Paths planned for energy lines across Navajo Nation

By Chee Brossy, Navajo Times, JANUARY 31, 2008

WINDOW ROCK - Members of the Navajo Nation learned this week that they may find themselves hosting several federal energy corridors - wide swaths of land for pipelines and electrical lines - though it's still uncertain which families would be affected.

The federal government is looking to designate energy corridors in 11 Western states as a solution to strengthen and expand the nation's outdated power grid, and eliminate roadblocks to the movement of fuel supplies and electricity.

Three of the proposed pathways would traverse the Navajo Nation.

On Jan. 23, federal officials representing the departments of Energy and Interior, and the Bureau of Land Management, held a public hearing in Window Rock on the draft study of environmental impacts from such a system, and to gauge public reaction here.

Titled "The West-wide Energy Corridor Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Study," it was spurred by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which calls for "corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities on federal land" to accommodate the rapidly growing cities in the West.

Once the plan is adopted, the corridors would enable energy supplies and electricity to move freely about the region, in contrast to the current situation: inadequate transmission capacity, local opposition and a patchwork of policies that makes long-distance pipeline and transmission projects difficult.

The hearing, held in a conference room at the Quality Inn, attracted a mix of about 40 citizens, officials, and reporters. Federal presenters, headed by project manager Laverne Kyriss, explained the draft impact study and displayed maps of the proposed corridors.

The maps showed a system of intersecting lines across the Western states from Colorado to California. There were many gaps, however, where the corridors would cross non-federal lands, including the Navajo Reservation. These non-federal lands were not part of the draft impact study, Kyriss explained.

The federal proposal shows corridors approaching Navajo land from three directions, but they stop at the reservation line. One line approaches from the Phoenix area, one from the Las Vegas, Nev., area, and a third line extends from Albuquerque toward the Four Corners.

It would be up to the Navajo Nation to determine the exact route of energy corridors within tribal lands, Kyriss said.

The Shirley administration signaled its support for the energy corridor plan via comments by Arvin Trujillo, director of the Division of Natural Resources.

Trujillo, in a written statement, said the tribe recognizes that "pathways through the Navajo Nation will be needed."

The tribe would prefer to use existing pipeline right-of-ways on the reservation for the new energy corridors, but would consider negotiating other routes if asked, Trujillo said.

Such negotiation would be done in accordance with the tribe's standard processes and the outside party would pay for the right-of- way easements, Trujillo said in an interview afterward.

The proposed federal corridors would be just short of three-quarters of a mile wide, but might be much narrower on Navajo land.

Trujillo said that wide corridors would be virtually impossible on the reservation due to livestock grazing, existing residential use, and because "it would not be in the best interest of the (Navajo) nation."

Many at the hearing voiced concern that the draft EIS lacked detail about impacts on communities along the corridors, and they worried about the potential negative effects of an all-purpose energy corridor on Navajo land.

Anna Frazier, of Dilkon Chapter and Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, spoke about the problems she has encountered living near the El Paso natural gas pipeline.

"I don't wish that home site on anyone," Frazier said. "It gets loud when the gas is released, and it smells as well. But there's no place for me to move if they widen the corridor. This is not really fair to the rest of the Navajo Nation, this kind of thing really victimized our people."

"This is all because some people in a big city will be using the energy," she said. "We need the truth - what does this mean for the Navajo Nation?" Throughout the hearing federal officials stressed that the study is still in draft status, meaning that details could change. But once established, the corridors would create more certainty for everyone, they said.

A project could be proposed outside the corridors "but it will be difficult, if not impossible, to approve location (of transmission lines) outside the corridor," said BLM presenter Ron Montagna.

Larry Rodgers, executive director of the Eastern Navajo Land Commission, warned of complications posed by the checkerboard, where one corridor is proposed, though he spoke approvingly about the overall idea of establishing energy corridors.

"I'm trying to convince the people involved that the corridor from Bernalillo (N.M.) to Farmington will impact the Navajo Nation," Rodgers said. "Individual allottees will have to be dealt with it on an individual basis."

The feds also came in for criticism that the hearing was inadequately publicized and held at a time when most people could not attend because they're at work.

Frazier said Dilkon Chapter members did not know about the hearing, and that she only learned of it through her involvement with Diné CARE.

Elouise Brown, leader of Dooda Desert Rock, also chided hearing organizers for not doing more advance work to inform the public.

"As I look through here I hardly see any people from the Navajo Reservation," Brown said. "If they're not aware of it, they're not going to be here."

Notice of the hearing was published, as required by law, in local newspapers and a press release was sent to the Navajo Times, Kyriss said. The feds also sent letters to the Navajo Nation government to distribute among the chapters.

The meeting took place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Dailan Long of Diné CARE complained that it should have been held in the evening when those with jobs could more easily attend.

Long said he had to "race" from Burnham, N.M., in order to arrive in time to participate.

Hearings are also scheduled in Boise, Idaho, Elko, Nev., Denver and Washington, D.C. Once the public comment period is over, officials expect to release the final impact study this summer. It will be followed within 30 days by a formal decision on the energy corridor plan.

Comments on the project are being accepted through Feb. 14 and can be submitted online at the project Web site, Maps are also available on the Web site.



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