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Leupp residents anxious about Peabody water plans

January 18, 2007 by  
Filed under Mining & Water

Leupp 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

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 to Leupp.

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 complex.

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 C aquifer.

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

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

“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

The Black Mesa Project envisions using 6,000 acre-feet a year from the C
aquifer to supply the mines and pipeline.

Displaced families?

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,
he said.

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,” he said.

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