The topic on Tuesday was gravel mining, but along the way the standing-room-only crowd at the Placitas Community Library vented on money in politics, wild horses, million-dollar homes and grievances involving the federal government and local elected officials.
Taking it all in were staff from area offices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) there to explain the process and collect comments and questions on a single issue: withdrawing from mineral development 4,200 acres of public land the agency administers in Placitas. The withdrawal would be temporary, up to 50 years, while Congress continues to wrestle with making the ban permanent through legislation that nearly passed last year.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep Melanie Stansbury introduced the Buffalo Tract Protection Act to withdraw four parcels of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in southern Sandoval County, including the Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, from any mineral development, including gravel mining. U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Reps Teresa Leger Fernández and Jared Huffman are original cosponsors.
More on point among the 20 people who spoke were concerns about negative effects of sand and gravel mining on community health, cultural resources, scenic values, the environment and the local economy. Those were the issues cited in September when Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally accepted the BLM’s proposed “Placitas Withdrawal.”
Her acceptance stopped mineral leasing here for two years while the process plays out. Quarries already abut the largest BLM tract in northeast Placitas while three other parcels in northern, central and eastern areas currently are eligible for mineral mining and oil and gas drilling.
“The water issue and the air issue are paramount to this whole process,” Michael Boyle of Placitas said.
“I can’t imagine anyone considering desecrating that beautiful, beautiful country,” said a woman who didn’t identify herself. “The beauty of this country is its calling card.”
Speakers also pointed to the importance of preserving wildlife corridors from the Sandia Mountains northwest to the Jemez Mountains and northeast to the Galisteo Basin. Long-established cultures emerged as both San Felipe and Santa Ana pueblos have ancestral claims to the land, and part of it was once fell within the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant dating to 1765.
“The legacy… transcends us and what we’re doing now,” land grant president Augustine Lucero said. “It is leaving what we now have better for those that are going to follow.”
For the pueblos, concerns about water, wildlife and the state of the land swirl within a culture where nature and the people remain an inseparable whole.
“There is a huge concern, and we will strongly voice on those issues because those are our churches,” said Ricardo Ortiz, the San Felipe tribal historic preservation officer. “Those are where we go to pray.”
No one spoke in favor of existing quarry operators expanding into the BLM lands.
“Senator Heinrich was pleased with the strong showing of support for the Biden Administration’s mineral withdrawal proposal in Placitas on Tuesday evening, something he has long advocated for. He will continue to work to pass his legislation, the Buffalo Tract Protection Act, to permanently protect the Buffalo Tract and Crest of Montezuma from future mineral development,” said a spokesperson for the Senator.
BLM staff said an environmental assessment on the withdrawal is anticipated early next year with a 30-day public comment period following. Secretary Haaland would then use her administrative powers to approve or rejected the proposed withdrawal.
The public comment period for the withdrawal began on Sept. 19 and ends on Dec. 19. Comments for or against the withdrawal can be mailed to the BLM Rio Puerco Field Office, Attn: Placitas Withdrawal, 100 Sun Ave. NE, Suite 330, Albuquerque NM 87109.
Comments and attached documents also can be emailed with the subject line Placitas Withdrawal to BLM planner Laura Gray at LGray@blm.gov.
Additionally comments from the Placitas meeting and answers to questions such as whether the withdrawal affects private land will be posted to the project website. Information on the project including a map and the Federal Register notice already can be found there at https://eplanning.BLM.gov and entering Placitas Withdrawal in the search window.