Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
 
 

Vulcan gravel mine hosts outreach program

—Chris Daul

On Tuesday, July 7, Vulcan Materials Company presented a Community Open House at the Placitas Library for the residents of Placitas. The event consisted of several stations, each one dealing with a specific topic, including: “Safety and Health,” “Mandatory Standards and Practices,” “Environmental Compliance,” “Environmental Stewardship,” and “Reclamation.” There were representatives of Vulcan at each station, with additional representatives throughout the room. Approximately 80 residents attended the event, however many more turned away as the parking had overflowed out to Highway 165.

Vulcan purchased the operations of the sand-and-gravel mine that was previously operated by Lafarge and is located in the northwest area of Placitas. Barbara Goodrich-Welk, who is the Manager for Projects and External Affairs of the West Region of Vulcan, stated that this event was the first step in their outreach program to Placitans. She said that Vulcan will make future presentations and schedule tours of the facility for residents.

State Representative Jim Smith, who was instrumental is setting up this event, was in attendance, as was Sandoval County Commissioner James Dominguez. Alex Bazan was also there as a representative for Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. Each one expressed their concern for Placitas and the effects that sand-and-gravel mining are having on the community. Local community groups were well-represented, including the leaders of the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (Bob Gorrell, president), Las Placitas Association (Sandy Johnson, president), and the Land Use Planning Trust (Dick Ulmer, chairman).

Mike Bowen, who is the Executive Director of the New Mexico Mining Association, said that the NMMA is concerned with insuring that any types of mining operations are conducted in strict compliance with all regulations and that negative impacts to surrounding communities are minimized.

Some residents were disappointed in the format of the event and asked that Vulcan return with a formal presentation that included a question-and-answer session. A few residents were pleased with the format, but all agreed that Vulcan should continue to communicate with residents. Vulcan representatives stated that they were unable to discuss any issues relating to the current lawsuit between Sandoval County and Lafarge, which would include expanding operations beyond the boundaries listed in the original County “grandfathered” approval.

Vulcan distributed information stating that they are working to insure that the Placitas operation is in full compliance with all applicable Federal, State and County regulations. They have hired an environmental specialist for their New Mexico operations and have updated their pollution prevention plan and developed a new inspection compliance plan. Vulcan advised that it does have current water and air permits. However, many residents voiced their concerns about the increased scale of the mining operation and the continuing dust and high water-use issues.


Eastern Sandoval Citizens’ Association (ES-CA) notes

—Chris Daul

The Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) was disappointed that Sandoval County staff were unwilling to support a strong Resolution concerning any future sand-and-gravel mining in the Placitas, Algodones, and Bernalillo areas. Omitted were the “Whereas” clauses, the substance of any Resolution, which cited relevant facts to be considered prior to any future county gravel mining approvals. Also omitted was a reiteration of the importance of public process for property owners in the area of proposed land-use changes and specifically the enormously negative impact of gravel mining.

Eastern Sandoval County currently has four of New Mexico’s thirteen largest gravel mines all within a six-mile radius of the Placitas community where more than 14,500 people reside in over 6,200 homes with no Federal, State, or County agency actively monitoring the cumulative effect of the fugitive dust and small particulates from these mines on surrounding residents. ES-CA will attempt to meet with the Sandoval County Manager to understand how the Resolution, brought forward by our Commissioner Dominguez, can remain intact. ES-CA is hopeful that a solution can be reached. The proposed Resolution and back-up material can be viewed on the ES-CA Forum at www.es-ca.org.

As noted earlier in this Signpost, Vulcan Materials hosted a Community Open House at the Placitas Library on July 7. ES-CA was well represented and had numerous discussions with Vulcan representatives. ES-CA has decided to reach out to Vulcan to see if there is a way to discuss and deal with the issues affecting residents of the area. ES-CA remains committed to enforcing the current zoning regulations that apply to the “Placitas Mine.” ES-CA continues to support the lawsuit against Lafarge and is still waiting to hear from the judge as to whether she will allow ES-CA, represented by members of the ES-CA Land Use Planning Trust (LPT) board, to join the lawsuit.

ES-CA is also in the process of scheduling a meeting with Jon Barela who is the Cabinet Secretary for New Mexico Economic Development. ES-CA would like the opportunity to demonstrate that some land uses, such as sand-and-gravel mining are not of economic benefit, and in fact reduce State, County, and Local spending and available jobs. This is not a new concept and is the value and purpose of well-thought-out zoning and appropriate zoning enforcement.

ES-CA will be holding its annual meeting on August 15 at the Anasazi Winery in Placitas, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres will be the featured guest. A number of issues will be discussed, including mining, proposed uses for the BLM Buffalo Tract, and pipeline safety. All residents are welcome to attend. The next board meeting of ES-CA is scheduled for August 3 at the Placitas Fire House. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public.


Antelope Horn Milkweed
Photo credit: —Michael Crofoot

Ecological stewardship—Harvest this summer's native plant seeds

—Michael Crofoot

Beautiful Placitas has some problems. There is broad scale erosion everywhere and these days when it rains hard hereabouts huge amounts of soil still get washed to the Las Huertas and then down into the Rio Grande. The current cover of plant life here is a small shadow of what it once was, even compared to what it was fifty years ago. It turns out that there was a huge wildfire about 1835 that burnt up the Las Huertas from Algodones, raged right through the village of Placitas, went as far east as Montezuma Ridge then whooshed right up to the top of the north face of the Sandias. There were ponderosa pine groves and scattered trees all around Placitas which were killed in this incredibly hot fire. It has been found that many logs from the dead trees ended up as building vigas as far as Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

This deforestation was followed a few decades later by widespread overgrazing from thousands of sheep and hundreds of goats all over the Placitas area, utterly changing and degrading the plant cover in our area. The shock of the extended drought in the 1950s also much reduced the native desert vegetation. Our current drought started in 2001 and loss of plant life and loss of top soil can be seen everywhere, if you know how to look. Many of our beautiful plant species are only hanging on by a few scattered plants here and there. Surely our native animal, bird, reptile and insect populations must have suffered as well from their loss of habitat and food sources.

What is to be done? With the wonderful rain we have been having, a bumper crop of native plants is coming up all over, and this means that there will be heaps of plant seeds we can harvest and sow on our own properties. With this wet weather we have been having this year, the conditions for helping bring back our native plant cover are perfect. A list has been developed for locations of native plant species along the roadsides of Route 165 and in other local neighborhoods to help guide local seed collectors to the plant riches of our own fantastic landscapes. The seed plant list includes where and how to harvest the seeds and how to replant these seeds right away elsewhere. [See seed list posted below.]

Good luck and good hunting

 
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