Railroad town battles train crude cars

Lamy tries to stop oil transport plan in its track

LAMY, NM (KRQE) – The railroad has been running through Lamy, New Mexico for more than a century. Since 1880, rail cars have hauled people and freight through the tiny town. But while the town is tied to its tracks, many here feel like something is barreling down on them: train cars hauling crude oil.

“Our question is, why here?” says Roger Taylor, “It’s a small valley, a very traditional historic location.”

Within weeks, a company called Pacer Energy Marketing plans to truck oil into Lamy from the San Juan Basin about 100 miles to the northwest. On private land owned by the Santa Fe Southern Railway, Pacer will transfer the gooey gold to rail tank cars before they roll down the tracks toward Albuquerque.

Taylor and others learned about the deal a few months ago. They’ve since been trying to stop it.

“We’ve been in touch with everybody from the county level up to the federal level,” says Parke Duttenhofer of Lamy, “And it turns out that there are no permits required for this type of an operation.”

A Pacer official confirmed that the company applied for an air quality permit through the State Department of the Environment. The Department told KRQE News 13 that the amount of activity taking place would be too low to require regulation. Pacer says one or two rail tank cars will be filled each day by six to eight tanker trucks. The company admits it will impact life in Lamy.

“It’s why people move here; for the peaceful atmosphere, good air,” says Jack Clark, who worries that bright lights and idling diesel truck will become the norm for his town.

The worry goes beyond the sights and sounds of the work: the town’s well is about 100 feet away. And just over the hill north of town lie the outskirts of Santa Fe and several thousand homes which often draw their water from the same aquifer as Lamy.

A spill or other disaster would affect more than just Lamy’s well, says Duttenhofer. “And that would be a permanent thing. It wouldn’t go away.”

Local water officials agree, saying a sizable spill could render one of the Eldorado Area Water and Sanitation District’s most productive wells useless indefinitely.

Pacer says it trains truck and loading operators to avoid spills. A company official says special equipment is used to prevent even minor mistakes and that in the six or seven years Pacer has been doing the same kind of work in other areas, the company has spilled “maybe a barrel or two.”

Safety concerns go beyond the environment for many who live in the valley town. The only road into – and out of – town is the same mile-long stretch of county asphalt that marks the last part of the journey for tanker trucks hauling crude oil.

“Everybody has seen the tanker train cars blow up recently in the news and we’re really worried about that,” says Duttenhofer. In July, a train hauling crude crashed in Quebec, Canada. Dozens were killed. Recent explosions in North Dakota and Alabama have claimed headlines, though they haven’t claimed lives.

Asked how residents get out of town if something catastrophic happens, Duttenhofer says “You don’t”.

A group of homeowners have organized a meeting Saturday to both educate themselves and to raise awareness. Representatives from the offices of Senator Tom Udall and Representative Ben Ray Lujan plan to attend. Pacer says it will also send employees familiar with the operation.

Standing outside the town’s occasionally-open railroad museum, Duttenhofer says Lamy isn’t against business ventures. “The Santa Fe Southern Railway needs to make money. I can’t fault them for that. But this being such a residential area and such a small community, this is just not the place for it.”

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