$1 million earmarked for Black Mesa mud

By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau, Gallup Independent, FEBRUARY 27, 2008

WINDOW ROCK — Since word went out Monday about snow and mud conditions in the Black Mesa area, “it has triggered a lot of response,” Delegate Amos Johnson said Tuesday afternoon during a break in the Navajo Nation Council's debate on allocating $1 million for Emergency Management to deal with weather-related emergencies.

“I got a call from Apache County, Mr. Jim Clah, who is willing to help us with fuel for our equipment, and then Apache County is also willing to help us distribute some of the food that was purchased for the people that is still sitting there at the chapter house.”

He said he also had spoken Tuesday morning with Chief of Staff Patrick Sandoval and learned that a request had gone in for assistance from the National Guard.

Emergency Management Executive Director Jimson Joe said he and other Navajo Nation officials met Monday night with chapter officials and community members at Forest Lake. “We are moving in and we have set up an incident command post at the chapter house. We are in communication with that post with our Emergency Operations Center here in Window Rock.

“We have submitted a letter of request for air support and we are conducting an assessment with Forest Lake and Black Mesa area to confer what their needs are and see if we need additional resources.”

Speaking from Forest Lake Tuesday evening via satellite phone, Selena Manychildren, public information officer, said “Operation Gray Clay” is up and running, with David Nez, program manager for the Bioterrorism Preparedness Program, serving as incident commander.

“They formed five assessment teams this morning that are out in the community of Forest Lake, Kitsillie, Black Mesa, Hard Rock and the Pinon vicinity. They're mainly out there to identify roads, identify damages and take photographs; they're doing welfare checks and basically identifying needs through rapid assessments.

“We're waiting to hear from the teams. We're going to stay here and depending on the assessments that we get at the end of the day, we might make a few deliveries to the families that are most impacted. We'll find out from the assessments what our next step will be,” she said. “Earlier today we had one crew get stuck. It's just kind of a mess out here.”

Joe said individuals with medical needs and health risks are Emergency Management's highest priority. “We are continuing to focus our major efforts on opening those roads up. In lieu of not being able to get through the mud, we are using the air support to verify in any way that people cannot go in or out to their residences. “We know that the schools have not been conducting school because of the roads.”

Road conditions have brought the community to a standstill, he said. “The location of these communities is at high elevations where they have been receiving more snow than any other areas, as well as rain combined. The soil saturation has become so high that any moisture they get contributes and exacerbates the mud situation.

“What they have out there is clay, and the geographic structure is they have mountains and just flat valleys, so the water has no place to go but to be on the ground. The water is being held by the soil, therefore, the mud is going to be holding out much longer than in other areas.”

But Black Mesa is not the only area that's hurting. Delegate Harriett Becenti, who represents Rock Springs, Tseyatoh and Manuelito, caught up with Joe during the Council break to seek help for residents in her chapters.

“We had a real deep snow in all three areas and right now our area is very muddy and the trenches are like 1 foot deep. In some areas people only have cars, and people that are high-risk and on medication, such as diabetic, some of them are stranded back there. They were trying to call the chapter as well as Emergency Management.

“I know this one lady — she's a diabetic — she's stranded and she needs to go to the hospital. She has a cell phone so she called me yesterday evening.” Becenti alerted Rock Springs Chapter but was unsure whether anyone had been able to reach the woman.

“We can't even send a grader in there because it's going to cause more damage to the road until it dries out some, is what they were saying. I don't know exactly how they're going to get some of these high-risk individuals out of the remote areas. They either come in with a helicopter or some kind of special vehicle because the ruts are so deep.

“They say you can come out when the ground is frozen, but you're going to damage your vehicle even though the ground is frozen because the rut is so high and deep you can't even drive on top of it.”

Delegate Larry Noble said he is still trying to get help for residents in Beshbito Valley, where North Valley Road washed out after a dam broke.

“I contacted Mr. Jimson Joe of Emergency Management to do an assessment because people live in the northern area up in the hills there, that utilize the dirt road that was flooded. People were stranded on the north side and the south side for a number of days.”

Noble said that during times of heavy rains, the road often floods, so, even though Bureau of Indian Affairs, Navajo and county officials met to discuss the problem, nobody bothered to check to see where the water was coming from. “They talked about the road but didn't realize that the dam broke further up. This was about 2 weeks ago,” he said.

“The road is not fixed yet. The water level is below the break so it’s a little bit better. Hopefully in a couple weeks the road should be passable with a car. Right now, it's only trucks. We have ruts that are a foot or more deep. Half-ton trucks, they can't make it through there,” he said.

“There are, I would say, 50 families that are way up in the hills and even along the road there that are stranded.”





Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html