Special to the Times
FLAGSTAFF –Every seat in the Coconino
County board room was occupied and people squeezed
around doorways to raise questions about proposed changes
in the operation of the Kayenta and Black Mesa coalmines,
located 125 miles northeast of here.
The Jan. 13 meeting was held by the
federal Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement,
which must decide whether to issue a revised permit
to Peabody Western Coal Company for the mines.
Peabody’s proposed revisions include
extending both mining operations to 2026, replacing
95 percent of the 273-miles Black Mesa coal slurry
pipeline and switching to a different ground water
source for the slurry.
Currently, Black Mesa coal is pulverized
and mixed with water from the Navajo aquifer to create
slurry that is transported by pipeline to the Mohave
Generating Station at Laughlin, Nev.
Pressured by Native American and environmental
groups to stop tapping the Navajo aquifer, Peabody
is proposing to use the Coconino aquifer instead for
most of its water needs.
However, the city of Flagstaff voiced
concerns about that idea at last week’s hearing.
Ron Doba, Flagstaff utilities director, read a Jan.
10 resolution passed by the city council, asking that
the use of aquifer be re-examined.
Doba said Flagstaff now uses approximately
8,000 acre-feet of water, of which 90 percent comes
from the C-aquifer. Future growth projections make
it likely that the C-aquifer will continue to be Flagstaff’s
main water source. An acre-foot is equal to 325,851
If Peabody’s permit revision is
approved, the C-aquifer would replace the N-aquifer
as primary source for Black Mesa for all but 500 acre-feet
annually. The N-aquifer would be used during emergencies
or when the C-aquifer is not available.
The city cannot drill new water wells
south or west of its borders because those areas are
in a different watershed, and Arizona state law prohibits
transfer of groundwater between river basins. Looking
for resources in the north cannot be considered because
it is unsafe to drill wells within the San Francisco
That leaves the city looking eastward,
where the C-aquifer exists.
“We’ve been recently considering
developing a ground water supply east of Flagstaff,”said
Doba. “We’ve been looking at ranches out
in that area. We have not made any purchases as of
City officials requested that OSM re-examine
the basic premise of using ground water for coal transportation,
the same question raised by critics of Peabody’s
present use of the N-aquifer water.
Scott Canty, lawyer for the Hopi Tribe,
said that tribe continues its positions that Peabody
should not use the N-aquifer for coal slurry production.
The tribe would like OSM to completely analyze the
continuing of the impact slurry has to the aquifer.
“They don’t believe it should
be used for industrial purposes like this,”Canty
Peabody uses about 3,100 acre-feet of
water each year from the N-aquifer. The tribe suggested
OSM look at the benefits of preserving 4,000 acre-feet
of water a year for the future drinking water needs
of both the Hopi and Navajo tribes.
“These people on average use about
35 gallons per capita per day of water for their domestic
needs,”Canty said, compared to 120-160 gallons
by border town residents and 240 gallons used daily
by each Phoenix resident.
Marie Gladue, a Big Mountain, Ariz.
resident, challenged OSM officials to live on the reservation
for a day to experience the conditions. She spoke about
Black Mesa wasting water to generate electricity for
California, Nevada and Arizona.
Meanwhile native people continue to
haul water and those families living in Black Mesa’s
backyard lack electricity, Gladue said.
During her testimony, Gladue recounted
a story her mother told her about Black Mesa. Her mother
said the goddess within the mesa is being slowly killed
by the mining operation and the people are feeling
She said if the tribes have to continue
depending on Peabody’s lease and mining operation,
they should negotiate a better deal.
Manuel Pino, a member of Laguna-Acoma
Coalition for a Safe Environment, warned OSM that continuing
to mine on Navajo and Hopi lands would result in both
tribes experiencing the same impact as the Laguna people
did from Jackpile, an open-pit uranium mine located
near tribal land in New Mexico.
Pino mentioned his involvement with
former uranium workers who suffered severe health problems
and then had to fight for compensation from the federal
government. He expressed that he did not want this
to happen to Navajos and Hopis.
“At this point in time we have
all these living historical experiences that emphasize
environmental injustice, environmental racism, environmental
genocide,”Pino said. “We have lost human
lives as a result of development processes to satisfy
the dominant society in their gluttonous lifestyle.
“We have felt in the past when
dealing with the federal government regulation agencies …that
they have no eyes and no ears,”he said. “They
have no soul. They have no consciousness in regards
to our spirituality, our culture and our way of life.”
Peabody submitted its life-of-mine revision
application Feb. 17, 2004. This was the last in a series
of public hearings conducted by OSM. OSM must issue
a finding of no adverse environmental impact before
Ok’ing the revised permit.
Black Mesa began operation in 1970 and
is scheduled to provide cool through the end of this
year. Kayenta opened in 1973 and would operate until
2011 under its current permit.