Meetings held to educate public on Black Mesa EIS
Black Mesa Project document is lengthy and confusing, some say
By S.J. Wilson, Navajo Hopi Observer,
JULY 14, 2008
KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - When one reads the
Black Mesa Project Draft Environmental Impact Study
(EIS), it appears that the Hopi Tribe is a cooperating
agency in the process-something that is just plain wrong,
according to Vernon Masayesva of the Hopi Tribe.
"The Office of Surface Mining wants
you to know that the Hopi Tribe was involved in creating
this document," Masayesva said, as fellow tribal
member Jerry Honawa hoisted the heavy bound document
in the air for all to see. "Now we are finding
out, that's not the way it is. This [the Hopi Tribe
as a cooperating agency] was never discussed by the
Hopi Tribe. This was never brought to the Hopi Tribal
Masayesva opened a public meeting hosted
by the Black Mesa Trust, Black Mesa Water Coalition,
the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra
Club at the Hopi Veteran's Center on July 1.
"We are here to educate the public,
to explain what the Draft EIS and the comment period
is all about so that the Hopi people can make an informed
statement," Masayesva said.
There are other problems that Masayesva
Describing a page-by-page analysis of
the Draft EIS, Masayesva, NRDC members and others discovered
many areas that had not been studied.
"The EIS was incomplete,"
Masayesva said. "There was no plan by Peabody to
repair damage to the N-Aquifer-there is a plan for surface
reclamation and they do that pretty good, but there
was nothing for the water."
Also troubling was the fact that the
government had not requested Peabody to post a bond,
Further, Masayesva said, the Office
of Surface Mining never responded to public comments
"Which [alternative] do you want
to go with, if any," Masayesva asked the audience.
"Maybe we may want to develop our own alternative."
As it stands, the Draft EIS takes into
consideration three alternatives. Alternative A creates
the Black Mesa Complex and was based on the continued
operation of the Mohave Generating Station, but operation
of the Laughlin-based power plant was suspended in December
2005. Alternative A also provided the infrastructure
to pump water from the Coconino Aquifer, however did
not authorize the actual use of C-aquifer water.
Alternative B will provide conditional
approval of the Life-of-Mine revision without a coal
slurry pipeline or use of C-aquifer water. This alternative
will incorporate Black Mesa Mine surface facilities
and coal deposits into the Kayenta Mine permit area.
Alternative C is supposed to be the
"no action" alternative, although, with careful
reading, it could be argued that the Black Mesa Complex
is created in all three alternatives, said Sean Gnant,
a Phoenix-based legal assistant who volunteered his
time to the Black Mesa Trust.
Gnant fears that whichever alternative
is chosen-A, B, or C-all will spell the same fate for
Hopi (and Navajo) coal reserves and that Peabody Coal
will tie up all the coal reserves within the Kayenta
and Black Mesa lease areas through 2026 and beyond.
This opinion was offered during meetings
at Kykotsmovi and Forest Lake on July 1 and 2, co-hosted
by the Black Mesa Trust, Black Mesa Water Coalition,
Natural Resource Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
Gnant's reaction is reasoned by careful
study of the so-called Black Mesa Mine Complex-which
is created by combining the Black Mesa and Kayenta mine
"What [Peabody] wants to do is
to annex and tie up Black Mesa coal until 2026, no matter
what alternative is picked," Gnant said.
"The origin of the Black Mesa Project
stems from the Black Mesa mines failure to obtain its
own life of mine permit," Gnant continued. "The
neighboring mine, Kayenta, received its renewable life
of mine permit in 1990 and Black Mesa's life of mine
permit ruling was delayed pending Peabody finding an
alternative source of water for coal slurry."
In 1966, language allowed that should
the Secretary of the Interior determine at any time
that operation of wells by Peabody is endangering the
N-aquifer, he or she may require Peabody, at its own
expense, to find another source of water, Gnant continued.
The problem is that the language reads "may,"
instead of "shall" he said.
"In 1990, then secretary Lujan
charged Peabody with finding an alternative source of
water. This report does not give rights to the water,
it just gives them the right to build a pipeline,"
Gnant said, explaining that Peabody might just as well
name the Pacific Ocean as an alternative water source.
"They have as much rights to that as they do to
the Coconino Aquifer."
Gnant also notes Slurry pipeline component
of Alternative A allows Peabody to build a bigger slurry
pipeline to the Mohave Generating station.
"There is only one reason to make
it bigger," Gnant said. "They plan to push
more water through it.
"The biggest hydrology problem
the tribes have with the Black Mesa Project Draft EIS
is that a very probable outcome will be the slurry pipeline
will be expanded and the C-aquifer project will not
be included in the final record of decision. This means
that Peabody will continue to deplete N-aquifer groundwater
at rates greater than ever before for decades to come.
"Alternative A is still 100 percent
on the table," Gnant said. "No one has taken
Gesturing to a highlighted map, Gnant
illustrated that there are only two mining areas left
in the Kayenta Mine permit area, whereas there are eight
coal reserves still untapped in the old Black Mesa mine
which used to feed the Mohave Generating station.
Gnant also expressed his worries about
the semantics involved, saying that Mohave is merely
"Mohave is in a slow turn, it's
not shut down. There is a staff of about 80 people there,
and the plant is moving real slow. If it stops, it rots-so
the plant is idling. I don't know anyone who idles a
car they don't plan on driving again."
In a later e-mail, Gnant said that,
"Although it is my belief, I am not 100 percent
certain that the Black Mesa Complex is still created
under alternative C. The Draft EIS implies it is, but
the law says every EIS must have a 'no action' alternative.
Without a direct quote from Peabody or OSM on whether
the Black Mesa Complex is still created under alternative
C, I only can go off my interpretation of the document."
On July 11, in a telephone interview,
Dennis Winterringer, OSM Leader of the Black Mesa Project
EIS, referred this reporter to the Black Mesa Project
EIS Update newsletter dated May 2008, which reads in
"Alternative C: Disapproval of
the Life-of-Mine Revision (No Action). Disapproval of
Peabody's life-of-mine permit revision. No approval
for mining coal at the Black Mesa Mine to supply Mohave
Generating Station but continued operation of mining
at the Kayenta Mine to supply coal to the Navajo Generating
Station, because Peabody already has an approved permit
for this mine and has the right of successive permit
renewals. No incorporation of Black Mesa Mine surface
facilities and coal deposits into the Kayenta Mine permit
Winterringer also referred interested
parties to examine page 2-24, section 2.2.3 of the Draft
EIS, which provides a similar statement, adding that
"OSM's decision under Alternative C to disapprove
the LOM [Life of Mine] revision. The Black Mesa mining
operation, coal-slurry preparation plant, and coal-slurry
pipeline that supplied coal to the Mohave Generating
Station until the end of 23005 would not resume operations.
The coal-washing facility and the C aquifer water-supply
system, in any configuration, would not be constructed."
Language also states that "areas
previously disturbed by the Black Mesa operation (6,965
acres) would not be incorporated into the expanded permit
area for the Black Mesa Complex...areas J-92, J-04,
J-06, J-08, J-09, J-10, J-14, and J-15 would not be
incorporated into the expanded permit area for the Black
Mesa Complex. They would not be mined."
Winterringer stated that it wasn't true
that under all three alternatives Peabody would have
access to Black Mesa Mine coal.
Masayesva expressed a common concern
that the comment period-from May 23 through July 7-
was too short to allow for adequate preparation for
public comment, especially considering the ceremonial
obligations of Hopi Tribal members during this time.
Hopi Tribal Chairman Benjamin Nuvamsa wrote a letter
to Winterringer on July 3 asking for an extension for
"I have been directed today by
the Hopi Tribal Council to submit this official request
from the Hopi Tribe, as a cooperating agency, for a
90-day extension to the Black Mesa Project EIS comment
period in order to give the Hopi Tribal Council adequate
time to fully digest and understand the complexities
of the proposed alternatives," Nuvamsa wrote.
"As predicted, the OSM did
not grant the comment extension and informed the tribe
by phone [on July 6]," said Andy Bessler of the
Sierra Club's Tribal Partnerships Program. "OSM
has told us that they expect to release the Final EIS
in late November to early December with a Record of
Decision to follow shortly thereafter. We have 30 days
to appeal the decision."