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Forest Service accepting comment on Pecos-area drilling plan

SANTA FE, N.M. — The management of the Santa Fe National Forest is soliciting public input on the controversial proposal by Comexico LLC to conduct exploratory core drilling on national forest land north of Pecos in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

National forest representatives will host a public meeting on Thursday, Dec. 12, “to share information about the Comexico proposal and the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and to give the public an opportunity to ask questions and provide comments,” according to a news release.

The public meeting will be at Pecos High School on N.M. 63 from 6-8 p.m.

The proposed drilling would be on previously identified mineral deposits, primarily copper, lead and zinc.

But the U.S. Forest Service’s news release noted that Comexico, a subsidiary of Australian company New World Cobalt, is not proposing to mine the Jones Hill area. “Comexico’s business model is to conduct exploration on previously identified deposits and market the prospect to other investors/companies for development,” the release said.

The forest service said public comments received by a Jan. 17 deadline “will help determine the scope of the Comexico project, including the SFNF’s management of Comexico’s exploration activities.”

Comexico proposes using existing roads and drill sites to drill up to 30 core holes on less than 5 acres to evaluate the ore body and its commercial viability.

The project area was previously explored for minerals in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s but not actively mined. Historic mining and mill sites that were active in the upper Pecos Valley from the 1880s to the 1930s contaminated soil and water and required remediation over decades. Critics of the Comexico proposal fear new contamination will flow into the Pecos River canyon, a popular recreation area for anglers, campers and hikers and where many vacation or weekend homes are located.

The Forest Service’s release also noted that federal mining regulations and laws require the agency to allow mineral exploration and development on National Forest System lands. But the activities proposed in Comexico’s plan do require analysis under NEPA, and the Forest Service can add mitigation measures and modifications to minimize potential environmental impacts.

Any future proposal to mine the Jones Hill area would require further NEPA analysis and documentation in a formal environmental assessment or environmental impact statement.

The Forest Service said the area surrounding the project site is partially within an inventoried roadless area and adjacent to wetlands. The project area also is within designated critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, and the endangered Holy Ghost ipomopsis, a flowering plant, as well as habitat for the goshawk, peregrine falcon and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The larger landscape also includes cultural resources important to several tribes.

“The SFNF will require modifications to Comexico’s plan to mitigate any impacts on these resources,” said the news release.

Documents related to the Comexico proposal are posted on the project webpage, https://www.fs.usda.gov/project?project=56733. Comments about Comexico’s plan can submitted online at that site by clicking on “Comment/Object on Project” under the “Get Connected” heading on the right side of the page.

Emails should be submitted to comments-southwestern-santafe-pecos-lasvegas@fs.fed.us with “Comexico Proposal” in the subject line. If attaching a document, use .doc, .txt, .pdf, or .rtf formats only.

Comments also can be mailed to Santa Fe National Forest, Pecos/Las Vegas District, P.O. Drawer 429, Pecos, NM 87552, or delivered in person to the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger Station at 32 South Main Street in Pecos, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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