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New Mexico delegation wants more time for the public and tribes to comment on proposed power line

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s congressional delegation wants the public to have more time to weigh in on a proposed transmission line that would bring more electricity to one of the nation’s top nuclear weapons laboratories, saying the comment period should be extended by 60 days.

The project comes as Los Alamos National Laboratory looks to power ongoing operations and future missions that include manufacturing key components for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Native American tribes and environmentalists already have voiced opposition to the multimillion-dollar power line project, which would cross national forest land in an area known as the Caja del Rio and span the Rio Grande at White Rock Canyon. Several pueblos have cultural and spiritual ties to the area.

The congressional delegation said in a letter to the National Nuclear Security Administration that the current 30-day comment period falls on numerous federal and religious holidays and overlaps with multiple Pueblo feasts, making it difficult for any meaningful participation.

Members of the delegation also noted that the All Pueblo Council of Governors — which represents 20 pueblos in New Mexico and Texas — is in the midst of a leadership transition and should have an opportunity to comment and engage directly with the federal officials about the project.

A coalition of environmental groups also sent a request for extending the comment period to March 17.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors in 2021 adopted a resolution to support the preservation of the area, arguing that the Caja del Rio has a dense concentration of petroglyphs, ancestral homes, ceremonial kivas, roads, irrigation structures and other cultural resources.

The tribes say longstanding mismanagement by federal land managers has resulted in desecration to sacred sites on the Caja del Rio.

The U.S. Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration announced in April 2021 that it would be working with federal land managers to assess the project’s potential environmental effects. The project calls for new overhead poles, staging areas where materials can be stored and access roads for construction and maintenance.

Part of the line would be built along an existing utility corridor, but a new path would have to be cut through forest land to reach an electrical substation.

Federal officials stated in the draft environmental review released in November that they have been coordinating with tribes, including having tribal experts present during cultural inventories done in 2022 and 2023.

Federal officials also said federal and tribal monitors would be on site during the construction.

Joseph Brophy Toledo, a traditional leader for Jemez Pueblo, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that it’s important that the tribes be able to comment on the assessment and make suggestions for protecting the area’s cultural resources.

He said he hopes the federal government listens.

“They are going to build it,” Toledo said. “I hope they will have all of these protections.”

Article Topic Follows: AP-National

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Associated Press


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