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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Spring 2003 arrowNew Mexico and Arizona: Construction of Fence Lake Mine
New Mexico and Arizona: Construction of Fence Lake Mine

Agencies: Bureau of Land Management and Office of Surface Mining

As reported in the Spring 2002 Case Digest, the proposed construction of a large New Mexico surface coal mine and railroad corridor to transport coal to an Arizona generating station could affect hundreds of archeological sites and traditional cultural properties significant to Indian tribes, including the Zuni Salt Lake Sanctuary Zone.

Despite strong opposition to the project by participating Indian tribes, a Programmatic Agreement (PA) for the project was executed in 1993. Under the agreement, the Bureau of Land Management is required to develop a Traditional Cultural Properties treatment plan with the PAs consulting parties.

Of particular significance to the tribes, especially the Pueblo of Zuni, is the 182,000-acre Zuni Salt Lake Sanctuary Zone. Because of the size and significance of the sanctuary zone, development of the treatment plan has been slow and, at times, contentious. Recent consultations on this and proposed amendments to the PA, however, are nearing a positive conclusion.

In May 2002, despite continued opposition from interested Indian tribes, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved the mining plan for the Fence Lake project Federal leases. The approval was conditioned on a number of measures to protect the Zuni Salt Lake and other historic properties.

Zuni Salt Lake, New Mexico

 

 

Zuni Salt Lake Traditional Cultural Property, NM (photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management)

 

 

To protect water levels in the lake, the Federal mining plan restricts the mining company from using certain aquifers that feed the lake, and requires pump tests and monitoring of approved aquifers. Other conditions include completion of a Traditional Cultural Properties (TCP) treatment plan per the terms of the PA; consultation regarding any discovered historic properties or human remains; and development of a cultural resources awareness program for Fence Lake Mine workers.

In autumn 2002, the Pueblo of Zuni governor met with DOI officials to discuss Federal enforcement of the conditions and the tribe’s desire to participate in the design of one of the aquifer tests, and DOI agreed to consult with the tribe regarding the aquifer tests on a government-to-government basis.

Concurrent with the meetings regarding protection of the water levels in the Zuni Salt Lake, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) drafted and circulated revised drafts an amended PA and the TCP treatment plan among the project’s consulting parties. The proposed amendments, which are intended to address issues raised by the Pueblo of Zuni, have been relatively non-controversial.

A lack of consensus on the TCP treatment plan, however, lead the ACHP to facilitate a two-day “working session” in January 2003 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, among the mining company, the Pueblo of Zuni, and the State and Federal agencies. The meeting helped clarify the Zuni’s concerns and provided direction for finalizing the TCP treatment plan.

The participants agreed to revise the TCP treatment plan to address cultural awareness training, access to the mine area for tribal members to collect plants and minerals of traditional value, access to religious sites, tribal involvement in archeological site mitigation, and specific treatment measures for recognized TCPs in the area proposed for mining.

The participants concurred that the measures that protect the water in Zuni Salt Lake were beyond the scope of the TCP treatment plan, and that the Federal and State permitting agencies will work with the Pueblo of Zuni, as agreed, to address the lake’s water level and quality.

Based on the information gleaned from the session, BLM circulated a revised draft TCP treatment plan, which was commented on by all interested parties and is expected to be finalized in May 2003 when the mining company is scheduled to begin the project. BLM also continues to work with the Indian tribes to coordinate field visits to the project area.

For background information on this case, see the Spring 2002 Case Digest at www.achp.gov/casearchive/.

Staff contact: Carol Legard

Posted August 15, 2003

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