Lawsuit alleges Desert Rock collusion

A legal shot has been fired at the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant. Two watchdog groups have filed suit asking the Bureau of Indian Affairs to release public records. They go on to allege an inappropriate relationship between a consultant and the project proponent.

Sithe Global, a Houston company, would like to build the $2 billion Desert Rock Energy Project on Navajo Reservation land, 30 miles southwest of Farmington. When completed, the new plant would be among the largest in the nation and generate enough energy for 1.5 million homes. The plant touts itself as state-of-the-art, using 80 percent less water than traditional wet-cooled, coal-fired plants and having an efficiency of 41 percent.

Despite this efficiency, opponents have long charged that the plant will negatively impact Four Corners air quality and water resources. Waving the banner of public safety, two groups filed suit against the BIA last week after it denied requests to release public records.

The groups had filed requests with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on three separate occasions for public records detailing consultant URS Corp.’s work on Desert Rock. The complaint specifically requests access to BIA records associated with the URS development of the draft environmental impact statement and then goes on to allege an inappropriate relationship between URS and Sithe Global.

“We are very concerned about corruption of the BIA’s public approval process for Desert Rock,” said Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “URS Corp. wrote the draft EIS for the BIA, but now the agency says that URS works for Sithe. The public has a right to know how the agency, Sithe and URS have interacted in planning the proposed power plant.”

San Juan Citizens Alliance and Diné C.A.R.E. believe the public isn’t being allowed to see the documents because they will show a clear trail of how BIA, URS and Sithe wrote written the EIS with considerable bias in favor of Desert Rock. In addition, the complaint requests full release of the water and land agreements between the Navajo Nation and Sithe.

“We are highly concerned that the tribal government may be planning to use its water rights in the San Juan River basin to feed Desert Rock,” said Dailan Long, of Diné C.A.R.E. “The public’s ability to fully review the water leases for Desert Rock is critical. This water is meant for the people, and there are thousands of us tribal members living in this part of the reservation without adequate access to water.”

Desert Rock would use approximately 1.6 billion gallons of water annually over the next 50 years. President Joe Shirley is currently urging Congress to approve a $1 billion water settlement that would pipe water from the San Juan River and Animas-La Plata Project, located just south of Durango, to reservation lands.

In spite of these allegations, Sithe Global maintains its innocence and counters that these are the “same old, tired, conspiracy charges.” Desert Rock spokesman Frank Maisano commented that this lawsuit only hurts the Navajo people. “All this amounts to is another delaying tactic,” he said. “These opponents feel like if they can keep delaying this project, it will go away because of some change in attitude toward coal, new restrictive legislation or whatever excuse they use that week. What doesn’t go away is the need for jobs or economic opportunities. What won’t go away is the incredible power needs in the fast-growing Southwest.”

Service learning takes off at FLC

The local community will soon play a big part in the education of Fort Lewis College students, and Durango stands to benefit from the service. A Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR) program was recently approved at the college and by 2010, all FLC freshmen will take part in the opportunity.

In January, the faculty of Fort Lewis College approved a process that would allow courses to be officially designated as CBLR. Such classes must show that they provide students an opportunity to identify and work to solve a problem or need in the community. A CBLR Curriculum Council was created to review candidates, and already more than a dozen courses have applied.

Tom Harrington is the dean of the School of Business Administration at Fort Lewis College and a member of the CBLR Curriculum Council. He called the approval of the program a milestone saying now the college now has a formal way in which a faculty member can have courses designated.

 “We’re recognizing that through these CBLR-designated courses, as well as through internships and practica and voluntary service and civic engagements, all students will have an

opportunity to be civically-engaged at Fort Lewis College,” Harrington added.

Jen Shupe, a member of the CBLR Curriculum Counciland FLC alumna who now works for the Durango Sexual Assault Services Organization, noted that the Durango and Four Corners communities stand to benefit from this new process as well. “This initiative will create some better pathways between the college and the community in terms of getting students who are interested in doing service work connected to the places that need that kind of help,” she said.

Instability postpones groundbreaking

Citing the tenuous economy and weak real estate market, a major development project has decided to postpone construction. This week, Dan Baker and Mynders Glover, developers of the Animas Riverfront project, 1111 Camino, announced their decision to delay groundbreaking. No new date has been set.

The developers received approval for 37 upscale, residential condominiums and two retail spaces last December. Construction launch had been anticipated to begin in August, but Baker said while reservations have been strong, economic instability has forced the delay.  

“There is enough concern about the volatility in the real estate and credit markets that we have determined it prudent to wait for more favorable national economic conditions,” he said. “During this delay, we will continue to work on the project, focusing on marketing and construction details.”

Similar delays are also hitting elsewhere in the West. In Crested Butte, the ski area operator has announced it is postponing construction of a higher-end 95-unit condominium project at the base of the ski mountain. The long and short of the story is that the ski company didn’t have enough commitments from buyers to move forward, explained theCrested Butte News.

Durango adventure racers take Moab

The adventure racing season got under way last weekend in Moab, and Durango was well represented. More than 375 adventure racers battled it out in Moab for the official start of the 2008 Adventure Xstream Adventure Race Series, and Durangoans had more than their fair share of the podium.

Local Mike Freeburn earned honors as a member of the second place overall team, Team Boulder Performance Network. Team 4 Corners Adventure Racing Too, with Durangoans Tom Ober, Vic Rudolph and Ben Hoffman and Keri Nelson, of Grand Junction, took third place overall. In addition, the 4 Corners Adventure Racing Team, which includes Kiviok Hight, Rick Callies and Blake Vogues, along with Tina Lewis, of Colorado Springs, came in fifth overall.

Team NIKE took first place in the Moab Adventure Xstream Race, a 60-mile course with trail running, kayaking and mountain biking legs as well as a 250-foot rappel.

Next up in the Adventure Xstream Adventure Race Series is the Buena Vista AXS Race on May 10, and then adventure racing returns to Durango with the Durango Adventure Xstream race on June 14.

– Will Sands