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Associated Asphalt and Materials wants to consolidate its two asphalt plants located near Santa Fe Regional Airport at the south end of town, but opponents are calling the presence of the plants “environmental racism.”
On March 22, the New Mexico Environment Department will hold a public hearing for Associated Asphalt’s air quality permit. The company currently has two plants about half a mile from each other. The goal is to move the asphalt plant on Oliver Road north to co-locate it with the existing asphalt plant in the area.
That means the plants would be moving 50% farther away from residential areas, Matt Lane, environmental manager for Associated Asphalt, said. It also means there will be a 50% reduction in the concentrations of emissions that reach residential areas, he said.
Lane said the move wouldn’t allow the company to increase production rates – it’s simply a move to put two plants together for efficiency’s sake.
The consolidated plant site would be located at 86 Paseo de River in Santa Fe County. If approved, Associated Asphalt would close its two existing air quality permits for the one consolidated permit.
The move would also allow the plants to be fully hooked up to the local electrical grid. Right now, the plant on Oliver Road uses diesel generators, and the move would eliminate the diesel exhaust in the area.
But Miguel Angel Acosta, co-director of Earth Care, which describes itself as a “youth empowerment and community development organization,” said the Associated Asphalt consolidation will bring the plant closer to the El Camino Real Academy, a school with about 800 students. He said the move will also bring the plant closer to a mobile home park.
“Quality of life and standards need to apply not just to tourists and to north side elites,” Acosta said. “Quality of life and health standards need to apply to everybody.”
He said his concern doesn’t lie just with the consolidation, but with the fact that an industrial area is zoned right next to one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Santa Fe. This also happens to be an area home to low-income and immigrant communities.
More tracking mechanisms
Katharine Fishman, manager of Associated Asphalt, said the company would also be paving the road its trucks use, which would cut down on dirt and debris being spread in the area.
“Right now, some of the permits that Associated Asphalt operates under are older permits, and they did not contain as many conditions as a modern permit does,” Lane said. ” By getting this new permit that (the New Mexico Environment Department) will issue, there’s going to be a lot more tracking mechanisms in there (for air quality).”
Fishman is the daughter of prominent business man Richard Cook, who died at the age of 91 in 2017. She inherited her father’s companies, including Associated Asphalt.
In 2014, Copar Pumice Co., owned by the Cook family, paid a $2.25 million federal settlement for alleged environmental mining violations in the Jemez National Recreation Area. Residents close to the mining site complained of dust, noise and traffic from the operations, according to previous reporting.
Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman with the Environment Department, said the Santa Fe Associated Asphalt locations have not had any environmental violations. But she said that, in the past 20 years, the department issued three violation notices to other Associated Asphalt locations.
Hayden said the only way an air permit can be revoked is after issuing an Administrative Compliance Order, which follows violations of regulatory requirements and the company’s failure to comply with the order. The Environment Department doesn’t have the authority to shut down or force a company to move if it meets state and federal air regulations. Prohibiting operations can be addressed by county zoning requirements, she said.
Carmelina Hart, communications coordinator for Santa Fe County, said the county hasn’t received a permit application for Associated Asphalt. She said the application process is public and that part of the process is getting feedback from area residents. The current asphalt plants are considered an allowable use for the area, she said.
‘There’s a pattern’
Linda Marianiello, a resident of Tierra Contenta on Santa Fe’s Southside, said she thinks circumstances would be different if the area was wealthier and whiter. As an example, Marianiello mentioned that, a couple of years ago, MorningStar Assisted Living planned to build a facility on the wealthier Eastside off Old Pecos Trail. But neighbors complained about increased traffic and the facility was moved closer to the Midtown area on Pacheco Street.
Earth Care’s Acosta said another recent example was the Flying J truck stop, proposed to be built near the entrance of the Rancho Viejo subdivision near the community college, also an area where whites make up the majority of the population.
“So there’s a pattern,” Acosta said. “There’s a pattern and we call it environmental racism.”
He said he would like to see better air quality monitoring standards for the asphalt plants and more research into how the pollution affects area residents. That part of town has also been one of the communities hardest hit by COVID-19.
There are more lungs exposed to COVID-19 in the area and no data on how those lungs react to the asphalt pollution, Acosta said. He said he would like to do more research into the pollution reporting standards before another permit is issued.
“That’s the kind of environmental racism that we keep running into,” Acosta said. “So it’s too burdensome to ask the company to monitor (air quality), but the burdens to community health are not an issue.”