Caja del Rio Coalition: Extend Public Comment Period for LANL Transmission Line to Avoid Pueblo Feast Days, Leadership Elections & Holidays

SANTA FE, N.M. (December 19, 2023) – Today, the coalition to protect the Caja del Rio submitted a formal letter to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) requesting an extension to the public comment period for the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)’s Electrical Power Capacity Upgrade (EPCU) Project. The project proposal would include construction of an approximate 14-mile, 115-Kilovolt power transmission line across a major part of the Caja del Rio plateau; a culturally and ecologically significant landscape in Northern New Mexico. The public comment period is set to run from December 19, 2023 through January 17, 2024. 

“An extension is needed to accommodate the fact that the current comment period falls across numerous federal and major holidays, including but not limited to Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  The comment period also overlaps with multiple Pueblo feast days and events, and will occur during a major shift in Pueblo leadership. The Caja del Rio is a deeply spiritual place for many. Given the significance of this project and the time of year, NNSA should provide additional time for public comment,” read the letter.

The coalition has requested a 60-day extension of the public comment period with a new deadline of March 17 2024, “to ensure that people and communities are not forced to choose between practicing their religious and traditional customs and their ability to meaningfully participate in the public process for the EPCU Project.” 

“The public, particularly communities that stand to be most directly impacted by the EPCU Project, cannot be expected to meaningfully consider and comment on the draft EA given the time of year and tight timeline,” the letter continued. 

“The NNSA, along with the Santa Fe National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management, should give additional time and make significant efforts to reach rural communities and interested stakeholders.” 

The coalition noted “a web of complex issues related to the project that demanded considerable scrutiny, including but not limited to the following:

·  Potential adverse impacts to the Caja del Rio Wildlife and Cultural Interpretive Management Area;

·  Potential adverse impacts to the Arroyo Montoso Inventoried Roadless Area;

·  Potential adverse impacts to the White Rock Canyon Recommended Wilderness Management Area;

·  Potential adverse impacts to the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail;

·  Potential adverse impacts to cultural, water, air, wildlife, and soil resources;

·  Whether it is appropriate to amend the Land Management Plan for the Santa Fe National Forest, which was recently approved in August 2022 after a long and arduous public process;

·  Whether it is appropriate for the BLM to grant a right-of-way for this project;

·  Whether it is appropriate for the Santa Fe National Forest to grant a special use permit for this project; and

·  Whether the NNSA process complies with applicable federal law, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).”

The letter also claims that the draft EA violates the federal National Environmental Policy Act and expresses concern regarding amendments to the Santa Fe National Forest Land Management Plan, a multi-year effort that generated an enormous amount of public engagement resulting in tens of thousands of comments in support of the designation of management areas to protect cultural and ecological resources. 

“It is fundamentally unfair for NNSA to try to amend the conservation provisions set forth in the final plan through a condensed thirty-day comment period over the holidays,” the letter concluded.

To submit a public comment by January 17th 2024, click here

The full text of the letter can be found here.

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