Cerrillos Sand and Gravel-Beginnings and Endings



HOW DID THIS CONTROVERSIAL, NOW SUSPENDED GRAVEL CRUSHING OPERATION (today known as Cerrillos Gravel Products) begin? Why did a gravel sifting application request a 3 acre zone and how was this obtained and turned into, as some estimate, a 40 acre hard-rock disturbance? This brief paper will suggest answers to the first question of origin.

THE QUESTION OF SITING AND PRIOR USE A four-year struggle in the mid-1970s between people of southern Santa Fe County and Occidental Mining Corp (Oxymin), subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, demonstrated clear local opposition to an attempted large scale in-situ leach mining project in the Cerrillos Hills north of the Village of Los Cerrillos. This would have, if allowed, involved the rubbelization of a large portion of the Hills via a huge explosion. But no actual mining was ever done by Oxymin. This was a result of the persistence and fervor of local opposition, as well as State recognition that there would be unacceptable impacts upon the environment. There was exploration and preparation in the form of a much smaller blast for a comparatively small feasibility pilot project that was ultimately not allowed to proceed. That struggle ended approximately 6 months after the state environmental agency rejected the Oxymin proposal and the company announced in February 1978 that the project was suspended indefinitely.

But approximately 5 years after the citizen's clear, overwhelming expression of concern about Oxymin, a seed that would become mischievous to the public welfare, was being planted.

How did this (Aitken and then R. Cook) crushed rock operation get past a concerned local public?

Did the gravel company then proceed with the recognition that to get a mine started it had to do so beneath public awareness, otherwise a legitimate local resistance could have been reawakened? The current on-going opposition for almost a decade is testimony that had residents been asked from the start if they would be willing to sacrifice their welfare to live, by default, in and adjacent to a dusty industrial zone with hundreds of trucks streaming through the Village and communities along the Turquoise Trail, such a nuisance would not have been tolerated.

These documents show what was first allowed--a gravel "sifting operation" with seemingly clear and relatively modest limits. They can offer some insight into how the people's will was first undermined and ultimately subverted with misleading information provided to county officials.

Facts & Fictions


A reading of the following quotes from the attached "documents of fact" are self explanatory and easily compared with the "documents of fiction".

TEST Rubblized CUBE 100' x 100' x 100' --From hearing notes by S.Goodwin, 27 July 1977


Oxymin: Documents of Fact - 1977

1) "The pilot test involves the leaching of a 100'x100'x100' block, (approximately 80,000 tons), of blast rubblized . . . rock . . . ." From: Oxymin Discharge Plan (DP); March 18, 1977. Source: NMED, DP-2, microfiche "3 of 8". To aerial photo.

2) "The subsurface explosion . . . turned a 100-cubic-foot chunk of earth to rubble." "Following the brief protest demonstration, the group traveled to the blast site to view the result first hand . . . . After briefly inspecting the 50-foot wide crater left by the explosion, the group disbanded." From Albuquerque Journal, 'Appeals Fail to Halt Blast At Cerrillos', Jan. 22, 1977, with photos.

3) "[#2] Leachate . . . has several possible avenues to the ground water including . . . drill holes in the rubblized area or within ten feet of the periphery of that area . . . contiguous with the rubblized zone . . . ." From NM Environmental Improvement Agency, notice of the Oxymin DP disapproval, August 26, 1977. This document illustrates that the disturbance did not go significantly beyond the rubblized zone.

4) "Company [Oxynin] president Paul A. Bailly said the 'multi-million dollar pilot plant has never operated." From Albuquerque Journal, 'Cerrillos Mine Project Suspended Indefinitely', Feb. 21, 1978.

Cerrillos Sand & Gravel: Documents of Fiction - 1983
(later renamed Cerrillos Gravel Products)

5) "The gravel site is an area of roughly 10 acres that has been previously fractured by Oxymin . . . ." "In this site it needs only to be screened to size." From Cerrillos Sand & gravel application (McFadden and R.C. Aitken) cover letter to Santa Fe County Land Use & Code Administrator assistant, Oct. 3, 1983.

6) "This [Oxymin] rubblized section containing approximately 10 million tons of rock, when put through a screener yields Base Course . . . ." "The estimated acreage which would be disturbed by a gravel operation is the [Oxymin] rubblized zone comprising about 3 acres of the property . . . ." From, Cerrillos Sand & gravel application, Oct. 3, 1983, pp 3 & 5. These statements describing the rubblized zone can not be dismissed as mere metaphor.

Santa Fe County: Approval

Was a county approval based upon misleading misinformation presented in the McFadden / Aitken application? The County approval of the requested acreage suggests that this is the case:

7) "A condition of approval is that you limit disturbance of the ground surface to 3 acres." From Santa Fe County approval, April 16, 1984.

Concluding Observations

THE ORIGINAL October 3, 1983 application was factually misleading, inaccurate and without hint of what this subversion would lead to.

To obtain approval of a 3 acre mining zone, the 1983 sand and gravel application both inflates and deflates the magnitude of previous disapproved mining related activities. When demonstrating an existing resource--a previously "rubblized zone"--there is presented in the application a false and significant inflation of the amount. This inflation then was followed by a seemingly modest proposal for a zone that fell well within the fictional size of the rubblized resource. In this way, by requesting a zone substantially smaller than the resource claimed under the false pretext that it had been previously rubblized, the applicants were able to zone an area substantially larger than the actual 100'x100'x100' rubblized zone. This could soon require crushing rather than sifting.

Thus, unnoticed, the proposal seemed clearly plausible when reviewed by county officials unaware of the history of that period. Being presented in such a way, the proposal might also slip under the notice of the public.

Public Notice? Was the application poorly advertised and/or poorly described? If the official descriptions of record are any indication, the answer would be Yes:

--Item, Minutes, BCC, April 9, 1984, "b. Request . . . to establish sand and gravel zone three miles west of San Marcos Grant". The previous day, a notice in the paper (Santa Fe New Mexican, sect. A-10) uses the same description of location; thus the proposal could have been easily missed by Cerrillos area residents--the Village being but 1/3 that distance to the south.

--Item, Minutes, CDRC, Nov. 22, 1983. Less dramatic but still lacking of an accurate descriptive location was the prior CDRC meeting agenda heading: "#6c. Creation of a new mining zone for gravel extraction". A CDRC public notice in the same paper (sect. B-2) on the 20th makes no mention of any proposed mine zone.

If there was any discussion among the local population, this might have been easily rumored as "the sifting of Occidental's 100 foot test block for local gravel."

Even apart from the questions of sufficiency of public notice, we can see that this gravel mine had its beginnings through false or misleading statements, both understatements as well as overstatements.

If "grandfathering" can continue to be based upon such seeds of injustice, then justice died in that seed. This example, in retrospect, can be viewed as a classic abuse of a seemingly modest proposal by mainly out-of-state landowners, apparently disinterested in the welfare of a local population.

-- Opinions of RCA member, Ross Lockridge, Dec. 28, 2002



-- Historic "Cerrillos Mining District" --
A New Mexico "Cultural Property"--not a mine zone

--Mining reclamation in NM: More case histroy, Cerrillos, NM (352k)

Rural Conservation Alliance, P.O. Box 245, Cerrillos, NM 87010

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Page Updated April, 2003