Paving the way for the future: the Navajo/Hopi way or the Peabody way?

January 18, 2007

Dear Editor,

Political and legal forces are rapidly mounting to stop the C-aquifer project. The latest show of resistance is the Flagstaff City Council resolution, asking the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) for a 120-day extension on the public comment period.

At least two Hopi villages, Hotevilla and Oraibi, will refuse to give C-aquifer project the right-of-way for water and electric line through their lands.

Leupp Chapter of the Navajo Nation has passed a resolution opposing the C-aquifer project.

Two Hopi individuals have sent notices to OSM asking for the Draft Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS) to be delayed until after the Powamuy Ceremonies, and only after the Hopi Tribal Council and OSM hold a series of workshops to inform people about the mine plan and OSM's Draft EIS. If the request is ignored an injunction will be filed to end the DEIS and start a new one.

Several environmental groups are positioning themselves to file injunctions to stop the C-aquifer based on Peabody's incomplete application, violation of environmental justice and federal regulations regarding citizen participation, and other reasons.

Salt River Project (SRP), Peabody, and OSM are finding themselves in a public relations nightmare over the way they and OSM handled the EIS, particularly, the way they disregarded the religious ceremonies underway on Hopi. Now they are faced with another public relations fiasco, using kachinum as a marketing tool to promote membership in the Heard Museum.

In my own view, the C-aquifer project will die because the Navajo Nation water officials are not above-board with their true intentions, which is to use C-aquifer project to monopolize C-aquifer water.

If, for some miraculous reason, the Draft EIS Alternative A is approved, Peabody will be allowed to use N-aquifer as sole source water for reopening the coal slurry operations. Why? Because in 1965 the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation authorized Peabody the right to use unlimited amounts of N-aquifer as long as coal slurry is in operation.

Thankfully, the Nation Nation passed a resolution denying use of the N-aquifer for coal slurry, in spite of the lease agreement.

Surprisingly, the Hopi Tribe has failed to follow the Navajo lead. It is a surprise and a disappointment because the overwhelming, if not all of Hopi and Tewa members of the Hopi Tribe, oppose the use of N-aquifer.

The fight for water started with Hopis. We were the first, but without Council's endorsement, we have become the last.

In my opinion, once the Hopi Tribe passes a resolution, opposing use of the N-aquifer, Peabody will propose a new mine plan, which will include building the rail as the mode of transportation. They will offer to voluntarily get off the N-aquifer, but not before Hopi and Navajo make major concessions.

For example, Peabody will ask Hopi and Navajo to drop the $1.6 billion lawsuit pending in federal court against Peabody and owners of Mohave Generating Station.

Peabody will ask for an extension of the leasehold area and to mine more coal. This was proposed in 1986 by Peabody. The railroad project is sitting in their corporate offices waiting to be dusted off.

Owners of Mohave Generating Station (MGS) will support a rail project. Reasons are obvious. There is a growing demand for power in the Southwest. Owners of MGS are in the power market.

Arizona Public Service (APS) needs coal for its Cholla Power Plant; SRP needs coal for St. John's Plant.

The Bureau of Reclamation, another partner in MGS wants the power plant running because they need the money from the sale of electricity to pay off Central Arizona Project bill.

Owners of NGS want to overhaul the plant so it can run for another 36 years. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if plans are already underway to build another 1500-megawatt plant.

It takes a secured coal supply to make this project possible and Hopi and Navajo have the coal and water rights to the Colorado River.

It takes a simple resolution to end speculations over the reopening of a coal slurry using our only source of water, and to force Peabody to revise its mine plan to include rail.

There are at least two Council representatives who are prepared to introduce a resolution supporting the will of the people. It will pass. Council has no other choice. Once the resolution is approved, C-aquifer is dead, and OSM will be forced to go with another alternative.

The building of a rail will end the chapter to a long struggle to save our waters, a struggle that has literally consumed all of my life. It will come full circle to the day in 1965 when the Hopi Tribe Council voted for rail instead of slurry, against the will of John Boyden. Mr. Boyden, once the vote was cast, asked one of the Council representatives to introduce a motion to build the slurry. It passed unanimously!

In anticipation of a new mine plan, Hopi and Navajo people must gather and talk about our future as it relates to use and management of our resources. We are finding ourselves at a crossroad, deciding which path we should follow. One is the Peabody way. Do we want to keep traveling the Peabody road, or do we want to go another way? Which way? That is up to us.

This could be the opening of a new chapter for a better sustainable future.

Vernon Masayesva

Executive Director

Black Mesa Trust

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