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Mine closing to hit Hopi budget hardest

December 22, 2005 by  
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By Cindy Yurth Special to the Times 12.22.05
Ivan Sidney Sr. and Todd Honyaema Sr. have their work cut out for them.
As the newly elected Hopi tribal chairman and vice chairman, respectively,
one of their first acts will be presenting a budget that will probably be
missing between $3 and $6 million in revenues, thanks to the pending closure of
the Black Mesa Mine.

Mine revenues provide 65 percent of Hopi’s annual budget, according to
figures provided by Peabody Western Coal Co., the mine operator. The mines provide
about 21 percent of the Navajo government budget.

Shortly after his election, in which he defeated two-term Chairman Wayne
Taylor, Sidney waxed defiant.

“The thing to remember is that we Hopi are survivors,” he said in a
telephone interview last month. “We were here for hundreds of years before the big
energy companies.”

Lately, though, Sidney might be realizing just how big a task it will be to
cut the Hopi tribe’s already lean budget. He failed to return repeated phone
calls during the past two weeks, with his staff stating he’s just too busy to
talk to the press.

Sidney, who served as tribal chairman from 1980 to 1989, and then-Navajo
Chairman Peterson Zah stood up to Peabody in the 1980s and negotiated higher
mineral royalty rates. “Before that, the rates were ridiculous,” he said.
Sidney said he’s prepared to sit down with Peabody and owners of the Mohave
Generating Station, its sole customer, to seek ways to keep both operations
open, but he won’t make any decisions without the input of the Hopi people.
And he’s not ready to make any concessions to the energy companies.
The power plant is under court order to close by Dec. 31, pursuant to a 1999
consent decree in which Mohave’s owners agreed to reduce emissions, either
by installing scrubbers or ceasing operations.

“These companies knew what they had to do six years ago,” Sidney said,
referring to the decree, which settled a citizen suit against Mohave for causing
air pollution in the Grand Canyon. “They didn’t do anything, and now all of
a sudden it’s a crisis. I don’t believe in crisis management, I believe in

The plant’s majority owner, Southern California Edison, is also under a
separate order by the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate
alternative water sources for the slurry line that pipes coal from Black Mesa to
the plant in Laughlin, Nev.

The Hopi and Navajo tribal councils both have called for Peabody to stop
tapping the Navajo Aquifer by year’s end. The Hopi environmental group Black
Mesa Trust, along with the Navajo water conservation movement Tó Nizhoni Ani,
have charged that Peabody’s pumping is depleting the aquifer in wells as far as
50 miles away.

The aquifer is the main source of potable water on the Hopi Reservation and
Black Mesa.

Peabody has repeatedly countered that the aquifer is 17 times the size of
Lake Powell, it recharges every year, and there’s plenty of water for
everybody. The company is supporting an investigation of an alternative source of
water, however, in hopes of resolving the water issue, said Beth Sutton, Peabody
public affairs director.

Until recently, Southern California Edison said the cost of pollution
controls and rebuilding the 35-year-old pipeline did not make financial sense.
Originally estimated at $350 million, the cost is now projected to be about $1

Surging oil and gas prices – which drive up the costs at other power plants –
have prompted the utility to re-think closing Mohave. Negotiators with the
Navajo and Hopi tribes have urged Edison to do a new cost-benefit analysis.
Sidney, however, said the Navajos and Hopis should look for other customers
for the coal.

“It’s our coal, after all,” he said. “There’s no reason to let these
energy companies hold us hostage.”

Sidney cited a Japanese firm that expressed interest some years ago and was
even willing to build a railroad spur to transport the coal. Hopi leaders
have also expressed interest in developing high-tech uses for the coal that
would be generate highly skilled jobs and less pollution than Mohave.
Other than the loss of mineral lease revenue, Sidney said the mine closure
shouldn’t impact the Hopis much.

“I’m told I can count on my two hands the number of Hopis who work at the
mine,” Sidney said.

Many Hopis depend on Peabody’s public coal yard – from which every Hopi
family is entitled to six free loads a year – to heat their homes, but Peabody’
s recent announcement that it will keep the pile open has alleviated fears of
a chilly winter.

While some Hopis, particularly seniors who have come to rely on services
provided by the tribe’s network of senior citizen centers, worry about the
upcoming budget cuts, others say they’re willing to do what’s necessary to keep
their tribe solvent.

Sylvia Dalton, 74, of Hotevilla, Ariz. said some of her friends use the
senior centers, but as far as she’s concerned, the council can cut them right out
of the budget if need be.

“I’m the self-motivated type,” she shrugged. “I don’t go over there much.”


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