The meeting in Lamy this afternoon was not about losing our train—although I hope in the future that will be addressed—but about the plan, discovered by accident a week ago when workmen began to lay a concrete pad near the train station (there was no state, county or federal oversight, no permits required because of the special status the railroads hold here) where Pacer Oil Company of Farmington, New Mexico is planning to built a depot for the deposit of twenty-five to fifty double-tanker-trailer loads of crude oil weekly, to wait for shipment on tanker cars that somehow can travel on tracks that are unsafe for passenger trains.
The concrete pad is 110 feet from the village well, and not much further from the Galisteo River. Since the water table is quite close to the surface in this dry, sandy soil, the threat to the aquifer is real.
When neighbors saw the concrete pad being laid, they began to ask questions. They put together a steering committee of local residents, got in touch with Pacer, and called this meeting.
The Legal Tender was jammed with perhaps two hundred people who represented this diverse village, not yet glamorized like neighboring Santa Fe, the neighboring hills not yet perches for the houses of coastal millionaires. There were cowboy hats and boots, pigtails, dogs, couples that have lived here for decades, a few young people just finding their way in. The head of the steering committee laid down ground rules, insisted on civility and kept to the agenda.
After the basic premise of the operation was laid out, the audience began to ask questions of the two Pacer employees, Oklahoma natives who have been with the company for less than a year. They admitted freely that they had been dragooned into coming to the meeting at the last minute and they were, to say the least, uninformed. Their answers to most of the piercing questions was, “That’s a good question,” and their promises to carry these unanswered questions back to their bosses seemed unlikely to bear fruit. That Pacer chose to send new, unprepared, lower-level employees to this meeting is an example of the arrogance that seems to be the particular hallmark of the oil companies.
After the questions, the steering committee presented their plan: they will interview four lawyers—one of them, our state representative Brian Egolf, successfully defended Legal Tender when the tiny railroad museum wanted to close it down—and choose one to bring an injunction. This will stop Pacer from moving ahead, which they are prepared to do almost at once, while the issues are studied in detail: how can a barely two-lane county road survive these tanker trucks? How will the noise of the pumping mechanisms the trucks use to get the oil into the storage tanks, and the lights they will mount on poles, harm the villagers’ quality of life? Lamy is one of the very few places where the night sky is still unobscured and the silence after dark is complete.
And—how would the people escape, on this single narrow road that ends at the village, in the case of a disaster?
And—how would they survive a spill that would contaminate their water and the water for others living in the area who are dependent on wells and the river?
I came away with my faith in the ability of our people to defend themselves against powerful business interests refreshed.
Lamy knows how to fight.
It will fight.
If Pacer Oil has any sense at all, it will withdraw, and go to despoil some other small town whose inhabitants may be caught snoozing.