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Gravel mining in Placitas: present …and future?

—Orin Safier, President, Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA)

Gravel mining has been going on in the Placitas Area for decades. At present, the largest gravel mining operation is the Lafarge operation off the I-25 Frontage Road in the northern part of Placitas. Over the years, a number of major subdivisions have developed near that operation. The residents there have patiently waited for the end of gravel mining. And even those who live further away have been waiting for the end of the constant gravel truck traffic, the dust, the noise, and the broken windshields. Years ago, in the 1980s and 1990s, the then owners and mining operators of that land gave assurances to developers and residents that the mining operation would cease at the latest by August 31, 2015. Yet one Lafarge executive recently stated that they believe they have the rights to “mine to the edges” (right up to residential properties) “and for as long as it is profitable.”

The present owner of this land is Mt. Adams Holdings, LLC, of Washington state, from whom Lafarge leases the land. ES-CA and surrounding Homeowner Associations have attempted repeatedly to communicate with Mt. Adams regarding these promises to end mining operations on their land, but Mt. Adams has avoided answering any of our inquiries.

Lafarge’s position is that they recognize no authority of the County to place restrictions on their mining area, regardless of the fact that this mining operation is strictly governed by a Nonconformance Certificate granted in 1988 by the Extra-Territorial Zoning (ETZ) Authority, which then consisted jointly of Sandoval County and the Town of Bernalillo. When the ETZ was officially disbanded in 2010, the County “grandfathered” in the nonconforming mining use on that land, in accord with the 1988 certificate. Michael Springfield, Director of the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Department, has required that Lafarge demonstrate that they are not in violation of the terms of that Certificate, which include limits placed on the area and sequence of mining, and on the placement of the processing operation.

Last year the County took positive action against Fisher Sand and Gravel when they were out of compliance with the conditions of their zoning, and effectively ended Fisher’s plans to run an asphalt plant operation on their land south of the I-25/Highway 165 interchange. Now, with the County taking positive action to hold Lafarge fully to the terms of the governing 1988 Certificate, the outstanding question is whether Mt. Adams and Lafarge are willing to play by the rules.

The stakes for Placitas residents are high. It is not just abstract quality of life that is at issue. A study published in 2006 demonstrated that residential property values near gravel mines can be reduced up to 35 percent. It is our understanding that the county derives no revenues from the mining activities, yet must absorb the significant additional cost of maintaining the roads used to transport the mined materials. Essentially, we are subsidizing the reduction in value to our homes.

Placitas also faces other possible future gravel mining operations. The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in their draft Resource Management Plan (RMP), has proposed devoting up to eight hundred acres of the “Buffalo Parcel” on the northern border of Placitas to gravel mining operations. Placitas organizations and individuals protested this planned use in their comments on the draft RMP. At present, we are awaiting publication of the revised RMP, to see whether or not the BLM has listened to our voices. The BLM says to expect publication of the RMP at the end of June or beginning of July, after which there will be a thirty-day period for protests.

In addition to the land owned by Fisher Sand and Gravel, there is another parcel just south of it, the former McIlhenny property. Now owned by the Sandia Pueblo, it borders I-25 and the Pueblo lands to the south. At one time it was zoned for mining, but as it has not been used for that purpose for decades, the zoning should have reverted to default zoning Rural Residential Agricultural (RRA). Yet the County still considers this land to be zoned for mining, which means that in the future it could be put to that use, affecting a number of residences in the southern part of Placitas.

We also recently learned that Mt. Adams purchased the land parcel just south of the Lafarge operation, a 160-acre parcel annexed to the Town of Bernalillo, which the previous owner tried unsuccessfully to get zoned for apartment buildings. Of course, our concern is that Mt. Adams might be considering expanding mining into that parcel, or for other mining-related uses such as access roads.

It is time for the community to get behind the county’s efforts to hold the mining operators to the terms of their agreements and to work towards a certain end of mining activity in the Placitas area.

The public is invited to attend the ES-CA General Meeting on June 8, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., at the Placitas Community Center, where this will be one of the discussion topics.


Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association

Chris Daul, ES-CA

The Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) will hold their General Meeting on June 8 at the Placitas Community Center on Camino de las Huertas, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. All residents are invited to attend. Major topics to be discussed include the proposed BLM Pipeline, the BLM land use proposal, mining operations, and other topics of interest to residents.

The Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association was formed in 2011 as a watchdog organization to monitor actions by the various governmental agencies that affect Placitas and nearby communities east of I-25, and their residents. ES-CA is composed of residents of Placitas, who volunteer their time and effort to attend governmental meetings, interact with government officials, and communicate what is going on to the rest of the residents.

ES-CA worked to remove Placitas from ESCAFCA and thus helped reduce taxes. ES-CA was also instrumental in closing down the Fisher operation and is working with Sandoval County officials to enforce zoning laws in relation to the LaFarge Gravel mine. We are monitoring the BLM Resource Management Plan and have submitted comments. ES-CA is fighting hard to keep additional mining out of the Placitas area.

In addition, ES-CA is addressing the safety issues presented by the gas pipeline that is proposed to use existing pipes running through Placitas and adjacent BLM lands. The proposal will increase the volume and pressure of gas in the current pipeline, and presents a number of safety concerns for residents of Placitas. We are in communication with BLM, the Governor’s office, and our elected State and Federal officials, but we need everyone’s help to ensure that this project is done in a safe manner that protects our residents, our property, and our property values.

ES-CA is your community watchdog organization. We hope that you will join us and become involved in protecting your community. Go to www.es-ca.org for more information about what we are doing for you, and how you can help.


Medicinal plants field trip planned

—Joan Fenicle, Las Placitas Association

Las Placitas Association invites the public on a field trip to B. Ruppe Drugstore at 807 Fourth Street SW in Albuquerque on Saturday, June 15 at 10:00 a.m. Founded in 1883, this store has been dispensing remedios for 130 years in Barelas. You will see hundreds of dried herbs in packages and boxes in the store and the smells may be familiar like lavender, or new to you like osha, lizard tail root and sunflower of the dead. Herbalist Maclovia Sanchez y Zamora will talk about the medicinal use of the herbs and answer questions. Just down the street is the Barelas Coffee House, a great spot for a “chili fix.” To register, call 771-4007 or email: joanf41@gmail.com. Carpooling opportunities are likely to be available.

 

 
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