A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
Editorial: Ski Area Expansions: The Wave of the Future? by Kay Matthews
New Mexico Environment Department Study by Kay Matthews
El Molino Site Cleanup by Paul Robinson
Northern New Mexico is under siege. Because of its water, timber, and mineral resources, and its extreme pristine beauty, many developers are looking to exploit our area in ways that will impair and ultimately destroy the traditional ways of life which have flourished in this area for hundreds of years. Government agencies are now actively promoting the area as a recreational playground without regard to the impacts on local communities. Water quality and water quantity are threatened. We have seen how these same issues have divided communities in the past. The purpose of this newspaper is to provide a forum for these concerns, so that efforts to protect our watershed and cultural heritage can be coordinated. We invite members of the community to contribute articles, in either English or Spanish, expressing their views.
El Norte de Nuevo Mexico está actualmente con muchos problemas. Razones como su agua, bosques, recursos naturales y su belleza inigualable, han influido para que muchas firmas de constucción, estén buscando vias para explotar nuestra área, las cuales irán afectar de una forma negativa y ultimamente irán a destruir las modelos de vida tradicionales que han estado presentes en esta área por varios siglos. Las agencias gubernamentales están actualmente promoviendo esta área como un lugar recreacional, sin pensar en el impacto de ésto para las comunidades locales. La calidad y cantidad del agua están amenazados. Nosotros hemos visto como esos mismos problemas han dividido comunidades en el pasado. El propósito de este periódico es ofrecer un foro sobre estas problemáticas, de tal forma que se diseñen estrategias para proteger nuestra agua, cultura, herencia. Nosotros invitamos a los miembros de la comunidad para que escriban y contribuyan con artículos en Español o Inglés en los cuales expresen sus opiniones sobre estos problemas.
On December 12 at Picuris Pueblo, the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition sponsored a meeting with Taos County Planners to find out about the status of land use planning in our area of the county. Carlos Miera, planning director, explained the implementation of the Regional Water Plan and the origin and role of the Jicarita Enterprise Community, an economic development arm of the county. David DiCicco, senior planner, presented goals set by the county for implementation of its Comprehensive Planning Process.
After a welcoming statement from Picuris Lt. Governor Carl Tsosie, Miera began by saying: "Our decisions should be based on our impending death," setting the theme of the presentation&emdash;that our resources, particularly our water, are the legacy we will leave our children. And if we don't make wise decisions now, that legacy will not amount to much.
Miera explained that Taos County recently received a grant to study community watersheds, including both surface and ground water, for quality, quantity, and conservation. With regard to quantity, Miera encouraged people to start inventorying their surface water rights, as the Peñasco area is next in line to be adjudicated by the Office of the State Engineer. Meanwhile, the county has been trying to determine the quantity of underground water resources.
With regard to water quality, the county is trying to identify sources that are currently, or have the potential of, polluting our area's rivers: the Rio Pueblo, Rio Embudo, Rio Santa Barbara, and their tributaries. Water quality guidelines have recently become stricter with the passage of Picuris Pueblo's Water Quality Standards, based on the federal Clean Water Act.
If it is determined that these rivers are being polluted by septic systems, recreational development, increased summer home use, or commercial operations, it may be necessary to install waste-water treatment systems. An aid to implementation is the recently formed Jicarita Enterprise Community (JEC), an economic develop ment arm of a three-county area including Pilar, Peñasco, Mora, Chimayo, and Truchas. Taos County received a $3 million grant to set up the Enterprise, which is run by its own board of directors, with local representatives (Julio Rodarte is the Peñasco area representative). The main goals of JEC are to help set up marketing and distribution centers for local products (especially agricultural) and facilitate the Rural Water Assistance Association in helping communities apply for funding to create both water supply and waste treatment facilities.
Because of the existence of JEC, for the next 10 years Taos County has special priority status in procuring state and federal grants to help pay for these projects. According to Miera, with the help of JEC, the county is trying to take a holistic look at the needs of its communities&emdash;creating employment to help pay for loans to conserve water and other natural resources. It will also work with the State Environment Department in determining water quality problems (see page 7). Miera suggested that the Peñasco community rethink its initial opposition to a system of waste water treatment facilities (to service Vadito, Rodarte, Peñasco, and Rio Lucio).
After Miera's presentation, David DiCicco described the County Comprehensive Planning Process that has set up neighborhood associations in communities with no municipal government. The Peñasco Neighborhood Association has already been formed, has drawn up its bylaws, and submitted its request for non-profit status to the IRS. Several members of the association were at the meeting, including Lloyd Bolander of Sipapu, Tim Davis of Peñasco, and Rose Corrales of Rio Lucio.
By June of 1996, the association should formulate its "vision and goals, and identify its action steps." By June of 1998, the association should have ordinances, regulations, legislations, and grants in place.
Because the very idea of comprehensive planning has been a controversial issue in the Peñasco area, DeCicco stressed that these community associations will provide a chance for "pure democracy" to govern the citizens.
Without some kind of comprehensive planning in place by the end of this planning cycle, he warned, Taos County may not be funded for various services.
A member of the community pointed out that these neighborhood associations must be made up of all segments of the community so that everyone does indeed have a voice. Peñasco Neighborhood Association members answered that their meetings have been highly publicized and that all members of the community are invited to attend. If other communities, such as Las Trampas or Vadito, wish to form their own neighborhood associations, with their own bylaws, they may do so under the umbrella of the Peñasco Neighborhood Association.
Ski Area Expansions: The Wave of the Future?
by Kay Matthews
Various citizen groups in northern New Mexico have been fighting the proposed ski area expansions at Taos Ski Valley and Santa Fe Ski Basin for a number of years. But many of us who live in southeastern Taos County were unprepared when Sipapu, a one-family, two-lift operation that depends upon the local community of skiers and a big influx of Texans at Christmas and spring breaks, also applied to the Forest Service for permission to expand.
In 1993 the Forest Service released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Sipapu Ski Area Expansion Proposal. The preferred alternative was just what the ski area wanted: an expansion of the ski area boundary from 185 acres to 977 acres (with 220 skiable acres); two new parking areas; two new lifts; and a 2,700 square foot restaurant/ski patrol building, including a well and septic system (in two phases). New modular motel units, on private land, have already been shipped in, and a new waste water treatment plant has been constructed to try to bring the area up to current standards.
Seven local citizen groups formed a coalition, the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition, to address not only the issues raised by the proposed Sipapu expansion, but all threats to the health and vitality of our watershed. Many of the members belong to the acequia associations in the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo downstream valleys. The Forest Service gave final approval of the expansion in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) released in March of 1995, and the coalition filed an appeal, questioning the Forest Service analysis of the expansion's impact upon water quality, quantity, and traditional cultural properties. We also raised questions regarding traffic congestion, the potential for development of nearby condominiums, resorts, and second homes, and the legitimacy of using economics to justify expansion when ski areas primarily provide menial, minimum wage, and seasonal employment.
In conjunction with the appeal of the FEIS, in May of 1995 the coalition filed a protest of Sipapu's water transfer application for snowmaking and commercial uses with the State Engineer Office, citing that such a transfer would impair downstream users water rights, would be detrimental to the public welfare, and and would be contrary to water conservation. It had come to light in November of 1994 that the ski area had never applied for a water transfer from domestic to commercial use and had been illegally diverting water for snowmaking for some time. It was also unclear as to whether the area actally had established water rights associated with the ski area, much less the amount of water cited in the FEIS that would be necessary to support an expansion.
In June, the Forest Service withdrew its approval of the ski area expansion because of its lack of consultation with Picuris Pueblo regarding traditional cultural properties that might be affected by the expansion. The Forest Service, in compliance with the State Historic Preservation Office, must now conduct a survey to see if the area qualifies as a cultural property for the National Register of Historic Places. A water rights hearing with the State Engineer Office is also pending.
Ultimately, the Sipapu Ski Area expansion, just like that of Santa Fe and Taos, contributes to the cultural erosion of traditional rural communities that are increasingly relying on tourism to cure their financial woes. Economic diversity, not tourism, is the only hope of sustaining a way of life that is itself diverse: people growing hay to feed their few cattle, growing some of their own food, cutting firewood to heat their homes, making adobes to build their houses, contracting to the Forest Service to cut wood for traditional building materials such as vigas and latillas, and maintaining traditional arts and crafts that can be sold both within and without the community.
Hopefully, the appeal of the ski area expansion will force the Forest Service to take a closer look at not only the cumulative impacts of the Sipapu expansion but management policies that benefit corporate and development interests at the expense of local communities.
by Kay Matthews
The New Mexico State Environment Department (ED) recently applied for a 5-year, $200,000 grant to study the Rio Embudo watershed, which includes the Rio Pueblo, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, and all their tributaries, or the "rim of its bathtub", as project coordinator Steve Huckett defines the classic idea of a watershed. Monies for the project would come from both the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of New Mexico. The initial grant proposal has been reviewed and resubmitted, concentrating on the Rio Pueblo and Rio Embudo, with a final approval date anticipated in early 1996.
Last summer Steve held a community meeting in Dixon, where he was queried as to how the money would be spent. While 16% would have to be taken for ED administrative costs, the rest would be earmarked for on-the-ground projects, which could include revegetation, removal of contaminants, stabilization, and habitat improvement. Steve emphasized that priorities in spending would be determined by feedback from the affected communities. Besides the meeting in Dixon, Steve has met with Picuris Pueblo and other members of the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Coalition. Steve is available now to help communities gather baseline data to address specific problems, such as well contamination, and is planning a "walk the river" in each community to assess current problems.
A lengthy discussion of possible well-water contamination from various sources resulted in Steve's commitment to bringing the ED's portable water testing facility to the community for individual water sampling. The main suspect for water contamination in Dixon is septic tanks, of course, and Steve and another speaker from the ED briefly talked about possible solutions to this kind of contamination. More economically viable alternatives to a community waste treatment plant were suggested: moving leach fields, individual septic tank reconstruction, cluster systems for septic tanks, and the construction of wetlands. Obviously, because of the financial constraints of the grant, the ED cannot physically address the needs of an entire community, but can help community members determine the best alternative for their individual needs, or facilitate a coming together of neighbors who might be able to undertake a communal wetland or cluster septic tank solution to water contamination.
Steve brought the water testing van to Dixon at the end of October and tested water from 42 wells for levels of nitrate, sulphate, and iron, as well as conductivity (mineral content). The results found only one well in Cañoncito with a high nitrate level, which indicates septic or livestock contamination. Steve also brought the water van to Ojo Sarco, Peñasco, and Vadito, where he tested fewer water samples but again found little contamination.
At the Dixon meeting, several community members also raised the issue of water contamination due to the mismanagement or lack of controls by federal agencies such as the Forest Service. The suspected contamination of the Rio Pueblo by recreational vehicles along NM 518 and in La Junta Canyon is a direct result of increased recreation in northern New Mexico. While the Forest Service has promoted this area as a recreational playground, it has been unable to keep up with the increased use and demand for services in the area. Steve expressed his hope that once contaminants were identified, the ED would be able to work with the responsible agencies with regard to prevention and clean-up. Specifically, when asked by several members of the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition as to whether Sipapu Ski Area's new 40,000 waste water treatment facility was currently in compliance with clean water standards (previous readings had recorded unacceptable levels of nitrates) Steve said that ED would continue to monitor the system. The question of Sipapu's status also brought up the question of the relationship of ground and surface water because of the high water table at the ski area as well as in the study area in general. It was agreed that there needed to be a better assessment of the ground water/surface water relationship in areas like Sipapu, where discharged contaminants could be polluting surface water as well, and vice versa. Stricter enforcement of water quality standards for both ground and surface water is a priority.
If you would like to get in touch with Steve to set up a water test site in your community, call him at the Surface Water Bureau of the New Mexico State Environment Department, 827-0085.
(Editor's Note: This column will appear in each issue to highlight other critical issues from around the state.)
by Paul Robinson
El Molino site is less than one-half mile from homes and from the elementary and high school complex in the Village of Pecos. This 50-acre mill and tailing complex processed lead and zinc ore from the Terrero Mine between 1926 and 1939. Both Terrero and El Molino are contaminated sites, with El Molino site currently under cleanup.
The State of New Mexico acquired the mine and mill sites in 1950, and, at various times since the state acquired the sites, mine waste has been removed for use as construction or maintenance material within the Pecos River floodplain between the village and the mine. Mine waste has been used on state highways, building pads, government-owned campsites, and the state's Lisboa Springs Fish Hatchery.
After a fish kill at the hatchery in 1991 caused by contaminated runoff from El Molino, three state agencies&emdash;Game and Fish Department, Environment Department, and the Highway Department&emdash;signed an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) with the mineral rights owner, Cyprus-Amax, in December 1992. The consent order covered cleanup of the El Molino site, and has become a national model for state and private cooperation on mine site cleanups.
The consent order established a cleanup plan especially created for Pecos and includes all of the requirements for cleanup of a federal "Superfund" site. That means that standards for cleaning up the El Molino site are very high.
Among the major provision of the consent order are:
Amax will pay for 80 percent of the cleanup, while the state will pay the other 20 percent. The New Mexico State Legislature appropriated $5 million to pay for the state's share of the cleanup in 1993.
The cleanup standards will be at least as strong as federal regulations spelled out in the "Superfund" legislation.
All documents regarding the cleanup will be available for people to examine or read in Pecos and in Santa Fe.
Health, safety, and quality assurance plans must be implemented and must meet federal standards to make sure workers cleaning up the site are safe.
After La Gente del Rio Pecos protested that the draft Decision Document (DD) (which spells out how the cleanup would actually happen) was made without input from the residents of Pecos, a public meeting and an extended comment period were provided so local people could have input.
The final plan now includes the following:
All the tailings and contaminated soil with high lead concentrations will be put into two of the largest tailings ponds.
All rain and runoff will run through two tailings ponds through a lined, stable channel strong enough to withstand a six-hour, 100-year storm.
Cap the tailings ponds so that erosion can be kept to a minimum.
Stabilize the dams.
Revegetate the area with native plants and grasses.
Install and maintain measures to protect newly reclaimed areas and to prevent vandalism.
(Editors's note: The controversy generated by the recent demonstration in Santa Fe, where members of La Herencia del Norte hung several environmentalists in effigy, concerns all of us in northern New Mexico. La Jicarita went to the organizer of the demonstration, Antonio DeVargas, a founding member of the logging comapny La Compania Ocho, based in Vallecitos, to ask him what his motivation was. In subsequent issues we will interview others involved in this controversy.)
La Jicarita: In previous interviews you've stated that the Forest Service is primarily responsible for the mismanagement of the forests of northern New Mexico. Do you still feel that way, and if so, why did you target environmentalists at your demonstration in Santa Fe?
DeVargas: I still feel that way. However, the reason we targeted the environmentalists is because we consider them to be interlopers. If they want to have a productive dialogue over the management of the forests, what they should do is come to the community groups that are struggling with the Forest Service, form coalitions with them, and serve as consultants, instead of imposing their will or their ideas on the community. Now most of these people aren't from here, they want these forests to be managed like the forests in Oregon, Washington, or Idaho, and these are just different forests. They're managed differently for specific reasons. The 1967 forest report outlines these reasons.
La Jicarita: Are you referring to the Hassell Report? [a Forest Service document written in response to community grievances which culminated with the raid on the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in the 1960s]
DeVargas: Yes. That report states very clearly that the Hispanic villages of northern New Mexico and the Pueblos are to be treated as a national resource, with their welfare foremost in mind. Now obviously that hasn't happened. They've managed them for the benefit of Duke City. And this is why there's such extreme poverty in northern New Mexico. So the Forest Service has not done a good job of managing the forests or living up to their policies. But these guys [the environmentalists] as far as I can see are playing on an emotional issue . . . I saw them heading right straight into this problem. I told them so. I told them every time you mess with the Forest Service, trying to get something good, they'll turn it on you. They turned this firewood thing on them. I told them a long time ago, you guys are too damn extreme . . . what you're going to do is cause a backlash against the environmental community as a whole. And that would be a disaster. And that's exactly what's happening. They should have made sure that the local communities, the people most directly and immediately affected by the decison, were there at the table when they negotiated the settlement of the spotted owl lawsuit.
La Jicarita: Did you anticipate that representatives of Duke City Lumber would attend your demonstration and how do you feel about that?
DeVargas: I anticipated that they would attend. I feel that they're just as welcome as anybody else. They're affected by what these people are doing. They have the right to assemble just like I do, just like the Rainbows do. I didn't send out invitations to them. You know, it's a pain in the butt when you have to end up making a pact with the devil to survive. I hate it. But for me it's survival. If I have to go to bed with the devil to survive, then I'm going to do it. They're not alliances for life. They're alliances on one issue.
La Jicarita: What do you think motivates the environmentalists?
DeVargas: I don't think they're environmentalists. I think they're preservationists. They would like to see all the forests closed down completely to all human entry&emdash;that includes ski areas, hunting and fishing, cross-country skiing, camping. I don't think they want any people in any national forest, period. They just want nature to take its course. I see these people as cultists, quite frankly. They have formed this cult called deep ecology, and to me, most cults are just not rational. I don't think its possible to do what they want to do, but they're so idealistic and tunnel visioned. And in the process they're disrupting a hell of a lot of lives . . . In our negotiations with the environmentalists on the La Manga timber sale [in the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit] we said, let's hold in abeyance the 500 acres of old growth and negotiate on that, but release the rest of it, because the rest of it is not in old growth. That way La Compania and the community can get back to work with the remaining 3.5 million board feet. They didn't want to talk. Which led us to believe that they didn't want any cutting. That's the bottom line.
La Jicarita: What do want to see come out of all of this?
La Jicarita: Yes.
DeVargas: There's no argument that the best stewards of the land have always been the indigenous people. There's no argument that the Forest Service is not a good steward. So, these lands that were stolen from people and communities should be returned. The entire Santa Fe and Carson National Forests should be given back to the communities that they sustain. In return for that the environmentalists would get no selling of the land for $2.50 an acre so the Richard Cooks of this world can rape it. They would get responsible management that would be strictly for the benefit of the communities, not for outside corporations. They would get healthier communities and a healthier forest. In the end, they would get better relationships with the people who live here. There's a danger of privatization. Nobody wants privatization. The two previous sovereigns&emdash;Mexico and Spain&emdash;gave private land grants to individual families and groups of families, but they also gave the community lands, the commons. Now if a community changes its complexion from Hispanic to white or black or whatever, it doesn't alter that community's need for that land. So the white people who feel real threatened by the idea of these land grants being turned back, it's a racist thing when they feel that way about it because there's nothing in the commons that said it had to go explicitly to the Hispanics. The communities still need the land base whether they change complexion or not. And they are changing complexion, let's face it. I don't have any problem with that.
La Jicarita: You've been speaking ideally. Practically, what do you think is the next step?
DeVargas: At the very minimum the Forest Service needs to live up to the 1967 management policy, and that means getting rid of Duke City. In La Compania's lawsuit filed against the Forest Service last year [still pending], part of the settlement, which the Forest Service agreed to and then backed out on, would have effectively gotten Duke City out of Vallecitos.
La Jicarita: How?
DeVargas: They wouldn't have had any volume [of timber]. La Compania has already sent an offer of purchase to Duke City for the sawmill in Vallecitos, which they just shut down.
La Jicarita: Where's the money coming from?
DeVargas: As part of the settlement negotiations on our lawsuit, the Forest Service had said it would give us a grant under the Community Development Grant program for up to $200,000 specifically for the purchase of the sawmill. Or if Duke City didn't want to sell, the Forest Service would make land available to us on a special use permit so we could use that $200,000 to purchase our own milling equipment. The Forest Service reneged on that agreement. But we've had offers from other foundations for money to buy the mill. I also think the mill in Española should be bought by all the logging contractors who have been working for Duke City. I view the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit as a microcosm of the big picture. Duke City wants 7 million board feet out of the unit; we're saying 3.5 is OK. They say they need 40 million board feet out of the Carson for the Española mill, we're saying 10. If we do value added work and the profits come to the community, we don't need as much volume as Duke City needs. Some of these loggers are making a decent living, but they're still getting ripped off. Duke City is the one making the killing. So if all the logging contractors and the small sawmill owners were to get together and buy Duke City out, we could then compromise on a lower level of volume, and we can log it together and mill it together, market it together, and reap the benefits together.
DeVargas and Rio Arriba County officials are organizing a forum of concerned parties, including government officials and community activists, that will address these issues. The forum will be held at Northern New Mexico Community College the last week in January. Watch local newspapers for a specific time and date.
Copyright 1996-2001 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.