Paths planned for energy lines across Navajo Nation
By Chee Brossy, Navajo Times, JANUARY
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solution to strengthen and expand the nation's outdated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
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
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
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, http://corridoreis.anl.gov/.
Maps are also available on the Web site.