Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

Mountain View residents living in a historic residential and agricultural community next to the Rio Grande in the South Valley are fed up with being the dumping ground for decades of a dirty industry that no one else wants.

To advocate for the Mountain View neighborhood, community groups in the area formed the Mountain View Coalition. Through organizing the group gathered more than 700 signatures for their petition (bit.ly/stoptheasphaltassault) to elected officials to reverse an asphalt plant permit that the New Mexico Environmental Health Department granted in October 2020.

Mountain View Coalition representatives and a representative for the Pueblo of Isleta recently met with Mayor Tim Keller. County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada joined remotely.

Mayor Keller emphasized his ongoing commitment to environmental justice. Commissioner Quezada said he would not support any more polluting industries in Mountain View as the community is overburdened and suffers health effects due to the disproportionate amount of industry located in that one neighborhood.

The coalition had appealed for a stay (a pause) of the Air Quality Control Board’s issuance of a hot mix asphalt plant air permit by the Environmental Health Department (EHD) to New Mexico Terminal Services (NMTS), located at 9615 Broadway Blvd. SE, just past the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge and north of Isleta Pueblo and I-25. The land is zoned for agricultural use, not industrial use. This month the Air Quality Control Board unanimously voted to remand the motion and dropkicked the stay to the hearing officer involved.

Lauro Silva, another member of the coalition, stated that, “The critical thing to take away from the motion for a stay is that the city’s Environmental Health Department is tacitly acknowledging that NMTS does not have the proper zoning for the proposed asphalt plant.”

“Once again the can has been kicked down the road,” said Marla Painter, a member of the Mountain View Coalition. “We don’t know when the hearing officer will hear arguments on EHD’s motion for a stay or when arguments on the dispositive motions will resume.”

Adding insult to injury, there are now two more applications, one from Albuquerque Asphalt to expand its operations and another from Star Paving for a new asphalt plant in the neighborhood, essentially adding three more asphalt industries to the area.

“We feel disrespected, because so many of our residents are Hispanic, and somehow our lives don’t matter as much to the City of Albuquerque,” said Nora Garcia, part of the Mountain View Coalition.   

David Barber, president of the Friends of Valle de Oro and a member of the Coalition, stated, “It is inappropriate to place an asphalt plant so close to Valle de Oro, a place that preserves a healthy place for the wildlife and people who make Mountain View their home.”

According to university studies on asphalt plants near Ramallah, Palestine, the plants produce toxic air pollutants that may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems and skin irritation. Air pollutant emissions could range from 3 to 3.5 km aerial distance. 

“These insidious proposals for three asphalt plants, added to the two we already have in Mountain View, indicate that Bernalillo County and the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department need to adopt a vigorous cumulative impacts ordinance,” Garcia said.

“We are puzzled about why, given the pronouncements and assurances of the mayor and the commissioner, the city continues to contest our appeal and play legal games with us,” Marla Painter stated. “It is as though the mayor doesn’t have any control over the EHD’s legal shenanigans.”

The Coalition is advocating for a law that requires an assessment of the impacts of concentrating industry in any one community. If the New Mexico Green Amendment passes the Legislature this upcoming session, they may have a strong argument for that law. 

More on the petition is here: sign.moveon.org/petitions/stop-the-asphalt-assualt-in-the-mountain-view-neighborhood