Lawsuit filed against Navajo Mine

Coal-fired power generation is continuing to draw strong objections throughout the Four Corners. A recent approval for the massive expansion of a coal mine in the region touched off a lawsuit last week. The suit charges that the approval will lead to the creation of millions of tons of toxic waste and illegally uproot and relocate members of the Navajo Nation.

Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (CARE) and the San Juan Citizens Alliance filed a lawsuit against the Federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) on July 13. OSM recently issued mine permits to BHP Billiton, an Australian corporation, for the expansion of the Navajo Mine. The groups allege that OSM has already facilitated the dumping of toxic waste and the displacement of many Navajos, and the new permits further that practice.

BHP’s Navajo Mine is a massive 13,000-acre surface coal mining operation located on the Navajo Nation south of Farmington. The two mine permits challenged by the groups authorize BHP to mine coal for the Four Corners Power Plant and to permanently dispose of coal combustion waste, which consists of toxic solid wastes from the power plant’s coal-fired generators. Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance, commented that the Navajo Mine is essentially unregulated and is responsible for tainting the Chaco and San Juan rivers.

“Over 1.5 million tons per year of coal combustion waste from the power plant is backfilled into the Navajo Mine,” he said. “Despite legal requirements, OSM hasn’t required protections for ground or surface water. It doesn’t even require monitoring, even though the mine is part of a major river drainage.”

In addition, the suit says that the permits will lead to the forced relocation of many tribal members. “The permitting actions will result in the permanent removal and relocation of Navajo Nation tribal members including elders.” said Lori Goodman, of Diné CARE. “The agency and BHP treat this area as if it is uninhabited. OSM must understand that community members live or graze livestock in these areas. OSM fails to recognize that this is our homeland.”  

The lawsuit further challenges the granting of a mine permit revision to BHP as a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and a failure to adequately assess environmental impacts of such an expansion. “This lawsuit asks the federal court to hold OSM officials in Denver accountable for their actions.” said Brad Bartlett, of the Energy Minerals Law Center.

BHP is the largest mining company and the sixth largest energy corporation in the world. In 2006, the company posted record profits of more than $10 billion.


Newlyweds arrested in hit and run

The honeymoon is over for a pair of newlyweds who passed through Durango last week. Just after midnight on July 12, their car is suspected of running over two pedestrians on Main Avenue. The suspects then fled the scene.

Sara Ramirez, of California, and her husband of two days, Anthony Hernandez, of Grand Junction, were allegedly driving south on Main Avenue at 12:23 a.m. when they struck two pedestrians crossing the street by the El Rancho Tavern. The driver fled the scene, but the collision was witnessed by numerous individuals, including a Durango police officer. A short, low-speed chases ensued, which ended when the driver crashed onto the sidewalk at East Second Avenue and 12th Street. Both occupants ran from the car in an attempt to elude police but were apprehended by officers.  

Ramirez, the driver, was placed under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol; vehicular assault, a class 4 felony; menacing, a class 5 felony; hit and run resulting in serious bodily injury, a class 5 felony; vehicular eluding, a class 5 felony; obstructing a peace officer, a class 2 misdemeanor; and hit and run resulting in property damage, a class 2 misdemeanor.

Hernandez was arrested on suspicion of being an accessory to a crime, a class 5 felony; resisting arrest, a class 2 misdemeanor; and obstructing a peace officer. In addition, investigation revealed an active protective order prohibiting Hernandez from contacting Ramirez, and he was also arrested for violation of a that order; assault in the third degree; and domestic violence.

The victims, a 24-year-old male and female, sustained serious injuries and were taken to Mercy Medical Center for treatment.


Discovery Museum gets new energy

New energy was poured into the Durango Discovery Museum last week when BP America made an in-kind donation of $50,000 in solar equipment. The donation includes high-efficiency solar panels manufactured by BP Solar and will provide a source of clean power for the interactive science and energy center, which is set to open in 2010.

To provide the museum project with the most benefit from the donation, BP issued a friendly challenge to the local community to match its donation by Sept. 8, the date of the Discovery Museum’s first fund-raising gala. Claire Bradshaw, executive director of the Discovery Museum, welcomed the donation and the challenge. “We want the Discovery Museum to be a place not only for fun and learning, but for real innovation,” she said. “We’re looking forward to working with BP and the community to put new energy ideas into action.”

Dan Larson, BP director of public affairs, said the donation follows BP contributions of more than $20,000 since 2004. Larson challenged the community to contribute more to augment the projected 10-kilowatt output of the photo-voltaic system. “By combining what the community and other companies can contribute with BP’s contribution, we can increase the amount of clean power this system can provide,” said Larson.

The Discovery Museum got more good news a couple days later, when the Preserve America Initiative awarded the museum a grant $39,975 grant July 12. The Preserve America matching-grant program provides funding to designated Preserve America Communities to support preservation efforts through heritage tourism, education and historic preservation planning.

The Discovery Museum at the Powerhouse is an expansion project of the Children’s Museum of Durango. The museum, which will include an interactive science and energy center for all ages, sustainability labs, an outdoor science park, and camps and afterschool programs, is set to open in 2010 along the Animas River.


Bark beetle legislation introduced

The local fight against bark beetle infestation could get some help from Washington, D.C. This week, Colorado’s Congressional delegation introduced a bill, in both the House and the Senate, to improve the ability of federal, state and local governments to deal with problems caused by the beetle infestation in Colorado. 

The bill includes a variety of provisions intended to further facilitate the development and implementation of community wildfire protection plans. It also includes provisions for researching ways to improve the long-term health of the forests as well as provisions to make it easier for Coloradans to help federal, state and local agencies work to reduce fire risks and improve forest health.

“This summer in Colorado has been dry as dirt,” said Rep. John Salazar. “Add hot temperatures to the number of beetle-infested trees spreading throughout Colorado’s forests, and that equals trouble.”

Last year several members of the delegation introduced separate bills on this subject, but they failed to pass muster. This year, the delegation agreed to work together to try to develop a bipartisan, collaborative approach.

– compiled by Will Sands