Marquez is unique for its long history and geographic isolation, but the town of Grants has also seen better days. Double-stacked trains tear through town, barely slowing. A few modern motels greet travelers pulling off the highway for the night, but the road into downtown hosts a string of shuttered motor lodges -- the Franciscan, the Desert Sun, the Wayside -- with cracked doors and weedy lots. Streets and sewers are crumbling as the tax base shrinks, and the town now relies on prisons, including the Cibola County Detention Center and the state women's correctional facility.
Visitors to the mining museum can ride an elevator underground to a mock uranium mineshaft, but there's little else to explore within the town itself. There is, in fact, little in Grants to conjure even a whiff of nostalgia for those boom days. Grants never truly built itself up in the first place, and like Marquez, it has never recovered from the bust.
George Byers, vice president of Neutron Energy, believes all that could change. In addition to the Marquez Mine site, Neutron has acquired leases on the Cebolleta Land Grant on the east side of Mount Taylor and on private lands west of it, all in the last few years. The Marquez Mine alone could bring more than 225 jobs to Grants, Byers says, while a complete resurgence of the industry in the area could create about 8,000 jobs, with an economic impact of about a billion dollars.
Byers' company fought the TCP designation, testifying in 2008 that the emergency listing was unwarranted, given the fact that there were no immediate plans for mining within its boundaries. Most of his company's plans are slated for private land, including Spanish land grants.
And although he now says the designation shouldn't affect Neutron's plans, it does add another layer of regulation and consultation. "Instead of getting a permit to do exploration in several weeks -- which you can do in any other state -- on private land, it took us over 14 months" for the Marquez site, he says. "That was unnecessary. It wasted a lot of time, it wasted a lot of money."
Before the TCP designation, most projects were able to go through a streamlined "minimal impact" permit process, explains New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division director Bill Brancard. Now, projects -- even those on private lands -- within the TCP boundary no longer qualify for that. Instead, they must undergo the regular exploration permitting process, which takes longer.
For the most part, however, the designation changes little because almost all the projects are planned for U.S. Forest Service lands. The state's TCP process was more controversial because it became public first, says Brancard, but the Forest Service was already planning to add its Mount Taylor lands to the National Register of Historic Places. Now, any projects proposed for those federal lands must undergo a thorough environmental impact analysis.
Ultimately, though, despite all the fuss, it may not matter what kind of designation the mountain receives.
Companies are "proceeding fairly deliberately because New Mexico has some real pluses and minuses when it comes to uranium mining," says Brancard. The resources are here, he says, but developing them would require significant front-end investments. Most importantly, someone would need to build a mill -- an expensive commitment that no one appears willing to make at this point.