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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Spring 2002 arrow New Mexico and Arizona: Construction of Fence Lake Mine
New Mexico and Arizona: Construction of Fence Lake Mine

Agency: Office of Surface Mining
In a highly controversial case, a proposed surface coal mine and railroad corridor could affect hundreds of archeological and traditional cultural properties significant to numerous Indian tribes.

The Fence Lake project is a proposed surface coal mine covering 16,800 acres in New Mexico, and a 44-mile railroad corridor that will be used to transport coal to an existing generating station near St. Johns, Arizona. The project is estimated to affect hundreds of archeological properties, as well as several traditional cultural properties (TCPs) significant to the Zuni, Hopi, Acoma, Laguna, and Navajo Tribes, including the National Register-eligible Zuni Salt Lake Sanctuary Zone, a 182,000 acre TCP located within and southeast of the mine area.

The project began when the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District (SRP) applied to the Bureau of Land Management, Soccoro Area Office (BLM), and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) for approvals to construct and operate the mine and railroad corridor.

BLM, serving as lead agency for Section 106 review, consulted with a host of groups—the power district, OSM, ACHP, the Arizona and New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs), New Mexico Mining and Mineral Division, and four Indian tribes—to develop a Programmatic Agreement for the undertaking.

The agreement was executed in 1993, establishing procedures for the identification of historic properties and development of a comprehensive Treatment Plan and Data Recovery Plans for historic properties affected by the project. Archeological surveys and a TCP study were conducted, and after some debate, the Zuni Salt Lake Sanctuary Zone was identified as a TCP and determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the Keeper of the Register.

Despite its concurrence in the agreement, the Pueblo of Zuni has actively opposed the construction of the mine. In addition to affecting the TCP and archeological sites, the tribe has said that it is concerned that the mining and transportation of coal in the vicinity of the Zuni Salt Lake will adversely impact the water table and water quality at the lake. At the request of the tribe, ACHP met with the Zuni Pueblo Governor and Tribal Council in November 2001 to discuss the concerns with Section 106 compliance for the project.

ACHP supported the Pueblo of Zuni’s request for an amendment to the agreement, to clarify that the Pueblo’s participation in the agreement does not indicate its approval of the project. ACHP also supported the Pueblo’s desire to have elders visit sites before archeological data recovery is conducted, provided it could be done in a reasonable time frame.

In April 2002, ACHP attended a meeting by BLM that provided the agreement’s consulting parties with an opportunity to discuss possible mitigation measures for the effects of the project on the Zuni Salt Lake Sanctuary Zone and other TCPs. The meeting also allowed them to consider a proposed amendment to the Programmatic Agreement and a draft Memorandum of Agreement for the treatment of human remains.

At the meeting, the Pueblo of Zuni offered recommendations for the development of a Treatment Plan. BLM has since developed a preliminary treatment plan for traditional cultural properties, taking into account the recommendations of the Zuni and others and has circulated it to the parties for comment. Although SRP is moving forward with data recovery of archeological properties along the railroad right-of-way, the Department of Interior has not yet made a decision on whether to approve the mine plan for the project.

Staff contact: Carol Gleichman

Posted June 4, 2002

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