Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

NEWS RELEASE: August 16, 2001
CONTACT: Brian Segee, Center for Biological Diversity (520) 623-5252 x308


The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has appealed the state of New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division's (MMD) recent approval of Salt River Project's (SRP) permit renewal application for the Fence Lake Mine. SRP plans to mine more than 80 million tons of coal on 18,000 acres in northern Catron and southern Cibola counties at Fence Lake, shipping the coal by railroad 44 miles to its Coronado Generating Plant near St. Johns, Arizona. MMD first issued a five year permit for the Mine in July 1996, and the recent renewal grants SRP a three year extension following federal approval of the Mine by the Secretary of Interior. The Pueblo of Zuni has filed a separate appeal of MMD's permit renewal.

During the Mine's 40 year life span, SRP would pump over 1.5 billion gallons of groundwater for dust suppression. Hydological studies have concluded that the proposed pumping could drain the Zuni Salt Lake, a sacred site to the Zuni Pueblo, as well as to the Hopi and Navajo tribes and Acoma and Laguna Pueblos. The tribes and pueblos have gathered salt for centuries at the Lake, which lies within a huge area known as the Neutral Zone. The Zunis and other tribes and pueblos have traditionally suspended all antagonisms within the Neutral Zone because of the overriding importance of gathering salt for cultural, spiritual, medicinal, and consumptive uses. In total, SRP has identified at least 536 archeological sites and traditional cultural properties within the proposed Mine and railroad corridor. Of these, 380 sites are anticipated to be directly disturbed or destroyed.

The permit renewal granted by MMD contains several "special conditions," including a requirement that SRP must demonstrate that the Zuni Salt Lake will be protected from potential hydrologic impacts prior to use of the Dakota Aquifer for mining purposes. SRP must make this demonstration by initiating a pumping test within one year. CBD feels that this demonstration should be made before the permit is renewed, rather than MMD granting a conditional permit.

"The state of New Mexico should absolutely ensure that the Zuni Salt Lake is protected before renewing its permit to the Salt River Project," stated Brian Segee with CBD. "SRP had $3 billion in revenues in 2000. If the Fence Lake Mine truly won't harm Zuni Salt Lake, they can certainly afford to prove it."

The Center for Biological Diversity, formed in 1989, is a science-based environmental advocacy organization with more than 5,000 members which works on wildlife and habitat protection issues throughout Western North America.


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