By chance I attended the county commission meeting on June 11, 2008. I went because I wanted to hear
the mobility plan update. By the time I arrived, people were filling the entire commission room and
standing several deep out in the hallway. As I was searching for the possible empty seat, a row of chairs
was added inside the gate, so I got a great seat where I could see and hear everything.
And what a meeting it was. Like so many residents of Valencia County, since the bulk fuel terminal didn’t
touch me personally (or so I thought), I hadn’t paid any attention to what was going on. Little did I know
the scope of this project and the potential danger it poses to everyone in Valencia County!
The meeting started with the general business of the county, etc. There was an executive session, and
since every one of the hundred or so folks in attendance stayed, I figured something really “big” must be
going on, so I stayed, too. The public hearing agenda item was it: consideration to amend the zone map
from outland district to heavy industrial in San Clemente to allow the bulk fueling station to be built.
Valencia County Planning and Zoning had unanimously rejected the zoning change. Plains Marketing
For two and a half hours, high dollar consultants and employees of Plains Marketing LP presented to the
commissioners “research” study after research study that, for example, there will be virtually no impact
from adding 135,000 tanker trucks per year … to Highway 6 then entering I-25. Virtually no impact their
transportation expert concluded. Their petroleum fire suppression expert, who assured us he knew how to
fight huge oil fires and has done so from Iraq to Mexico, assured the commissioners that within two hours
or so of a fire in the tanks, they’d have a crew of specialized firefighters on the ground here. Two hours.
A person in the audience asked whether any product from this facility would be sold in Valencia County,
would there be gross receipt tax revenue once the building phase was completed. The project expert
answered no, there will be no product sold in Valencia County. All the county will receive is
approximately $416,629 a year in property taxes.
OK — since most readers have been to such hearings, you know what they’re like and the Valencia
County News-Bulletin did a comprehensive write-up. What the News-Bulletin could not report was the
emotion radiated during the heroic presentation by the San Clemente Residents Association. What a
David vs Goliath fight! What an incredible battle to protect a community, and I am convinced, our entire
Their group was introduced by retired State Supreme Court Justice Payne. He said that the citizens of San
Clemente couldn’t hire experts, and he implored the commissioners to consider the plight of the people
who live in the area, to take the long view and not be so ready to sell our birthright. He pointed out that
P&Z had rejected the project: “The human factors involved in this decision far outweigh the short-term
I know we’re all busy people, so I need to get to the points that I feel make it critical that we all, every
resident of Valencia County, look further into the feasibility of this project for our county. I just want to
say that the community members of San Clemente did such a fantastic job of refuting the hired guns …. I
was touched to my core by this spectacle of democracy in action. These ordinary citizens of San
Clemente presented compelling data that they had collected, facts about fire truck arrival times, about
how dangerous Highway 6 is already, with two lanes and blind curves and school buses that will now
have to travel along with loaded tanker trucks behind them — it was the most terrific rebuttal, each
resident taking on each hired consultant — and in the most compelling manner making the clear case
against the zone change.
Then, there were two other speakers who made points beyond the San Clemente community quality of
life and safety issues. Their points are actually, in my opinion, the major cause for county-wide concern,
for your concern.
Dr. Teresa Smith de Cherif, a supervisor for the Valencia County Soil and Water Conservation District,
addressed the fact that Plains plans to pump 1.5 million gallons of water from our local aquifer to store,
along with all the chemicals and foam, for firefighting! I believe our county deserves further study of this
“excessive” water grab! Water is the key to county-wide development. How can we allow this megacorporation
to take so much of our ground water? We must comprehensively explore this issue.
The second presenter, William Dean from Los Chavez, gave even greater cause for alarm. Mr. Dean
brought seismic charts and reported to the commissioners several conversations that he had had with
world renowned geologists, experts in earthquake activity. They all agreed that building a pipeline and a
fuel terminal on the Rio Grande Rift would be a serious error. After listening to Mr. Dean, I think the
words “serious error” do not convey adequately the facts. It is environmental suicide to approve a fuel
terminal and pipeline in an area that has the highest estimated hazard in the entire state for earthquake
Mr. Dean had the seismic chart showing earthquake tremors from 1800 to 1993 indicating “lots of
earthquakes.” The magma data indicates that the magma field is growing around the dormant volcanos in
the Rio Grande Rift.
Plains is proposing to put a pipeline over the largest magma field in New Mexico. Mr. Dean said that the
pipeline will break. He concluded that we must seek serious geologic advice before approving this
pipeline and terminal.
Compelling, passionate, factual — I want to tell you, I left that commission meeting at 11:30 p.m.
absolutely high on democracy. High on the power of the people to rise up and fight for what is precious to
But more than that, I understood what a threat this project is to our entire county. I thought that the people
had been heard and David had killed Goliath. What a hearing.
And, what a shock that the county commissioners voted to approve the zone change. Since I don’t live in
San Clemente, it is not an immediate quality of life issue for me. But as a resident of this gem of a county,
I am convinced that we deserve better than a bulk fuel facility for long-term growth and well-being.
I have a friend who lives in Bahrain, in the Arabian Gulf, and for years after the first Iraq war in Kuwait,
everything in the region was coated with oil residue from the burning oil wells in Kuwait. If there were a
fire in one of those tanks, not only would the whole area west of I-25 go up in flames, but every fruit tree
and every acre of alfalfa in Valencia County would be coated with oil residue.
As residents of Valencia County, we must at least petition our local and state representatives to use our
expert resources at the state level to further investigate whether it is wise to open our county to this huge
potential polluter that will provide little revenue and only five jobs while endangering the water supply of
the entire region and possibly our air quality, too.
I do understand that ours is one of the three poorest counties in New Mexico, and that we desperately
need development. I understand that our county is growing, which puts more and more pressure on local
government to provide services. I understand that this bulk fueling terminal offers substantial revenue
“now,” which will certainly solve some of our short term problems. And I do understand that our county
commissioners have tremendous responsibilities and pressures with all of us clamoring for services.
I just think that maybe, as a county, because this huge project has the potential to impact the air and water
quality of the entire region for decades to come, more people need to think hard about the impact of the
zone change on all of us. The zone change was rejected by the county planning and zoning commission.
So, if you feel this may not be the right type of development, then you need to make yourself heard.
The residents of San Clemente certainly stood on the front lines under withering pressure from a megacorporation
and fought for their homes and quality of life. It appears to me, after listening to them, that
they were actually fighting for all of us.