State allows asphalt plant construction in south Santa Fe despite concerns about health impacts
Material and vehicles sat idly in mid-April at the site on Santa Fe’s South Side where Associated Asphalt and Materials, LLC wants to consolidate its operations. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)
Santa Feans fought for a year to prevent an asphalt company’s expansion into the city’s South Side, but New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board voted unanimously Friday morning to allow the operation to proceed.
The Environment Department gave Associated Asphalt and Materials, LLC, a permit in July 2021 to consolidate two asphalt plants in Santa Fe to one facility on the South Side. Opponents challenged this the following month with concerns of negative health and social impacts in an area where people already live without sufficient health care.
Final decision on asphalt plant on Santa Fe’s South Side expected this summer
With guidance from the Environmental Law Center, Miguel Acosta, co-director of the Santa Fe-based nonprofit Earth Care New Mexico, and local resident Linda Marianiello appealed to the state. They said there were inadequacies in NMED’s permitting process and that the plant would violate state and national air quality standards.
But the Environmental Improvement Board disagreed in a final order on the matter. Board Chair Phoebe Suina said in the order that NMED sufficiently followed all required permitting processes and that the opposition didn’t have enough evidence to show that the plant would break air quality rules.
Attorney Travis Jackson, representing Associated Asphalt and Materials, said the permit doesn’t create a new plant but rather consolidates two into one. The asphalt company builds and maintains roads around Santa Fe, and Jackson said this expansion “will improve air quality while also making sure that the Santa Fe area is able to maintain and improve its road systems with locally accessible, high-quality materials.”
Matthew Maez, spokesperson for the N.M. Environment Department, agreed that consolidation will reduce pollution. He said it will also allow the state to more easily hold the asphalt company accountable, because the permit has updated requirements on monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting.
The original permit has limits on air pollutants, Suina (Cochiti / San Felipe) pointed out in the order, and if there are infractions, the state can follow up with citations, corrective actions, penalties or even a lawsuit.
The decision goes against Hearing Officer Richard Virtue’s recommendation in May, which was that the permit should not be approved and instead go to the Air Quality Bureau for further review. He said that the consolidation would break air quality rules or at least contribute to violations.
Lead attorney Maslyn Locke, representing Earth Care and Marianiello, said via email that it’s disappointing the board allowed the permit to move forward despite the hearing officer’s recommendation.
“This decision ultimately means that Santa Fe’s South Side residents, who are primarily Spanish-speaking, lower income, young families, will continue to bear the disproportionate burden of air pollution,” Locke said.
The petitioners and legal team will meet in the near future to discuss potential next steps, Marianiello said. They have 30 days to appeal the decision through state court. If they don’t, the order becomes final and the permit goes into effect.
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