The 5-2 decision by the committee was met with a standing ovation by the crowd, which had dwindled to about 100 after a nearly 3½-hour public hearing.
Though committee member Frank Katz, who made the motion to deny the application, said he understood the need for the material to be mined, in his eyes the proposed mining activity would have a “significant adverse effect” on the citizens of the area.
“This is just not the place to do it. It’s in everyone’s backyard in this county,” he said.
The application was brought by Buena Vista Estates Inc., owner of the property, and Albuquerque-based Rockology LLC, which planned to extract aggregate for use as construction material over the next 25 years.
Landowner James Siebert and Rockology president Steve Hooper said during their presentation of the proposal that there was an increasing demand for aggregate used to construct roads and buildings, particularly of the quality found in the area about one-half mile east of Interstate 25 and south of Santa Fe off the Waldo Canyon Road exit.
They said the mining operation would be located near a historic mining district, barely visible from the highway and other nearby roads, and would produce about 250,000 tons of gravel per year, which would generate about $122,000 in gross receipt taxes annually for the county.
But members of the public were appalled by the amount of water that would be used for the operation, considering the drought conditions the state is experiencing, and that the company would be purchasing roughly one million gallons of potable water from the county annually.
“Will this go to provide water for people, or will it go to provide water for gravel?” one man asked the committee. “The county can live without gravel, but it can’t live without water.”
Nearly 50 people, many wearing badges that read “No Strip Mine, Save La Bajada,” spoke in opposition to the proposal, while none spoke in support.
Aside from depleting water resources, their concerns included environmental damage that could occur from erosion, the impact on wildlife, decreased property values, increased truck traffic and health and safety concerns. Some of them said the mine would desecrate the area’s historic and cultural significance, noting that the mine was not far from El Camino Real and La Bajada had long been thought of as “the gateway” to northern New Mexico.
Several people said they feared approval would open the door for more mining in the area.
A few pointed out that two similar mining proposals in the same area since 2005 had received recommendations for denial by county staff.
Staff recommended this one for approval, but with conditions that a master plan be recorded with the county clerk and that the county commission require the applicant to submit a financial security for completion of reclamation.