CUBA, N.M. (AP) — For decades, yellow- and white-tinged piles of waste from a defunct copper mine have covered the mountainside at the edge of the quintessential New Mexico village of Cuba — out of sight, out of mind and not nasty enough to warrant the attention of the federal government’s Superfund program.
Still, State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said something needs to be done as heavy metals leach from the tainted soil.
“It’s not going to go away,” Dunn said while standing on the expansive sand dune that has developed over the tailings. “There are two choices: Do nothing and look the other way, or start to figure out how to fix it.”
Dunn’s office has hired a consultant to identify alternatives for cleaning up the tons of waste left behind on the portion covering state trust land. The study also will look at costs. Dunn estimates more than $5 million — an expense he said the state should not really be saddled with.
The Nacimiento Mine is among many sites in the West where polluters are long gone and state and local governments have been left holding the bag. As is the case in New Mexico, many sites were mined long before regulations required companies to post bonds for remediation and restoration.