The impact the former Molycorp Mine has had on the community of Questa is no secret to people who have lived through it.
The mine operated from c.1914 to 2014 and was a source of financial stability for so many families in northern New Mexico communities for generations. All too often in life, when we are seeing the immediate rewards, it’s oftentimes difficult to recognize the unintended consequences.
Pollution from the mine was an inevitable consequence of mining activities. Decades of mining operations resulted in the generation of tons of tailings, and impacts to soil, sediment, groundwater, and surface water (including Eagle Rock Lake) with most impacts occurring from the 1960s through the 1990s.
A recent Op Ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican alleged that our publication refused to speak about the damage done by the mine because Chevron funded our paper. I state the above facts to recognize that we, in fact, are not afraid to discuss the damage the mine did to our community.
Something unique about this story, however, is that Chevron, who acquired the mine in 2005, committed itself to helping the people reclaim the land, improve the quality of life for residents, and diversify the local economy.
This is unheard of in today’s society. Big corporations look out for themselves — however, Chevron has recognized its moral responsibility and has committed to being a fixer, to the best of their abilities, by investing in the communities which were impacted by its operations and the operations by previous owners of the former mine.
Since the closure of the mine, the reclamation of the Superfund Site has been underway, reemploying hundreds of locals from the northern Taos County area to complete projects which improve the way of life for Questeños and surrounding communities.
According to a press release published in 2017 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency honored and recognized several groups for excellence and innovation in the restoration of Eagle Rock Lake. The release goes on to say the EPA presented the Greenovations Award to Chevron Environmental Management Company, the U.S. Forest Service, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Village of Questa, and Chevron̕s project contractors Arcadis and ENTACT, for redeveloping Eagle Rock Lake.
The Greenovations Award can be given to a responsible party, developer, site owner, nonprofit, local government or community member who has demonstrated excellence in working cooperatively with EPA to support safe and responsible cleanup and reuse, especially those that promote innovative and sustainable reuse outcomes.
The continued reclamation of the Questa Superfund Site remains under the regulation of the EPA, and the progress for the site can be tracked by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/39k62c9h.
The Op Ed in the New Mexican also alleged that Chevron is making an “insidious attempt at corporate colonialism” through the work Chevron has invested in for the Questa community, to include funding the Questa Economic Development Fund (QEDF), which was recently recognized for excellence by the state at the Governor’s Conference for investing millions of dollars in the Questa community. Additionally, to set the record straight, the QEDF is run by five local board members, including the mayor, and the QEDF Executive Director. A Chevron representative attends the meetings but is not a voting member for decisions on how the funding is allocated.
More recently, the work the QEDF has been spearheading is an effort to establish an area-wide acequia association. The idea is for this organization to provide grant-writing, technical, and legal services for local acequias. It is also intended to enable our acequias to work together to advocate for more resources from the legislature and to protect local water rights.
In parallel to this push for equity amongst all acequia associations, Chevron has been working diligently to have the Office of the State Engineer recognize all of the mine’s water rights, not only so Chevron can complete its reclamation of the former mine, but also to make those water rights available for the benefit of Questa and surrounding communities.
We encourage community members to reach out and have healthy discussions with one another. You might learn something, or grow contextual knowledge about a situation, or change your mind. Either way, the progress, growth, and improvement in Questa is pushing forward with the investments of a company who is cleaning up the damage once caused to the land.
Having the whole community united and working together can only benefit the continued improvement in the quality of life for all.