La Bajada Mesa, that prominent tabletop 15 miles south of Santa Fe along I-25, is still under threat of a proposed gravel strip mine. The mine application requires approval of the Board of County Commissioners and will be decided at a special hearing on Wednesday, June 11, 4 p.m., at the Santa Fe Convention Center, 102 Marcy St.
This strip-mine proposal met with massive public opposition at the County Development Review Committee (CDRC) hearing in March. An overflow crowd spilled into hallways and conference rooms, where television monitors broadcast the proceedings to spectators and to those awaiting their turn to speak. Of the hundreds of citizens who attended, over 40 stood to publicly voice their opposition. Not one person spoke in favor. As CDRC member Bette Booth said just before she cast her vote recommending denial of the mining application, “This is democracy in action, and it’s wonderful to see.”
In the end, the committee voted 5-2 to recommend denial of the application. But many people seem to have overlooked the word “recommend.” In June, the application again comes before the County of Santa Fe, this time for a final decision. The fate of La Bajada Mesa now lies in the hands of the five elected individuals who make up the Board of County Commissioners. They will decide whether this treasured part of New Mexico’s landscape, ecosystem, history and culture will keep its traditional character or be blasted and pulverized into gravel and base course.
Santa Fe is a county that claims to value “sustainable growth.” The June hearing will be one of those telling moments where we learn whether we really mean those words. While the county and community groups have devoted countless hours to crafting a Sustainable Growth Management Plan (SGMP) that states, “Maintaining the integrity of viewsheds is a priority,” this application would destroy one of the most important viewsheds in the county. As CDRC member Frank Katz explained with his vote to deny, it is “the policy of the county to not allow development near prominent landmarks, natural features, distinctive rocks and landforms… I absolutely agree we need construction materials. This is just not the place to do it.”
Of further concern, the area is part of an important wildlife corridor. The SGMP’s own Conceptual Major Wildlife Corridors show the proposed mine site surrounded by these corridors. Blasting, grinding, night lighting and other industrial mining activity in this sensitive area would stress wildlife, driving both predators and prey away from these critical areas of passage.
Since the CDRC hearing, the application has changed slightly. It now proposes to haul more than 18 million gallons of effluent water (rather than the originally proposed potable water) for dust control during its operation. But whether potable or not, Santa Fe’s water has better uses than the facilitation of a venture its citizens so overwhelmingly oppose.
Our commissioners must hear this critical message: La Bajada Mesa is worth more to this county intact than in pieces. The application’s economic arguments have been ridiculed by economists. Moreover, degradation of the mesa would irreparably harm the landscape, diminish the quality of life for thousands of New Mexicans, and detract from the breathtaking beauty that calls visitors from around the world to marvel at this place. While La Bajada Mesa may lie in private hands, it is a significant part of New Mexico’s heritage and a landmark that is prominently visible for miles. As such, its physical integrity deserves to be protected and preserved for the benefit of all residents, not strip-mined into rubble to enrich a few individuals.
The overwhelming public turnout at the CDRC hearing was a compelling reminder of the visceral importance of La Bajada Mesa to residents of this county. Since that hearing, the quotation, “Democracy is not a spectator sport,” has rarely left my mind. Ours is a community small enough for every voice to be heard and for your opinions to influence outcomes. But the human scale of this place also means that the absence of your voice is keenly felt. The campaign to save La Bajada Mesa is as grassroots as it gets. There are no PACs or behemoth national organizations representing our interests. It’s me, and you, and neighbors throughout the county standing up, spreading the word, writing letters, and speaking out against the irreparable harm that this mine represents.
We have just one chance to get it right. This June, our county commissioners have a clear choice to make.
You can help ensure they make the right decision. Write letters. Come to the final hearing on case number ZMIN13-5360 (Rockology Case). The hearing could be postponed, so visit www.SaveLaBajada.org or “like” Facebook.com/Savelabajada to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. For more information, copies of the agenda or auxiliary aids or services, call 505.986.6200.
Diane Senior is an active member of the Rural Conservation Alliance. She lives far off-grid in a still-rural area outside of Madrid, NM. Email her at SaveLaBajada@gmail.com