Navajo Nation fights uranium boom

A boom in uranium has mines reopening around the Four Corners and trucks hauling radioactive materials returning to area roads. However, at least one Four Corners entity is fighting to keep uranium mining at bay. The nearby Navajo Nation is currently fighting to keep mining companies off tribal lands and maintain a prohibition on uranium mining that was put in place last April.

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. recently appealed to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to help the Navajo Nation in the fight. Shirley explained that Strathmore Minerals Corp., of Canada, has opened a uranium mine development office in Santa Fe and is trying to resume uranium mining at Church Rock, N.M., on the Navajo Nation. Strathmore officials had earlier met with Richardson’s office in an effort to gain state approval to reopen Church Rock and another mine at Roca Honda.

“The Navajo Nation as a government and a people has said we’re not going to have uranium mining on Navajoland or in Navajo Country,” President Shirley told Gov. Richardson. “We’d like to see that law stick.”

The Navajo Nation Council passed the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 on April 19. Banning uranium mining was a major plank in Shirley’s campaign platform three years ago and continues to be a significant issue for him.

“Because of exposure to uranium, many of my medicine people have died, many of my elderly have died,” Shirley said. “I’d sure hate to go back there. Too many of my people have died.”

In June, Shirley personally delivered a statement seeking international support for the Navajo Nation uranium mining prohibition to Ahmed Sayyad, assistant director-general for external relations and cooperation of UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Following the meeting with Richardson, Shirley said the governor promised not to take any action without first consulting with the Navajo Nation.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation is looking to other sources of economic prosperity. Last week, Shirley introduced a $429 million Capital Improvement Plan. The plan includes 31 development and business infrastructure projects; seven elder care, nursing homes; 12 trauma centers; seven correctional/judicial government centers; and 262 other renovation or reconstruction projects on the Navajo Nation. The entire plan is expected to take five years to complete.

Fort Lewis reaches out to Durango

A panel will explore the relationship between Fort Lewis College and the Durango community this Saturday. Community and campus leaders will examine the partnership in a discussion entitled “The Campus and the Community: Enhancing the Partnership.” The talk takes place at 9 a.m. Sept. 10 in 130 Noble Hall and the public is encouraged to attend.

Dean of the School of Business Administration Tom Harrington explained that the college is interested in expanding its role in the community. “Fort Lewis College provides a social and economic benefit to Durango and a supply of young people well prepared for leadership in their careers and the community, and we want to do even more,” he said.

First the panel will consider the college’s current community involvement, business engagement, environmental outreach, leadership development and teacher education. Then the discussion will shift to attendees and the panel will take input on additional opportunities and new degree programs of interest to the community. For more information, call 247-7294.

Firefighters contain fire near Cortez

Fire crews got the upper hand on a wildfire northeast of Cortez over the weekend. The Cash Fire was human caused and accidental and started burning near Totem Lake. The fire burned through dead and live piñon and juniper trees and reached 170 acres in size.

At one point, the fire exhibited extreme, erratic behavior and threatened homes and interstate power transmission lines. Residents were temporarily evacuated, and two outbuildings were lost before firefighters got the upper hand thanks partly to fuels treatment projects completed west of the fire in 2002. Incident Commander Kevin Joseph explained that the fire took a turn when it hit the thinned areas. “The crowning fire dropped to the ground when it hit the treated area,” he said.

The significant slowing of the fire allowed crews easier access, enabling them to get a line around that side and reducing the threat to structures. When the fire was contained early last Saturday evening, it had burned roughly 70 acres of private lands and 100 acres of BLM lands.

Wreckage removed from wilderness

The wreckage of a helicopter has been removed from just inside the Weminuche Wilderness. In mid-June, a New Air Helicopter crashed half a mile inside the wilderness boundary in the Mountain View Crest area. There were no injuries, and the wreckage removal was done in about three hours last Tuesday.

Heliqwest, of Alberta, Canada, conducted the recovery work, using a high-elevation helicopter to lift the wreckage out via a sling. The recovery effort did not violate the wilderness area’s prohibition on machinery as the helicopter did not need to land. A New Air helicopter dropped a ground crew into the remote location and airlifted the crew out after the wreckage was removed.

The private parties were responsible for the expense of the recovery and cleanup, and the Forest Service was responsible for determining the appropriate removal activity. The operation had been approved as an Emergency Removal Action by the forest supervisor, as authorized by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the National Contingency Plan.

DMR puts out call for Benefit Day

Durango Mountain Resort is trying to give away money. Believe it or not, it’s less than 75 days until the ski area opens with a Benefit Day on Nov. 24. Each year, the resort offers $10 lift tickets for the first day of the season, and all proceeds go to a local nonprofit organization. DMR is currently seeking that local nonprofit.

Last year, the Durango Discovery Museum used the funds from Benefit Day for development at the 1893 Durango Power Plant, the museum’s new location. The day earned more than $20,000 for the new museum. Previous recipients include the Southwest Safehouse, the Durango Arts Center and the San Juan Mountains Association. Since 1994, Durango Mountain Resort has donated more than $200,000 to local nonprofits through Benefit Day.

The only criteria is that the 2005 beneficiary be a registered nonprofit. However, applicants should include a general description of the organization, what service the group provides the area and how funds would be used. Applications will be accepted through Sept. 16 and should be sent to Annie Simonson, Durango Mountain Resort, #1 Skier Place, Durango, 81301.

– compiled by Will Sands