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Sea of mud, coal washes through Madrid

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

MADRID, N.M. – “The show must go on.”

That’s why Barbara Fail and a half dozen others spent Tuesday vigorously working to clean up Madrid’s old Engine House Theatre of a mucky mixture of mud and coal that had flowed down the nearby hillside after a torrential rainstorm swept through town Sunday night.

“It’s just a setback,” said Fail, producer of this weekend’s “The Madridical Land of Ozoids,” a gender-bending play in which men play women’s roles and vice versa. “We already had a lot of work to do to get ready for the show. Now, there’s just more to do.”

The theater is on the property of the Mine Shaft Tavern on the town’s south side. Although the popular bar and restaurant came out unscathed and remains open for business, the theater, the auxiliary Old West Saloon and Old Coal Town Museum sustained flood damage.

The museum was hit hardest. About 6 inches of mud caked the floor of what once served as the town’s coal mining operations building.

“That’s our history,” said Lori Lindsey, owner of the privately operated museum and tavern. “This is the place that tells the story of how it was from the 1930s to present. One of the reasons I bought this property was to try to preserve it.”

Located in what was known as the “Coal Gulch” in the Ortiz Mountains south of Santa Fe, Madrid became a model of the coal mining company town at the turn of the 20th century. The population grew to about 2,500 before the mines shut down in the 1950s and the community became a ghost town, only to be revived two decades later by an influx of artisans and hippies.

Lindsey said she and many others put a lot of work into the museum’s preservation.

“And in one night it all got undone,” she said.

The Mine Shaft Tavern was hosting the New Mexico Jazz Workshop’s Blues Fest on Sunday afternoon. That was just about to wrap up when rain started falling about 5:30.

Then, it started raining harder. And then, it started raining really hard, the winds picked up, and thunder and lightning followed.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Lindsey. “It was like being in a hurricane, and all this rock and coal kept coming down the hillside.”

Lindsey, who said she’s lived through some hurricanes herself, said the storm was so bad most of the 150 people still at the blues festival hung around and waited for the storm to pass.

“Everybody was still dancing, and the band finished playing, but it kept raining really hard,” she said. “Like a hurricane, you can’t do anything when it’s still raining. You’ve got to wait until the storm is over.”

The storm raged on for about two hours, she said. By then, the muck had penetrated hers and other buildings up and down N.M. 14, the main street through Madrid.

Lindsey said gob piles – piles of mining waste left over from the town’s mining heyday – that stood on the eastern slope of the hills behind the property washed down the hill, into the buildings and onto the road.

“Now it’s spread all around town,” she said. “That’s been the worst part. Water you can deal with, but when coal and mud comes in, that’s different.”

Lindsey said she doesn’t know how she’s going to clean up the mess in the museum. Nor does she think her insurance will cover the damage.

She was holding out hope that some funding might come from the Abandoned Mine Lands program reclamation fund. The fund is supported by taxes placed on existing mining operations and is used to mitigate the effects of historic mining operations.

“This whole hillside is dotted with mines. Clearly, I’m pretty affected by the act of coal mining,” she said.

“Not just for me, but to keep this from happening again,” she continued. “If that’s what comes out of this, that would be fantastic.”

But John Kretzmann, who manages the program for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said the Abandoned Mine Lands program is a remediation fund, not an emergency fund.

His department has done some remediation work in Madrid over the years, putting in two drop insets on both sides of the highway in front of the Mine Shaft Tavern, for example, to alleviate flooding on N.M. 14 and installing an outlet pipe that sends water to an arroyo.

Four inspectors have visited Madrid since Sunday’s rainstorm to survey the damage, but the department can’t help Lindsey and many other Madrid residents who experienced storm damage – at least not right away.

“The problem isn’t really funding; it’s the process that has to be gone through to spend federal dollars,” he said. “Being a federally funded program, we are required to go through environmental and cultural resources processes, so we’re probably several years away from getting funding that’s needed.”

Being on the state and national historic registers, Madrid buildings may have a higher standard to meet, he said.

In addition, unlike some other government entities, the department doesn’t have the right to eminent domain, meaning it has to get permission from landowners to do construction work on their properties.

Kretzmann said there are at least a dozen landowners on the hill overlooking Madrid.

“The abandoned mine program can play a long-term role in addressing storm water drainage problems in Madrid, but we’re not set up to respond on an emergency basis,” he said. “We do hope to be a part of the long-term storm water drainage solution.”

So townspeople are looking for ways to raise funds to pay the cost of cleaning up after the storm. “The Madridical Land of Ozoids,” playing at the Engine House Theatre on Friday and Saturday nights, will be a part of it.

“We just decided about an hour ago that proceeds will go to flood relief for the whole community,” Fail said. “In times of need, everybody comes together. That’s what makes this such an amazing community.”

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