Belen residents want to know who will clean up contaminated dirt

New Mexico

It’s been nearly a year after a smelly, unsightly and possibly harmful mess was dumped on Belen’s mesa and it’s still there. Now, the people who live next to it are still waiting for someone to clean it up — but who?

“Well, it took ’em about 10 days to make the big mess. And now we’re 10 months in and still nothing,” said Larry Fuller.

In January, Fuller says he witnessed Robert Minnix and White Sands Construction dumping contaminated dirt onto a lot just east of his property. Since then, it’s been a lengthy, uphill battle to right the wrong.

Earlier this month, Minnix pleaded no contest to 12 misdemeanor crimes in Valencia County Magistrate Court. he was ordered to pay just $656 in court fees. However, the piles of oil-soaked dirt still remain. .

The dirt, located about five miles south of the Belen airport on Harrison Road, is easy to see. It sits in piles above the surface of the ground, has a strange discoloration to it and contains large chunks of concrete.

The odor hasn’t disappeared either.

“You can smell it,” Fuller said. “I’ve not heard anything from anybody saying ‘This is what’s happening.'”

The county attorney told us by phone Friday that because this is an environmental issue, it’s out of the county’s purview. Rather, it’s up to the state’s Environmental Department to intervene and get the mess cleaned up.

According to the attorney, Minnix could have been fined $4,000, but that money wouldn’t have been able to be put toward the cleanup efforts. By suspending the fines, he hopes they would have some leverage to get it cleaned up.

KRQE News 13 called the state’s Environmental Department and while a spokesperson said they’d try to get us answers, we did not hear back by deadline.

“If it’s not going to be cleaned up, well then that makes me think, ‘Why do we have state and county officials and laws on the books if they don’t mean anything?” Fuller said.

The county attorney says he’s hopeful the state will come through — whether that’s using its own resources or forcing Minnix to clean it up himself. For now, Fuller just has to keep waiting.

“Whatever the legal things that go on are, I don’t really understand. I just think somebody should act ethically and morally and get it done,” he said.

UPDATE at 10 a.m. on Oct. 31:

The State Environmental Department sent KRQE News 13 this response to our inquiry about who will clean up the dirt:

Currently, all three parties are responsible.  On August 21, 2018, the NMED issued administrative compliance orders compelling compliance and assessing civil penalties to all three Respondents [Mr. Minnix: $70,626; White Sands and WSCI, LLC: $58,126 – jointly and severally].  All of the Respondents obtained counsel.  The matter is proceeding to a Departmental hearing, which is in process of being scheduled.

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