Mining proposal in Santa Fe National Forest draws opposition

PECOS, N.M. (AP) — A proposed exploratory mining operation on Santa Fe National Forest land is drawing fierce opposition from some northern New Mexico residents.

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Residents near the village of Pecos are vowing to take on mining companies seeking to search for copper, zinc and gold on two acres (.8 hectares), The Santa Fe New Mexican reports .

The Australian-based New World Cobalt and its American subsidiary, Comexico LLC, have submitted a request to conduct exploratory mining operations on land near Tererro.

But Upper Pecos Watershed Association Vice President Lela McFerrin says residents are worried about the water quality in the watershed.

At a meeting last week, more than 100 residents crowed an assembly to express their displeasure with the mining idea. Pecos is a village of some 1,300 residents about 25 miles (45 kilometers) southeast of Santa Fe.

They discussed several options to slow the process, including a push for public hearings, political pressure from state lawmakers, lawsuits and appeals.

"There's a lot of tools at our disposal," said Rachel Conn of Amigos Bravos, a nonprofit water conservation organization.

Mike Haynes, general manager and CEO of New World Cobalt, said he thinks "hysteria and misinformation" are clouding residents' perspective. He said the holes the company plans to drill during the exploratory phase "are no different than drilling water holes in someone's back yard."

He estimated there is a "one in 200 or one in 300 chance that there is enough mineralization there to look into a mining feasibility study."

"They obviously dislike what we are doing — but we have the right to operate in this area," Haynes said.

State officials are reviewing New World Cobalt's request.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must approve all mining requests on federal lands. Under the federal General Mining Act of 1872, Santa Fe National Forest officials cannot stop the proposed mining operation. But they can require New World Cobalt to implement protective measures for the forest.

Julie Anne Overton of the Santa Fe National Forest said in an email it is not yet clear what level of EPA analysis the New World Cobalt operation requires. Charles de Saillan, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said the state's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department has agreed to hold a public hearing this fall on the issue.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.santafenewmexican.com