CAMERON, Ariz. - Two years after extensive work with International Piping Products (IPP) and Sempra Energy on a wind farm project, Cameron Chapter President Edward Singer learned from a press release that the Navajo Nation was instead working with Citizens Energy to develop its own wind farm in Grey Mountain, which is a part of the Cameron Chapter.
Singer spent time talking about his frustrations with the proposed Citizens project-something he had attempted to do through letters to the editors to local newspapers. Singer said that this led him to publish his Jan. 15 letter (published as a full page ad in the Feb. 4 issue of the Observer) to Joseph Kennedy II, the chairman and president of the Citizens Energy Corporation of Boston, Mass.
"Stop interfering with
our community based initiative to develop the Navajo Wind Project on Gray Mountain in Cameron," Singer demanded. "Your actions [have] already delayed our project development, and the much-needed income and jobs it will bring to our community.
"As you are aware, the Cameron Chapter has been actively working with IPP and Sempra Energy on the Navajo Wind Project for several years and have made substantial progress on all aspects of development," Singer added. "During this time, IPP and Sempra have become trusted members of our community."
Singer went on to state that if Kennedy were honestly committed to helping communities such as Cameron, he should stop interfering with the chapter so that it could move forward with their project. Singer suggested Kennedy support wind development elsewhere-such as the Cape Wind Project in his own state of Massachusetts.
Singer read a letter to the editor by Kennedy, stating, "Mr. Kennedy's letter was some of the same old same old. He accuses me basically of lying. He also stated that his people circulated a petition and that he has over 200 signatures. I called the Elections office, and was told not to worry about it, that Citizens supporters would have to start a committee before they could circulate a petition."
Singer said he has heard from some who signed the petition that they had been promised wild things. Others had signed as a result of fear tactics, and some had been paid to sign.
"Kennedy stated that over 200 votes basically takes precedence over the 40 votes for IPP and Sempra in an official chapter meeting," Singer continued. "But his numbers are not votes-they are signatures, and we aren't sure that some of those signatures weren't taken outside the chapter boundaries. I believe that Kennedy is dividing the community against itself."
In an earlier letter dated Dec. 16, 2008, Kennedy thanked Singer for a meeting in Cameron where he was able to hear community concerns about wind development there. He reiterated that his family has a long history of commitment to working with the Navajo people-and that he understood that centuries of injustices had created a feeling of distrust towards "outsiders."
In defense of Citizens Energy, Kennedy wrote "[o]ver the past 30 years, Citizens Energy has been providing life's necessities to people in need throughout the United States and the world," and that the company has distributed more than $20 million of energy assistance grants to Indian tribes, including $430.000 in energy assistance to the Navajo Nation.
"If we are successful in our plan to develop around 500 megawatts of wind power, we intend to set aside an ownership position in the wind power development company and the long-term wind assets for the Navajo Nation, which includes the Cameron Chapter. I promise to work together with you and the central government to seek an accommodation regarding the distribution of revenues from the project back to your community."
"My last letter to Mr. Kennedy compares and contrasts between their offer and what we've chosen-I believe our choice was a good choice," Singer said. "It's not all about numbers. Mr. Kennedy wants to pay one amount from the start, and over the next two years as the cost of electricity rises, his company will make out like a bandit."
According to Singer, Kennedy made it clear that any money raised by the project would be given to the central government, and it would be up to the Chapter to negotiate for their share.
Singer went on to explain that many businesses in Cameron are owned by non-Indians on private tracts of land, and the owners do not pay taxes to the Chapter or to the Navajo Nation.
"I think the central government thinks we have a windfall, and that is in tourism," Singer said. "We have a lot of people who work in arts and crafts trying to market in and outside the community, but they are not successful."
Singer also acknowledged some of the criticism he has heard leveled towards him.
"I've been accused of being bought off," Singer said. "I've been following the studies done on Grey Mountain. I'm from there. It's a part of Cameron Chapter. It was difficult; the studies done by Northern Arizona University and the Navajo Tribal Utilities Authority were hard to follow. They were not forthcoming with the results of their studies.
"So when developers showed up here two years ago-and I was not an elected official at that time, but I was recognized as one of the leaders of the community-we talked, and I believed it was one of the best opportunities available, so I began working with IPP and Sentra as a consultant. I know people in the community, and I know the land well."
Singer's dedication to the idea of his community reaping the profit of one of the only viable opportunities available to them was one of the reasons he decided to run for Chapter president. In that capacity, Singer has sought information, including the community members Citizens claims to have worked with, and a copy of the agreement that President Joe Shirley and the DPA have signed with Citizens-but his requests have been ignored.
There are members of the community who want more information-from both companies.
Jamescita Peshlakai, a member of the Cameron Chapter community pointed out that the use of the name "Navajo Wind Energy" is an attempt of "another big company exploiting our name," and should not be confused with real Navajos sitting beneath power lines that do not benefit their families.
"I realized that people are coming to see my father, James, to buy him a steak dinner at Cameron Trading Post, seeking his endorsement," she said.
James Peshlakai has been very active in the political climate of Cameron throughout his life.
"However strong he is in mind and spirit, his health has been affected by the stress of politics. As his daughter, I say that it is time for the younger generation to step up to the plate. It is challenging, exhilarating, and yes, empowering," Peshlakai wrote to her family, friends and community members.
"Let's get together and celebrate this spirit, as well as bring the two companies that are starting to do battle ... to the table. Our table, not Joe Shirley's or Window Rock's," she added.
"I simply want to get to the bottom of what they want-what they can truly offer Cameron and Grey Mountain communities-and not just pay us lip service," she concluded.