FLAGSTAFF— In response to a permit revision application by Peabody Western Coal Company, the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSM) held a public scoping meeting in the Coconino County Supervisor’s meeting room in Flagstaff on Jan. 13. It was the last of eight scheduled meetings held across northern Arizona both on and off the Navajo and Hopi reservations.
Chairing the meetings was Richard Holbrook, Chief of the Southwest Branch of OSM.
Holbrook opened the Flagstaff meeting by outlining points of four proposed alternatives, including some history of Peabody’s application process regarding the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines. He also acknowledged the concerns of members and governmental entities of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe over the continued use of the N-Aquifer.
“The purpose of these scoping meetings is to hear your comments,” Holbrook continued, though he cautioned those present that OSM would not discuss the desirability or debate the merits of the Black Mesa project.
OSM is currently considering four alternatives. The first alternative listed is the only one that anticipates a water supply from the C-aquifer. A detailed study to examine the viability of the C-aquifer as a water source is underway, Holbrook said.
As the 275-mile coal slurry line is reaching its end of life, Holbrook said, one proposal includes the replacement of the slurry pipeline, following the course of the original. The old pipes would remain buried, according to Holbrook.
Holbrook also spoke of the possibility of spur lines that would provide water for municipal use to communities on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.
Another feature is a 120-mile long pipeline from a proposed wellfield near Leupp to the mine operation, which would provide water for a coal washing facility. This would, of course, require additional water.
The last alternative would be the disapproval (or “no action”) of the Life of Mine Revision. OSM has indicated in a handout available at the scoping meetings that it cannot legally take “no action,” and that disapproval of the LOM Revision would have the same effect and would have the same result as “no action.” Under this alternative, the mining operation would end in 2011—the other three alternatives would extend mining operation an additional 15 years.
The final three alternatives ignore the demands of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe that Peabody ceases use of N-aquifer water by the end of 2005.
One of the first speakers was Vernon Masayesva, a co-founder of the Black Mesa Trust, an organization formed to protect the N-aquifer from the coal slurry. Masayesva stated that this time between the months of November and February belongs to the religious leaders.
“Out of respect, traditional Hopi cannot be involved in political stuff. In fact, holding these hearings at this time is another sign of the disconnection between [non-Indians] and the Hopi,” Masayesva said. “Many Hopi are not here to speak because of their religious beliefs.”
Masayesva was concerned that many Hopi and Navajo who wished to speak were unable, due to such religious beliefs, the lack of transportation, or the inability to traverse snow and mud-packed roads. These concerns were echoed throughout the night, leading to invitations from communities and individuals to OSM members for additional visits.
Manuel Pino traveled from the Acoma Pueblo to describe his tribe’s experience with the Jack Pile Mine in New Mexico. He included the death of his grandmother because of stomach cancer, as well as other impacts to human health, animals, plants and air and water quality—in summary, he described this as environmental genocide.
“We have lost human lives to satisfy the greedy and consumptive needs of the dominant society,” Pino said. “Water is a prayer. Water is life. To destroy the land and water is to destroy the people.”
Tony Skrelunas, who has served his Navajo Nation as the head of Economic Development, now works with the Flagstaff-based organization, Grand Canyon Trust. Skrelunas noted that Native Americans are now far savvier in their business dealings, and must continue to assert authority over their energy resources.
“The Grand Canyon Trust asks the Office of Surface Mining to reject the permit and require Peabody to complete a new application,” Skrelunas said.
Not all Native Americans present at the meeting were against the use of C-aquifer water to continue mining operations. Representatives from the Hopi Tribal Council and Peabody Coal spoke to the positive benefits of the mining operation.
Bobby Begay pointed out that Peabody pays state taxes, which funds reservation schools.
“We stand to lose $15 million,” Begay said. “Do you think the people in Phoenix or Flagstaff will help us fund our schools? I have grandchildren going to school.”
Scott Canty, an attorney for the Hopi Tribe, recognized the importance of the N-aquifer by stating that it was the only source of drinking water for the tribe.
“Without it, the Hopi will not survive,” Canty said.
Canty also said that it was important to take into consideration the economic impact of closing the mine to both the Navajo and Hopi people. He pointed out that the mining operation provides 35 percent of the operational costs of the Hopi Tribe.
Marie Justice, president of the union representing coal miners at Black Mesa, described the men and women employed at Black Mesa as hard workers.
“Most of them are not college educated.” She said. “Many do not speak English. But they provide money for the Navajo Nation scholarship program, the Manuelito Scholarship. We are very proud people.”
The emotionally charged testimony continued until 1 a.m. on Jan. 14, despite the urging of Holbrook to speakers—more than 40—to speed up their statements.