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December 2022

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Photo by E. Wilde: Interior of the Chevron Water reclamation plant. Shown here is Larry Vasquez, maintenance planner and tour guide for the comprehensive tour of the facility on June 3, by Questa News Staff.

Questa and the Questa Mine: Part 5

By Martha Shepp and many others

This community paper is endeavoring to offer a Questa mine history series over the next few issues, to bring you stories from the earliest discovery of molybdenum right up to the present with the goal to review, freshen up the facts, and celebrate the story of our place.

Photo by E. Wilde: Panorama of the current landscape of the mine area from a very high vantage point taken in May 2022.

From last part IV:


Development work at the Questa mine continued in the year 2000, and the orebody was expected to be in production by mid-year. Reserves were estimated to provide for at least 15 years of production.

Part 5: A New Owner


2005 Chevron acquires Unocal. Along with Unocal’s global oil and gas operations, this purchase includes the Questa Mine.


2007 Molycorp officially merges with Chevron Mining Inc. (formerly known as P&M Coal).


2008 Given the mining industry’s continuing economic volatility, the Village of Questa and Chevron recognize the need to diversify Questa’s economy away from an over-reliance on the mine. As a result, they partner to establish the Questa Economic Development Fund (QEDF), a stand-alone 501(c)3 non-profit, whose purpose is to “provide the initial resources necessary to bring new economic opportunities to the Village of Questa, promote job growth, and encourage new investment in the community of Questa, and to provide resources to assist the community of Questa with economic diversification consistent with its history and heritage.” Chevron commits to funding the QEDF $320K per year through the year 2015 with $200K available each year for economic development projects and $120K being deposited into an endowment fund.


2009 The mine experiences significant layoffs as molybdenum prices plummet.


2010 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) selects remedies under its Record of Decision which include regrading/reclaiming the rock piles with native vegetation cover, reclamation of the tailing site, and making improvements to Eagle Rock Lake. The rock piles are the large sloping piles of earthen material leftover from the open pit mining operation.”


2011 The mine site is placed on the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites by the US Environmental Protection Agency. In partnership with Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and the Village of Questa, Chevron constructs and begins operation of a 1 megawatt solar array on the tailing site west of town. This is equivalent to Questa’s power demand, so the community becomes a 100% solar-powered village.


2014
Due to continuing low molybdenum prices, the mine is permanently closed, resulting in significant layoffs. Fortunately, many of the former miners obtain jobs with Chevron’s onsite contracted companies for site maintenance and remediation. Management of the site is transitioned to Chevron Environmental Management Company. Chevron recognizes the need to increase its social investment in economic diversification projects, and so extends the QEDF’s annual funding of $320K per year through 2023, provides $500K for economic planning, and an additional $1 million into the endowment fund.


2015 Chevron begins demolition of mine infrastructure, including the mill. Improvements to Eagle Rock Lake are completed, In partnership with the Village of Questa and the US Forest Service—installing a headgate, dredging the lake bed and lining it, and installing ADA accessible recreational infrastructure—paved access, picnic tables, and restrooms. The beautifully refurbished lake is regularly stocked with trout by New Mexico Game and Fish and becomes a major recreational asset for residents and tourists alike.

2016 Chevron begins working with the New Mexico Office of State Engineer to develop plans for divestment of its surplus water rights for the benefit of Questa and surrounding communities.


2017 Construction of the wastewater treatment plant is completed. Operations begin under Chevron’s contractor, Golder. All water collected from the underground mine and which drains off the mine site (including the rock piles) is treated at the plant and released through a permitted outfall into the Red River. Approximately 1 million gallons of water are treated per day.


2018
Recognizing the need to incorporate community input in Chevron’s water rights and land divestments, the Village of Questa and Chevron establish the Questa Land and Water Board to vet economic development proposals for over 1,400 acre feet of water and 4,000 acres of land.


2019 Removal of the former tailings pipeline that ran from the mine site to the talings site outside the village, some 10+ miles, is completed. Initial plans are made by Chevron, the Village of Questa and the Forest Service to convert parts of the former tailings pipeline route into a public walking trail, connecting Questa with the Town of Red River.


2020 Chevron completes the Tailing Cover Demonstration Project, which reclaims approximately a third of the tailings area with a two-foot depth of revegetation with natural plant ground cover. In addition, specialized landscaping provides for water management in the area.


2021 The Village of Questa completes construction of the Questa Business Park with the installation of drainage, water, sewer, utilities, and roads. Chevron provided the initial $500K funding which was subsequently matched by $2 million in federal and state funding. Chevron hires sub-contractors Granite Construction for the Rock Pile Pilot Project. Work begins on the regrading and covering of two of the mine’s rock piles resulting in significant local hiring and an influx of Granite employees to Questa and surrounding communities.

Photo by E. Wilde: This road, nicknamed “Stairway to Heaven” by the employees is located at the highest elevation on the mine’s site and is at a incline of 43 degrees.

Do you have specific mine-related stories to share? QuestaStories is an archive for your contributions (go to https://questastories.org/contact) and you can also contact the editor at news@questaedf.com. We want to draw upon real people and real stories by way of illustrating what makes Questa what it was, what it is, and what it can become.

Author

  • Martha Shepp

    Questa Creative Council Board member and artist: Martha Shepp preaches the gospel of the power of creativity. One of her loves is to collaborate with open-minded genre-free artists like Mark Dudrow, playing life-affirming works that can’t help but spark the innate creativity of listeners like you. Her expressions also take form with words, choreography, and visual art... with ever expanding mashups of all the above.