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Impact of mine shutdown to be spread among many communities

December 29, 2005 by  
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By Bill Donovan Special to the (LA)Times 12.29.05
WINDOW ROCK – Leaders in communities bordering the Navajo Reservation say
they do not expect closure of the Black Mesa Mine to have a major impact on
their economies.

Officials in several towns said this week that the projected decline in
sales will be spread through so many communities that it will blunt the burden
experienced by any one place.

Black Mesa miners, most of whom live near Kayenta, Ariz., have traditionally
shopped in Farmington and Gallup but they also make major purchases such as
mobile homes and vehicles in Flagstaff, Holbrook and Winslow. Even Phoenix
and Albuquerque probably got their share of the miners’ paychecks.

But if any border community will be affected, it probably would be Gallup,
where officials have been claiming Kayenta and the nearby communities as part
of their trade area for the past 20 years.

“There will a minor reduction in spending here as a result of the mine
closure,” predicted Eric Honeyfield, Gallup city manager.
But Gallup and – to a certain extent – the other border communities earn a
much larger portion of their annual income by supplying federally funded
tribal programs.
This brings in more than $1 billion annually and Gallup officials actually
have been more worried about the prospect that federal spending would go down
because of the war in Iraq and the spending for hurricane relief.
That didn’t happen. In fact, federal spending on the Navajo Nation is
expected to go up this year, easing the pain of any losses from the mine closure.
Car dealers are expected to take the biggest hit from the lay-offs, because
the highly paid mineworkers bought high-end vehicles. However, in this sector
as well the pain will be spread around.
Pat Gurley, owner of Gurley Motors in Gallup, said he doesn’t see the
closure having any effect on him or other vehicle dealers.
“Many of us were here before the mines opened,” he said.
Honeyfield said community leaders are more concerned about the planned
closure of the McKinley Mine in three years, because many of the miners there have
homes in Gallup – high-priced homes. The McKinley Mine is operated by
Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Corp. and is reaching the end of its high-quality
coal reserves.
He said many P&M miners are expected to leave Gallup for jobs elsewhere,
which will result in a lot of high-priced homes going on the market at the same
Of all the towns where Black Mesa miners shop and live, Kayenta expects to
feel the biggest economic impact from the mine shutdown, but leaders don’t
know how much of a hit their economy will take.
Brenda Saggboy, acting township manager, said the Kayenta township board has
been discussing the matter but has decided it’s too early to determine just
how great the impact will be.
Take housing, for example.
Many of the laid-off workers come from other areas of the reservation and
are not expected to stay around Kayenta. But there has been a housing shortage
in the community for decades and any houses that become available likely will
be bought by teachers and government employees, Saggboy suggested.
As for the possible effect on tax revenues, Saggboy pointed out that most of
Kayenta’s sales tax revenues come from hosting tourists.
Kayenta leaders are waiting to see what other effects the closure has on the
miners themselves, and are making no predictions there, either.


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