Desert Rock changes rile opponents

A change in the public hearing schedule for the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant is raising hackles all over the Four Corners. The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced revisions last week, and opponents of the proposed coal-fired power plant are alleging foul play.

Sithe Global Power, together with the Diné Power Authority, has pitched the massive coal-fired power plant southwest of Farmington. When completed at an estimated cost of $2 billion, the new plant would be among the largest in the nation and generate enough energy for 1.5 million homes. The plant, which is being touted as being more efficient than standard plants, won preliminary approval from the Environmental Protection Agency last year. In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs released its draft environmental impact statement in late May, citing few negative impacts and recommending approval of the coal-fired power plant.

With the release of the draft EIS, the BIA also announced a public hearing schedule throughout the Four Corners from June 18-22. That schedule went down the drain on the eve of the first meetings. New meeting dates were announced this week, after a notice was published in the Federal Register on June 20.

In response, the opposition has charged that Sithe and the DPA are trying to deliberately mislead the public. Groups including Diné Care counter that the original meetings were widely publicized and the new announcements initially appeared only on Sithe Global’s website, only days prior to the original meetings. The group wrote, “It is unconscionable to give the public a one-day notice of date changes, and this looks suspiciously as if done by design to mislead us. There were ample opportunities to do the right thing and inform the public – if that was an objective for Sithe/DPA.”

Lack of Navajo participation is of particular concern to the opposition with many members of the tribe lacking electricity let alone internet access. Diné Care added that a retraction should have been published in the Navajo Times, the primary news source for many Navajos.

“Navajo citizens and communities must be informed of Desert Rock hearings since this energy monster will threaten the health and livelihoods of all who live downwind and who will breathe in its toxic chemicals,” the group’s statement continued.

Frank Maisano, Desert Rock spokesman, countered that the concerns and allegations were unfounded. He noted that the original meeting schedule was tentative pending publication in the Federal Register. In addition, he said that additional public hearings had been added at the request of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and several opposition groups.

“Could you imagine how they’d be griping if we had the meetings this week, and they hadn’t been published in the Federal Register?” Maisano said. “This is a situation where no good deed goes unpunished.”

According to the new schedule, 10 public hearings will be held beginning at 5 p.m. on July 17 in the Farmington Civic Center. The Durango hearing is now scheduled for July 18 from 5-8 p.m. at the Iron Horse Inn.

The BIA will also accept comments on the draft EIS through Aug. 20. They can be submitted by visiting and clicking on “Comment on the Project.”


Missing kayaker walks to safety

A coordinated search for a missing kayaker on the Upper Animas River had a happy ending late Thursday when Will Gordon walked into a motel in Silverton.

After losing his boat in No Name Rapid and swimming to the eastern shore of the river, the 18-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., traversed rugged terrain to Silverton. He hiked approximately 11 miles, crossing the river near Elk Park on the railroad bridge and following the train tracks to safety.

“It was a long, grueling, successful day for La Plata County Search and Rescue,” said Lieutenant Butch Knowlton of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office. “We started our day at 11:30 a.m. with the U.S. Air Force notification of a distress signal, and ended our day at 11:30 p.m. with the safe return of a kayaker.”

La Plata County and San Juan County officials were assisted by Tall Timber Resort and the Durango and Silverton Railroad. Upon being notified of the missing kayaker, Denny Beggrow, owner of Tall Timber, mobilized personnel to search the river north of the resort. Likewise, the D&SNG dedicated staff and motorcars to search for the missing boater after being flagged down by his companion.

Knowlton concluded that boaters need to be aware of the

extreme and remote nature of the Upper Animas. “The Upper Animas, particularly the 10-Mile Rapid to No Name Rapid stretch, is fast, turbulent and unforgiving,” he said. “If you get into trouble, it is a difficult stretch to swim and survive, and a problematical area to search.”

Roadless ‘insurance policy’ progresses

Colorado’s effort to provide an “insurance policy” for its 4.1 million acres of designated roadless areas is forging ahead. Following a two-day hearing last week, a federal panel said it would recommend Colorado’s petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for consideration.

The Colorado Roadless Area Review Task Force has worked over the past few years to gauge public sentiment and formulate a plan for Colorado’s roadless areas, including the San Juan National Forest’s HD Mountains, Hermosa Creek and Florida roadless areas. The Task Force was created in response to the Bush Administration’s new roadless area rule, which placed stewardship in the hands of states, potentially opening up pristine national forest to resource extraction.

The Task Force’s recommendations were forwarded to Gov. Bill Ritter, who has formally asked the federal government for an “insurance policy” to protect the roadless areas from development. Ritter said he supports the protections provided by the federal government’s original 2001 roadless rule, and a recent court ruling in California reinstated the 2001 rule. However, future court decisions could eliminate the 2001 protections and consequently, Ritter has asked the USDA for backup.

“I am therefore requesting a state-specific rule-making process to serve as Colorado’s insurance policy for protection of our roadless areas in the event the 2001 rule and Lockyer decision are struck down,” he wrote to the USDA.

On June 13 and 14, a federal advisory panel heard Colorado’s request and looked upon it favorably. “We had a very productive and full session with the federal panel. I think they’re very receptive to the Colorado petition,” Harris Sherman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, told The Associated Press.


Trimble Lane traffic light planned

A traffic signal is landing in the Animas Valley this summer. A development-paid project will place a stoplight at the intersection of Trimble Lane and U.S. Highway 550. The $1 million construction project is expected to be complete in September.

The railroad crossing surface at Trimble Lane was replaced last year as the first step in the signal project funded by the Trimble Crossing Development. The project will include the installation of new railroad crossing signals with gates; widening Trimble Lane to provide turn lanes and a raised center median; providing corner islands on U.S. Highway 550; resurfacing and re-striping the intersection; and installing traffic signals at the intersection. The traffic signals and railroad signals will be interconnected and synchronized to function together.

Work began June 18 and is expected to be done in September. The speed limit will be lowered to 40 mph during work hours and permanently dropped to 45 mph after completion.

– compiled by Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows