Claw: Roads 'horrible'

Apache County officials get stuck taking fuel to chapter house

By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau, Gallup Independent, FEBRUARY 29, 2008

FOREST LAKE — Apache County Supervisor Jim Claw, District 1, got a taste Wednesday of what it feels like to be a Black Mesa resident when he and his roads engineer high-centered on their way to the chapter house to make arrangements to deliver fuel.

“I'm sore from climbing through the mud, but it's been an interesting experience,” Claw said. “I'm from Chinle and I've seen some bad mud, but I've never seen like what I saw yesterday in Black Mesa area. It's unimaginable.”

Selena Manychildren, public information officer for Emergency Management, said Wednesday that road work is progressing at a slow pace. “It will continue throughout the following days and into the year according to road officials that met this morning at Forest Lake Chapter.”

According to Manychildren, Superintendent Larry Wallen of Piñon Unified School District said 960 students are bused daily, but because of the weather, nearly 30 percent of the student body, or approximately 400 of the 1,300 students are not coming to school. Some have missed the AIMS Tests, which difficult to make up.

Claw said though Apache County does not have roads in the area, because of the emergency declaration made by Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. in January, they have been working on Bureau of Indian Affairs roads to help keep them open since the first snow came down.

“At first we were alone, but finally some of the BIA started to show up. It was good to see some help finally arriving earlier this month. But we were up there alone when the snow was thigh deep.”

Chinle BIA is on the scene, he said, but “they're very short staffed and they cover a bigger area than we do. They don't have the resources that are needed, of course, but they're doing the best they can and they're doing a very good job. Their boys are out there seven days a week, because we run across them.”

As a matter of fact, it was not Apache County road equipment that was stuck on Road 8066, as reported to Emergency Management by assessment teams, but BIA equipment, he said. “It was a huge grader. None of ours got stuck.”

But he and the roads engineer did not fare as well.
“We were out there yesterday and we got stuck right before we got to Black Mesa, right on top of a culvert. There was a big rut in there and we high-centered. We waited for our grader to show up that was clearing the road from Black Mesa Chapter going toward Rough Rock on 8066.

“Before they got there, a big truck — I don't know if it's a 2-ton or 3-ton truck from Black Mesa that had tire chains on it — was plowing through the mud toward Rough Rock. They had to pull us out if they wanted to get by, so they pulled us out and we managed to get to Black Mesa Chapter where we made arrangements to deliver fuel. We provided diesel fuel for their grader.”

Next, they went to Forest Lake Chapter where Emergency Management has its Incident Command Center set up. “It was very well equipped for the operations up there, but I wish they had set it up in Black Mesa where all the problems are,” Claw said.

“It is the most horrible thing I have ever seen. I have really got to hand it to those people. I don't know how they've managed all these years. They need help.”

Manychildren said Navajo County, Navajo Department of Transportation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Hopi Tribe, Apache County, Chinle Division of Transportation, and Piñon School and Transportation officials are responding.

“While the public is frustrated due to immediate expectations, officials explained the road repairs will take time due to harsh conditions in some of the areas throughout Black Mesa Plateau. Some road repair plans will begin when the road surfaces are dry enough to blade,” she said.

On Thursday morning, assessment teams were conducting welfare checks on 15 residents northwest of Black Mesa. Since Tuesday, an elderly woman from Yale Point had to be airlifted to a medical facility and an elderly couple were transported by ambulance to Piñon Health Care facility.

Claw said District 1 Chinle Office plans to dispatch four to five dump trucks that carry 23 tons and two end dumps to haul red dog gravel from Peabody Coal to Black Mesa junction off N41. “We're going to stockpile it there and then the chapter is going to try to haul as much as they can so our trucks can get by.”

“The roads are so deep below the ground level — I guess they've eroded over the years — the water just sits there in some areas and there's no way to divert it. We have bladed off the mud but as soon as it thaws out again, the mud reappears.”

He is hopeful that by this afternoon they will have opened the roads all the way to Rough Rock. “N41, the Forest Lake-Piñon highway is open from that side but there are some rough spots and some deep ruts in certain spots where water has been sitting. Unless we pump it out, there is no way of getting that water off the roadway.”

In some places they had no choice but to blade new roads around the pools of water, he said. “We have the same problems with Tachee-Blue Gap.”

Once Black Mesa is stabilized, Claw said the Apache County crews will be moving across to Lukachukai and then over the mountain to Cove and Red Valley areas.

“Lukachukai wants me over there Sunday for a planning meeting. They're wondering why we're not getting around to them yet,” he said.



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