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Gov. Lujan Grisham opposes Pecos Canyon mining plan

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham came out swinging Thursday against an Australian-based company’s plan to conduct exploratory drilling for copper, gold and zinc in the Pecos Canyon, a popular angling and camping spot in northern New Mexico.

In a letter sent to the head of the U.S. Forest Service, Lujan Grisham said many residents and visitors to the area have expressed misgivings about the plan and said cleanup from previous mining operations has already cost roughly $36 million, including about $7 million in state funds.

“After a long and expensive cleanup … the Pecos Valley has rebounded and is now of great environmental, economic, cultural, historical and recreational importance to New Mexico,” the first-term Democratic governor wrote in her letter.

The governor’s opposition to exploratory mining in the Pecos Canyon could ratchet up political pressure, but it’s not necessarily a deathblow for the proposed project.

The land in question is located on federal land within the Santa Fe National Forest and a permit application is currently pending with the U.S. Forest Service. An 1872 law prevents the agency from prohibiting the exploration and development of mineral resources on U.S. Forest Service lands, though certain conditions can be imposed.

However, the plan must also get approval from the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, which intends to hold a public hearing on the matter this fall in Pecos, an agency spokeswoman said Thursday.

In her letter, Lujan Grisham said agency staffers believe the new mining activity – an estimated 30 drill holes – would have a larger disturbance than the 2.1 acres figure cited by New World Cobalt, the company proposing the project.

She also cited concern about potential impact to the Pecos River, a well-known fishing destination.

In 1991, a heavy snowmelt and a thunderstorm sent toxic metals leftover from previous mining operations into the Pecos River, killing nearly 10,000 rainbow trout at the state’s Lisboa Springs Hatchery a few miles downstream.

“Resumption of mining in the upper Pecos Valley presents unacceptable risks to an area still recovering from damages inflicted by past mining activities,” Lujan Grisham said in her letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.

Specifically, the proposed exploratory drilling would take place on Jones Hill near Tererro, about 10 miles north of Pecos in the national forest.

A subsidiary of New World Cobalt, Comexico LLC, indicated it would like to start work on the project in October and potentially engage in drilling activities through February 2020.

According to its permit application, the company has said it would remove all trash and waste from the mining site and would be careful not to leak any hazardous chemicals into the ground or nearby streams.

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