Efforts Revived to Save Black Mesa 
Agreement May Come by February    

by Jim Maniaci, Diné Bureau 
Gallup Independent 
13 October 2004

More Peabody-BIA propaganda to justify its endless greed and total disregard for the lives and welfare of Indigenous Americans.
—Al Swilling, SENAA International

WINDOW ROCK — By mid-February, a historic agreement might be reached through mediation to keep the Black Mesa Mine and Mohave Generating Station open.

It would be the next step after the principal parties reached an agreement in late September on a list of key issues which they are keeping secret to try to save the Black Mesa Mine and the aging Mohave Generating Station.

After the station's operator, Southern California Edison, pulled the financial plug on a key study needed to nail down a new water supply in the southwest corner of the Navajo Reservation, a high-ranking U.S. Interior Department official assembled the principals in Washington, D.C., during the dedication of the National Museum of American Indians late last month.

The principals are SCE, the Interior Department, the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation. Peabody Energy, which operates the mine located on both reservations, is not a principal, although it has a lot at stake. Peabody strongly supports the mediation.

As a result, J. Steven Griles told the Associated Press, the utility company reconsidered and agreed to foot the bill of about $2 million. However, the utility wanted to pay for the drilling on the basis the terms for potential water use could be reached.

Four-month mediation And Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie said Monday the principals will have four months to come to a far-reaching historic agreement through mediation, once the talks begin. The principals already have selected Eric Van Loon as mediator, he said.

The mediation will cover all the existing lawsuit issues, coal lease issues and water supply issues, the attorney general said.

"It's an effort to try to reach consensus on how to keep the power plant going and how to keep the mine open. But, as in all negotiations, it may fail," he cautioned since, "There are a lot of tough negotiating positions out there."

Denetsosie said it would take about six weeks to get the hydrology report once the test wells are drilled.

"It's to get a notion of what the aquifer can handle, for an extended period of time," he said. That data will be converted into computer models to determine "the impact on the wells at a distance, the impact on endangered species and to check the geology of the basin," he explained.

Edison will pay for this part.

The utility and the Hopi Tribe did not return telephone calls by deadline Tuesday to add their comments.

Quick deal wantedGriles' office referred to an Associated Press interview he gave in Phoenix on Sept. 17, saying quick agreements must be reached, although meetings up to that point had failed to yield the crucial pacts to allow the test drilling.

In July, Griles first attempted to get the octopus-like situation under control. When the principals couldn't agree by the end of that month, they extended their deadline to the end of August. Denetsosie said they were close, but not finished by then. He said Edison wanted to be comfortable in going ahead, but needed to know what both tribes wanted. This led to the September meeting in Washington and the key principles agreement.

Edison needs the coal for the plant, but that also requires the water.

The Diné Attorney General added that even if the project ends with the water study, it will still be an extremely valuable tool to the tribe for the future since it will be "a real in-depth study, one of the best ever done."

Speaking for Peabody, Beth Sutton said, "Signing the principles agreement certainly is a positive step, though I would say that there are a number of significant issues that continue to need resolution. One of the things we are supporting is mediation, to move the parties forward to produce an outcome that is satisfactory for all the parties."

The proposed well field is in the Coconino "C" Aquifer south of Leupp, north of Interstate 40, and between Winslow and Flagstaff.

100 miles of new pipeThe initial idea is to build about 100 miles of new pipeline from the well field through both reservations back up to the mine. The existing worn-out 270-mile pipe would either be retrofitted or replaced.

Peabody wants to increase its capacity from about 4,400 acre-feet of water a year to 6,000. The initial concept also calls for the new route to supply the Indian communities with 5,600 acre-feet a year. One acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.

One hang-up has been who will pay for the tribes' portion of the new line, with the initial idea being that the U.S. Energy Department would pick up the cost.

The "C" field would replace the higher-quality water Peabody draws from eight deep wells into the Navajo "N" Aquifer which both tribes have ordered the coal mining company to stop using on Dec. 31, 2005.

This is the same date by which Edison must have in operation a major air pollution control overhaul of the two 750-megawatt electric generators at Mohave.

The company projects the entire mine-pipe-plant cost to be more than $1 billion. Between the mine, the slurry pipeline that brings the water-coal mixture to Laughlin, and the power plant, some 600 high-paying jobs are at stake. The mine represents a major chunk of both the Hopi and Navajo tribal treasuries as well as the local economies, so any shutdowns would be "devastating," as Sutton put it.

The power plant occupies a major portion of the gambling town of Laughlin, Nev., and overlooks nine casinos on the Colorado River. Edison and its partners serve about 3.5 million families in metropolitan southern California, southern Nevada and central Arizona.

Peabody also operates the neighboring larger Kayenta Mine, which supplies the Navajo Generating Station on the south shore of Lake Powell east of Page in the Le Chee Chapter. Together, the two mines pump about $2 million a week into the local economies. They produce about 13 million tons of low-sulfur coal a year.

The "N" Aquifer hold an estimated 400 million acre-feet of water in an area the size of Delaware. Sutton said the company pays more than $1,000 for each acre-foot to the tribes.

The U.S. Surface Mining Office said the annual recharge is from 13,000 to 16,000 acre-feet a year. The company said community use amounts to about 7,000 acre-feet a year. 


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html