residents anxious about Peabody water plans
By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times, 1/18/07
LEUPP, Ariz. – More than 140 people
showed up at two public hearings held here on the U.S.
Office of Surface Mining’s draft environmental impact
statement on the proposed Black Mesa Project last week.
The proposed project calls for Peabody
Western Coal Co. to increase coal production from the
Kayenta and Black Mesa mines and pump more ground water.
It also involves reconstruction of a
273-mile coal slurry pipeline, 1,600 acre-feet of additional
ground water use annually, development of 12 to 21 water
wells in Leupp, and construction of a new 108-mile pipeline
to transfer water from the Leupp wells to the mine.
Richard M. Holbrook, OSM Southwest branch
chief, said Tuesday that a total of 554 people signed
in during the 12 hearings, which began Jan. 2 in Window
Rock and ended Jan. 11 in Flagstaff.
The deadline for individuals to submit
written comments on the draft EIS is Feb 6.
The large turnout at the Leupp hearings
and Holbrook’s decision to allow an open microphone
for audience comments could be credited to a meeting
the previous week that drew a standing-room-only crowd.
The earlier meeting was scheduled by
the C Aquifer Subcommittee formed by the Navajo council’s
Intergovernmental Relations Committee to consider setting
aside the aquifer for domestic uses only, as the tribe
earlier did with the Navajo Aquifer.
Subcommittee chair Hope MacDonald-LoneTree
(Coalmine Canyon/Tóh Nanees Dizí) said
she called for the Jan. 5 meeting in Leupp to discuss
possible transition issues that might arise after the
new council was inaugurated Jan. 9.
The official meeting actually was cancelled
when only one subcommittee member, Leonard Chee (Birdspring/Leupp/Tolani
Lake) and a staff member showed up.
But the people who had gathered for
it decided to hold their own meeting, which became an
impromptu hearing o the role of the Coconino Aquifer,
or C Aquifer, in the proposed Black Mesa Project.
They recorded their comments and sent
them back to the IGR Committee in Window Rock.
When OSM, which proposes to approve
the Black Mesa Project, held its meetings a few days
later, the Leupp community had their comments ready.
Statements by Calvin Johnson, presiden4t
of the grassroots group Diné for C-Aquifer, reflected
the prevailing sentiment.
He voiced the community’s strong and
emotional opposition to the proposed use of water from
the C Aquifer to power a coal slurry line from Black
Mesa to the Nevada border.
Johnson also reminded President Joe
Shirley Jr. of his yet-unfulfilled promise to return
In March 2005, Shirley met with Leupp
community members in hopes of gaining their support
for his plans to replace the Navajo Aquifer with the
C aquifer as the water source for the Black Mesa mine
Shirley hoped this would save the Black
Mesa Mine and its sole customer, the Mohave Generating
Station in Laughlin, Nev.
Leupp says no
Leupp did not go along with Shirley’s
proposal, voting it down within minutes of his departure
from the chapter house. The resolution also rescinded
a prior resolution by Leupp Chapter that had endorsed
a feasibility study related to Shirley’s plan.
In December 2005 the power plant closed
anyway, having failed to clean up emissions as required
six years earlier by a federal court order.
Black Mesa Mine shut down at the same
time and remains closed with no alternative plans to
market its coal.
On Jan. 5, Johnny K. Thompson, Leupp
Grazing Committee member, stood before this neighbors
and recalled when officials from Window Rock and the
BLM sought his signature to endorse their study of the
They didn’t talk about using the water
for coal slurry, he explained. Instead, they said the
piece of paper they wanted him to sign would open the
door for them to find out if the C aquifer met safe
drinking water standards.
But as the weeks passed and more and
more equipment and workers arrived to drill test wells,
Thompson said he realized the water study was intended
to determine [if] the C aquifer had enough water for
the Black Mesa pipeline.
“Don’t hate me for signing my name,”
Thompson asked his fellow Leupp residents. “It was based
on a lie.”
He urged the people to maintain their
opposition to using the C aquifer for Peabody’s coal
mining operation and asked them to create and pass legislation
to rescind his approval, as a graving official, for
the water study.
The Black Mesa Project envisions using
6,000 acre-feet a year from the C aquifer to supply
the mines and pipeline.
Pricilla Half, Leupp Chapter officer
specialist, said the plan might require her family to
relocate because of a proposed pumping station would
be in her backyard.
Alex Chee, 58, of Canyon Diablo in Leupp
Chapter, also expressed anxiety that the proposed well
field and pump stations would displace his family.
Curtis Long, also of Canyon Diablo,
was concerned about the numerous sacred sites scattered
throughout the proposed well field, and said the area
is home to eagle nests.
Jason John, a hydrologist with the tribe’s
Water Resources and Management Department, said Tuesday
the proper place for people to express their opposition
is before the tribal council.
The use of reservation water resources
is a policy issue for the council to decide, John explained.
His office just supplies technical data.
According to John, the tribe’s studies
show that between now and 2026, population growth in
the Leupp area will create a demand for 3,600 acre-feet
annually of C aquifer water just to supply Navajo households
and chapter needs.
If the Hopi Tribe’s request for 2,000
acre-feet of water – their share of the C aquifer –
is added in, the demand would be 5,600 acre feet a year,
That would be in addition to the 6,000
acre-feet sought by the Black Mesa Project. Peabody
expects to exhaust recoverable coal reserves on Black
Mesa by 2026, ending its need for the water.
John noted that studies by the U.S.
Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey and
Southern California Edison all show that the C aquifer
is capable of meeting the demand.
“Water tests showed plenty of
water, whether for industrial (use) or municipalities,”