Vandals attack Desert Rock opponent

Violence is once again swirling around the Desert Rock Power Plant. Late last week, vandals struck the home and car of a leader of a grassroots group opposing the new coal-fired power plant. The outbreak mirrored a similar attack late last year, which resulted in the harassment of protesters and the death of a Navajo tribal elder’s sheep dog.

Sithe Global Power, together with the Diné Power Authority, has proposed 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 company has already won preliminary approval from the Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Indian Affairs 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. Sithe Global would like to break ground on Desert Rock next year.

However, opposition to the plant remains strong and the controversy appeared to take an ugly turn last week. Early on the morning of May 25, the home and car of Elouise Brown, a leader of the grassroots Navajo group Doodá Desert Rock, were vandalized by unknown parties. Brown and her husband and neighbors were awakened at 5 a.m. by the sound of breaking glass. Upon waking, they discovered windows of their home and car had been smashed. Police were called and confirmed the vandalism.

Although it is unknown whether the vandalism is connected to the Desert Rock controversy, Navajo opponents of the power plant are worried this may be an act of retaliation and harassment in response to increased activism by power plant opponents. Brown and Doodá Desert Rock remained undeterred.

“We will not be intimidated by this vandalism,” said Brown. “We will continue fighting to stop the proposed Desert Rock power plant and to protect the health, environment and culture of our Navajo people.”

The vandalism occurred fresh on the heels of the release of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ recent environmental impact statement for the proposed plant. The recommended approval represented a major leap forward for Sithe Global but is being called a “sham” by the opposition. Critics allege that the study was tilted in favor of the developer and failed to assess vital environmental impacts. Further, review copies are available only on the internet, and many Navajos lack even basic electricity.

“This Bureau of Indian Affairs’ EIS is hogwash,” said Sarah Jane White, Doodá Desert Rock president. “They already made their decision to approve the project and this draft is just going to justify their decision. But not if I can help it, our elders and our youth are ready to stand with us against the Sithe Lords and their puppet, Diné Power Authority.”

In another interesting twist on Desert Rock, China now stands to profit from the construction of the plant. The Blackstone Group LP, principle owner of Sithe Global, announced a plan to raise as much as $7.75 billion from selling shares to China and the public, according to a recent Reuters report. The announcement came one day after China offered to take a $3 billion stake or 9.7 percent share in the company. The move could value Blackstone stock at $33.6 billion and give the company quick access to funds it would otherwise have to raise privately.


Hotshots aid in tornado recovery

The San Juan Hotshots, an elite 20-person wildland firefighting crew based in the Durango area, returned from another disaster with new feathers in their caps. Early in May, the Hotshots went to Greensburg, Kansas where they assisted with establishing and operating a base camp at the tornado disaster site.

The Hotshots were assigned to remove fallen trees and debris within the base camp area, eliminate other hazards created during the tornado, and set up base camp facilities. The base camp provided hot meals, showers, laundry service and temporary housing to more than 500 emergency workers. Assisting with all-hazard (or nonfire) incidents is not new to most of this crew according to Hotshot Superintendent Shawna Legarza. “My crew assisted with recovery efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and some of us helped out with the space shuttle and 9/11 recovery efforts as well.” Their recent assignment in Kansas, however, offered a new experience – the opportunity to participate in a new national leadership training for wildland firefighters under the guidance of the Boise Interagency Management Team (IMT). Crew members with three to seven years of hotshot experience were integrated into the Boise IMT and exposed to learning about the cost elements associated with large disasters; preparing daily situation reports; developing Incident Action Plans; participating in pre-planning meetings; and observing the team as it built and developed interpersonal relationships with community leaders and disaster response personnel.

“Having our hotshot crew work directly with the Boise IMT has been an invaluable experience for the crew and me,” said Legarza. “It provided important leadership learning, mentoring and difficult-to-get incident management experience.”


Bike taxi service rolls into town

Two Durango entrepreneurs are pedaling into the future. Frank Mapel and Marc Snider have launched Tuk Tuk Pedicab, a bicycle-drawn taxi service that will provide environmentally friendly taxi service to locals and tourists throughout Durango’s Central Business District. 

The cabs resemble Asian rickshaws and are driven by a 21-speed mountain bike, which are pedaled by independent contractors, and include turn signals, stop lights and running lights. Up to three passengers can be carried, and the rates of service are determined by each individual driver.

“We think this is a great opportunity to not only provide a fun and valuable service to downtown but also for local guys and girls to get paid to ride a bicycle,” Snider said.

The pedicab will not have a “staging” area, but rather operate as a true taxi service and will be continually trolling for passengers. The service will also be available through cell phones that the driver will carry. Mapel and Snider hope the service will be a fun alternative to driving for hotel guests and bar and restaurant goers as well as a short-distance courier service and a to-go-order delivery service.

“I believe this is another great addition to downtown Durango that will help define Durango from other mountain towns and therefore reinforce it as a must-experience town,” Mapel said.


Durango Fire names new chief

Durango Fire & Rescue has new leadership. Dan Noonan was recently selected as the new Chief of Durango Fire & Rescue and will move up to his new position from Deputy Chief of Support at the end of June.

Emergency Services Consulting Inc., an outside consulting firm, was hired to assist in finding a replacement for Chief Mike Dunaway, who is retiring effective June 29. The group advertised nationally and prescreened more than 25 applicants. As a result of the screening, three applicants made the final cut, and last week the Board of Directors unanimously selected Noonan to be the new chief.

A long-time Durangoan, Noonan began his fire career as a volunteer with the Animas Fire Protection District in 1976 and two years later was one of the founding volunteer members of the Hermosa Cliff Fire Protection District. Moving up through the ranks in the Hermosa Cliff Department, Noonan became the chief of that department in 1989 and remained in that position until the creation of Durango Fire & Rescue in 2002. Throughout his career, Chief Noonan has had extensive training and education in fire science, fire codes and emergency medical services.

– compiled by Will Sands


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