Protest descends on Desert Rock

The proposed Desert Rock Power Plant is now drawing more than concerned letters. Dozens of protesters have been blocking access to the site, located on the Navajo Reservation, since Dec. 12. They allege that Sithe Global and the Dine Power Authority, the plant’s proponents, have been illegally drilling test wells on the property. They also claim that they are being terrorized as they stand watch at the area.

Sithe Global would like to begin construction on the Desert Rock plant as early as 2008. In collaboration with the Dine Power Authority, Sithe would build the coal-fired plant on Navajo Reservation land, southwest of Farmington, for an estimated cost of $2 billion. When completed, the new plant would be among the largest in the nation and generate enough energy for 1.5 million homes. The company has also won preliminary approval from the Environmental Protection Agency for the plant, which it touts as state-of-the-art, using 80 percent less water than wet-cooled coal-fired plants and having an efficiency of 41 percent.

In spite of the preliminary approval, Sithe does not have the final go-ahead for Desert Rock. According to the conservation group, Dine Care, the company also did not have permission to begin drilling test wells on the property. However, Navajo tribal elder, Alice Gilmore, who is also the grazing permit holder on the property, noticed the company and the Dine Power Authority doing just that on Dec. 11.

“Alice Gilmore is the grazing permit operator and noticed there was activity going on that had not been permitted,” said Dailan Jake Long, of Dine Care. “Dine Power Authority and Sithe Global were going into the area and drilling without permission.”

As a result, a “blockade” of the property began on Dec. 12 with members of Dine Care and tribal elders physically blocking access to the site. On Dec 13, Dine Care appeared in court to challenge the access and was told to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the EPA. The documents were not immediately forthcoming.

“They have been doing things behind our backs and were unwilling to share the documents,” said Long. “That’s the reason we started the blockade.”

However, not everyone on the Navajo Nation opposes Desert Rock. The plant is expected to generate $50 million annually in taxes for the Navajo Nation. The plant will average 1,000 employees during the four-year construction period and 200 full-time personnel during normal operations. And last Friday, the protesters started getting harassed by unknown outside parties. According to Long, Gilmore’s sheepdog was run over, skinned and thrown into the Dine Care encampment. The harassment has not ended there.

“Since word got out, various forms of intimidation have been taking place,” Long said. “We’ve received numerous threatening phone calls, and one of the elders was nearly run over by a car. The intimidation is getting brutal, and it’s basically terrorism against the elders and elder exploitation.”

However, the tide turned last Saturday for the protestors. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. arrived on site holding the EPA documents, which Dine Care had requested. In spite of this turn, the blockade still stands at Desert Rock.

“As of right now, our lawyers are looking into the documents,” Long said. “We haven’t decided what our course of action will be. But the blockade will stand until we do.”

Local disaster relief gets big boost

La Plata County is now better prepared to handle disaster. Last week, 25 local residents completed the American Medical Association’s Core Disaster Life Support and Basic Disaster Life Support classes thanks to the recently created Southwest Colorado Medical Reserve Corps.

The corps is a locally controlled group of health-care professionals and support personnel volunteers that will integrate with state and national emergency response systems to effectively respond to local or national disasters. Local physician David Levine is the corps’ first medical director.

“Medical personnel, no matter how motivated, have to obtain the training, credentialing and support to effectively integrate and perform in the emergency response system locally or nationally,” he said. “This first certification course sponsored by our new group and the great turnout confirmed my belief that there is a large group of volunteers for medical and support services just waiting for this opportunity to serve.”

Butch Knowlton, La Plata County’s director of the Office of Emergency Management, attended the recent course and was impressed with the Southwest Colorado Medical Reserve Corps.  

“I believe that the newly formed medical reserve corps unit will fill a critical gap in response for our county,” he said. “The corps will provide the needed assistance and capacity to support the medical system. The La Plata County Office of Emergency Management looks forward to working with the Southwest Colorado Medical Reserve Corps and in supporting them to become a strong, successful volunteer organization.”

The Southwest Colorado Medical Reserve Corps will again offer coursework and certifications locally in March. For more information, contact Susanne Epson at or 946-5023.

Local education goes for $1 million

The City of Durango is hoping to give local education a leg up by stepping in as the official sponsor of two grant applications.

The Durango Early Learning Center is seeking $450,000 in federal grant funds for the purchase and renovation of the building, which the center has operated in since the 1970s. In addition, the Durango Adult Education Center is applying for approximately $500,000 toward the purchase of the former federal building on Camino del Rio. This center hopes to partner with the San Juan Board of Cooperative Services and the Southwest Conservation Corp to create the Durango Regional Learning Center at the site. Together with current tenants Pueblo Community College and San Juan Basin Technical College, the Center would offer an opportunity for adults to pursue varying levels of education – from high school equivalency to graduate level courses.

The Community Development Block Grant Program is administered by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Federal regulations require that such grants may only be awarded to governmental entities. Sponsorship by the City of Durango makes it possible for Durango’s community service organizations to access these federal monies. Past city sponsorship has benefited the Child Development Center at Fort Lewis College and Durango Kids World.

Turkey Knolls Timber Sale approved

More logging will land in the Mancos Valley in 2007. The Dolores Public Lands Office recently approved the Turkey Knolls Timber Sale project after an environmental analysis. The project opens up 360 acres of national forest, 12 miles north of Mancos, to logging and thinning. About 4.1 million board feet of primarily aspen timber will be harvested.

There are some side benefits to the timber sale, however. All of the douglas fir will remain standing at the site, and the Forest Service claims that forest health will improve. In addition, less than 1 mile of new temporary road will be constructed to access the harvest areas and will be obliterated after the harvest. Up to 20 miles of unauthorized, user-created roads also will be decommissioned and eliminated in the area as a result of the sale.   The sale’s environmental assessment is available for review at:

– compiled by Will Sands