Black Meas Project impacts include relocation

Gallup Independent

November 30, 2006

By Kathy Helms
Diné Bureau

WINDOW ROCK -- Peabody Western Coal Co.'s proposed Black Mesa Project would require the relocation of 17 Navajo households, the clearing of more than 13,000 acres of land, and an expected decrease in groundwater quality.

According to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement released last week by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the primary impacts to people and lands adjacent to the Black Mesa Complex are relocation, nuisance dust and noise.

Peabody would attempt to relocate the families to other sections of their customary use areas. The relocation would include providing new houses, areas for family garden plots and livestock grazing.

The families would be able to return to their original home sites following reclamation of the mined area, or in about 20 to 25 years, according to the EIS.

It is anticipated that during the 20 to 25 year reclamation timeline, the groundwater system would reach a new balance.

"Some springs could return, but some would not. There also could be a decrease in groundwater quality, both from increased total dissolved solids and formation of acidic water pockets," OSM said.

Peabody would be required to provide alternate water supplies in areas affected by contamination, the diminishment of water supplies, or interruption resulting from mining operations.

Refuse from coal washing and earth materials would be reburied in mined pits, with impacts expected to be similar to that already experienced.

Under the preferred alternative, the upper 250 feet of surface material would be removed from more than 13,529 acres. This would include the loss of about 8,500 acres of pinon and juniper and about 4,200 acres of sagebrush.

All vegetation on the 13,529 acres would be permanently removed during the mining operation.

The currently unpermitted 18,984 acres where the Black Mesa mining operation has been conducted would be added to the 44,073 acres in the existing OSM permit area along with 127 acres on the Hopi Reservation for a proposed 2-mile-long and 500-foot-wide coal-haul road right-of-way.

This would give Peabody a permit area totaling 63,184 acres for the Black Mesa Complex.

If approved, the Kayenta and Black Mesa mining operations would be considered one operation for the purpose of regulation by OSM, and would continue until 2026.

All operations related to mining and coal handling would result in about 145 tons of additional particulate matter being generated by the end of the project.

Particulate matter is very small solid particles of chemicals, soil or dust, and liquid droplets that can aggravate breathing and health problems. Residents living next to the mining operations would have greater exposure.

Reconstruction of the coal slurry pipeline would disturb another 2,100 acres of land. That could take in from 24 percent to 38 percent of previously undisturbed land, depending on which route is chosen.

Twenty-three cultural resources eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places were identified within the existing coal-slurry pipeline right-of-way.

Those sites are considered significant because of their potential to yield important information about the prehistory and history of the region.

An alternate route would affect nine more sites, all of which also are National Register-eligible properties, OSM said.

There are about 55 residences located within the area identified for the C-aquifer well field. Impacts include temporary interruption of grazing and traffic.

Another potential impact is the lowering of water levels in shallow livestock wells in the vicinity of the well field. Should the groundwater levels drop to the point the shallow wells become inoperable, an alternate water source would be provided.

About 160 acres of grazing land within the well-field area would be permanently lost due to construction of support structures. The structures would create visual impacts that would be minimized by painting them to blend with the surroundings.


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