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Pilot Flying J: It’s not a drill

March 4, 2018 GMT

The proposed Pilot Flying J truck stop — also a “terminal” with co-located freight warehousing — is what Santa Fe County must, according to its own Sustainable Land Development Code, define as a “developments of countywide impact” or one with a “potential for far-reaching effects on the community.”

The code says, “DCIs are developments that would place major demands on public facilities, the county’s capital improvement plan and budget, and/or have the potential to affect the environment and public health, safety, and welfare beyond the impacts on immediately neighboring properties. Developments of Countywide Impacts, or DCIs, have the potential to create serious adverse noise, light, odor and vibration; explosive hazards; traffic congestion; and burdens on County emergency response services.”

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The preceding list of potential “serious adverse impacts” practically defines a truck stop. Think about it. The proposed truck stop (recently defined by county staff as a gas station only because the words truck stop don’t appear in the code) will host 75 idling semi-trucks overnight, and up to 300 trucks and 3,000 other vehicles daily — providing fuel, food, alcohol, showers, laundry and freight storage.

All of this will be located adjacent to residences in the Turquoise Trail Business Park (people live there) and La Entrada community in Rancho Viejo. Oh, and down the road from other neighborhoods at the top of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway. Just off Interstate 25 via Exit 278, down a narrow, steeply curved ramp leading into the new double-diamond interchange. Hope those truckers can stop at the yield sign at the bottom of that hill — where a constant stream of traffic passes by on N.M. 14.

But, back to the county code, which further tells us that “special regulation [of DCIs] is necessary.” The county’s reasons for special regulation are quite specific: “to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens, residents, and businesses of the county from the potentially harmful or hazardous impacts of DCIs; to ensure short and long-term compatibility … of DCIs and the county at large; to preserve the quality of life, the economy, infrastructure, environment, natural and cultural resources, and natural landscapes; to promote sustainability by protecting against the degradation of air, surface water, groundwater, and soils; and to protect environmentally sensitive lands and visual and scenic qualities.”

Let’s see. Truck stops give rise to high levels of diesel emissions, cause around-the-clock braking and accelerating noise, contaminate surface water and groundwater through normal fueling operations, and permanently damage terrain through underground tank storage. Quality of life? Dark skies for stargazing? Think again. Quiet desert sunsets? Listen to the song of the air brakes. World-class visual and scenic qualities? Tourists drive on by. There would be no different city here.

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The county has a chance to do the right thing by denying Pilot Flying J’s application on grounds that it’s an unacceptable DCI defined within its own land-use code. This is not a drill, not a practice round for county staff to learn the Sustainable Land Development Code through trial and error.

Look what happened Dec. 6 when the county “practiced” implementing the code’s requirement for a “facilitation,” in which “the applicant shall present the proposed project, followed by a presentation (if any) of residents or homeowners associations, followed by a discussion among the participants.” The facilitation meeting, run by two county-hired consultants, failed to follow code requirements to ensure a “neutral, balanced public process.”

The Pilot Flying J developer was the only presenter on the agenda. The planning and execution of that meeting violated both the spirit and letter of the code. Please, don’t let it happen again.

Katherine Bilton is a member of the Santa Fe Gateway Alliance, a group of concerned Santa Fe County residents who live in communities and neighborhoods directly impacted by the truck stop.