and down wind from the proposed mine site which is incompatible.

ISSUES DOWNLOAD (pdf)

DONATE PLEASE!!: The RCA is an all volunteer organization. Please give tax-deductible donations on line HERE or write check to:
    Concerned Citizens of Cerrillos, & put "For RCA Fund" in the memo. And send to: CCC, P.O. Box 245, Cerrillos, NM 87010. 

Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to Concerned Citizens Of Cerrillos
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Facebook/Savelabajada!

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Water Rights Protest Dodged by an Agreement Between Buena Vista / Rockology and
Santa Fe County Water Utility

See also: Buena Vista Water Protest September 2013 update

Rural Conservation Alliance Archives

To: New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance, Most Endangered--La Bajada Mesa and Escarpment

Posted for the public by the Rural Conservation Alliance, an alliance of community organizations and individuals
dedicated to the preservation and protection of the natural resources and rural character
of the Galisteo Basin area of Santa Fe County, New Mexico.

--This page: Comments, opinions of the RCA, c/o POB 245, Cerrillos, NM 87010--

Site managed by RIII for the RCA


Page Updated August 24, 2015