A week later, Black Mesa area roads a mess

By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau, Gallup Independent, MARCH 3, 2008

BLACK MESA — Unless you’ve been there or seen the photos, you might get the impression that Black Mesa residents are a bunch of wimps, whining about the mud. But that’s far from the truth.

“We don’t want everybody else to think that we’re weak,” Delegate Amos Johnson said Sunday evening. “We’re strong, resilient people, and we will get through this.” But with more snow this past weekend and snow levels in the higher elevations of Black Mesa “up to the belly of a horse,” there is going to be a lot more water flowing down the mountain as the snowmelt begins in earnest.

Black Mesa residents have a lot of pride and normally would just tough out in silence whatever hand they’re dealt by Mother Nature. But with weeks of snow and mud bringing travel to a standstill, it was time last week to send out an SOS, and pray someone responded.

“We were worried for our elders and the people that needed to get to the hospital,” Johnson said. Navajo Nation Emergency Management responded last week and set up an Incident Command Center. Assessment teams scoured the community and three people with medical emergencies were transported out by air or ambulance.

Navajo and Apache County road crews and numerous others have been working almost 24 hours a day on the main roads leading in and out of the area. “That’s their primary focus, to make the road so you can drive on it,” Johnson said. “A lot of people are trying to get into Basha’s, and to buy hay and do their laundry.”

A young mother traveling Navajo 8066 early Saturday, while the roads were still frozen in places, hit a spot about 100 yards from Black Mesa Chapter House and ran into mud up to the truck’s bumper.

“She had three small children in the truck and was trying to get out to do laundry. She was out there with a shovel and couldn’t do anything because part of the ground was still frozen. She was distressed,” Johnson said. “Thomas Chee got a chain and wrapped it around there and one of the chapter’s big trucks that was taking gravel to that area pulled her out.”

Around 6 p.m. Sunday, county and chapter personnel still were working on the road at the spot where the woman had been stuck. “If they keep working tonight the buses may be able to run tomorrow, but only on the main roads,” Johnson said. “Black Mesa Community School has lost 16 school days. Talk about No Child Left Behind ... ”

The Incident Command Center which had set up at Forest Lake Chapter concluded its assessments Friday and left, Johnson said. Emergency Management Executive Director Jimson Joe, Navajo County Supervisor Percy Dele, Apache County Supervisor Jim Claw and others attended an emergency planning meeting near Black Mesa Chapter House on Saturday.

“It was recommended at the planning meeting to improve communication among the ones participating in ‘Operation Gray Clay,’ Emergency Management and the chapters,” Johnson said. “Jim Claw and Percy Dele said they are going to be there as long as they can. Percy said he is going to be there until the county’s emergency declaration ends, which, I think, is March 30.

“We had a chapter planning meeting today and what we are saying is before that thing is over, we need to get BIA and others who have authority over this road to do repairs on some of these culverts.” An earthen dam situated alongside N8066 is filled to the brim. “If it gives way, about half a mile to a mile of N8066 is going to be under water for awhile,” Johnson said.

“N8065 is still in real bad shape. There’s a pipe that is just barely hanging on. If that pipe is gone, you’re talking about maybe 200 people that are going to be isolated. Old Tree Valley is going to be like a little island.”






Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.