Community pushes back against industrial plans over pollution concerns

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Hundreds of Valencia County residents celebrated a victory Thursday night, after concerns over pollution led them to push back against new industrial plans.

A proposal in Rio Communities could lead to new heavy industry coming within a few hundred feet of many homes.

The plan is still alive, but on Thursday, it suffered a setback. The Rio Communities Planning and Zoning Commission voted to not recommend it. However, the city council could still consider the proposal.

The plan is coming from the Yates family, which is often called New Mexico’s original oil moguls. Their industry history in New Mexico goes back to the early 1900s.

At a commission meeting last month, about 200 people came out to voice their concerns.

“The very thing that we chose to come here for is at risk of being destroyed,” said Kathy Gurule, who lives in Rio Communities.

There have been passionate pleas for months to not allow heavy industry there.

“We call on the city council to vote no and stand with the community,” said resident Matthew Marquez.

They are concerned about many different kinds of negative effects on people throughout the area.

“Noise, water pollution, air pollution, any type of pollution. Plus, it brings down the value of our house,” Marquez said.

Helen Smith said her home is about 200 feet away from the site.

“All the runoff would be coming toward me,” she said.

She can hardly imagine the possibility of large buildings and heavy machinery so close to her house.

“I’m very concerned. We have lovely views of the mountain. We have fresh, clean air. We can see the stars because we don’t have light pollution,” she said.

In January, other industry in the area led some residents to wonder whether a plant was causing an odor they believed was natural gas.

“We’re opening a huge Pandora’s Box if we allow this in, because once it’s rezoned there’s no way to stop so many industries that could just completely damage this environment and this area. It would just be a shame,” Gurule said.

The Yates family told KOB 4 that they will continue to push for these plans. They said they will benefit the area, including bringing-in jobs.

Harvey Yates III said even their company does not know exactly what type of industry could move in, though they are willing to make sure it’s not oil production.

They’d be looking for a business to expand the industrial park they already have up and running nearby, and they said they could create a buffer zone that would put the nearest house 600-plus feet away from the business.

Yates III said the family has other land in Valencia County, and it wants to invest in the local communities.

In 2015, Forbes reported the Yates family was worth $2.5 billion.