Black Mesa suffers a fatal blow

Coal-fired power is continuing to stumble in the Four Corners. The U.S. Department of the Interior recently revoked the permit for the massive Black Mesa Coal Complex, effectively shutting down the mine on reservation land near Kayenta, Ariz.

A diverse coalition of Navajo, Hopi and environmental groups had appealed a permit that allowed Peabody Energy to operate and expand the Black Mesa mine and the Kayenta mine under a single permit. The permit was issued in the waning days of the Bush Administration and authorized the expansion and continued operation of the Black Mesa complex through 2026. However, last month an administrative law judge sided with the appellates, citing numerous violations of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Wahleah Johns, co-director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition and one of the petitioners, said, “For 40 years our sacred homelands and people have borne the brunt of coal mining impacts, from relocation to depletion of our only drinking water source. This ruling is an important step toward restorative justice for indigenous communities who have suffered at the hands of multinational companies like Peabody Energy.”

The Sierra Club’s Hertha Woody noted that the decision was yet another sign that coal-based energy should become a thing of the past. “Coal is a dirty, dangerous and outdated energy source that devastates communities, jeopardizes drinking water and destroys wildlife habitats,” she said. “This decision is yet another example of why it no longer makes sense to burn coal to get electricity.”

The Black Mesa Coal Mine Complex has a long history of controversy stemming from concerns about air and water pollution, impacts to local residents, the drying of aquifers and sacred springs, and coal’s contribution to global warming. Heavy metals and pollutants that result from mining operations have been shown to be toxic to humans and harmful to wildlife.

“This is a vindication of what we have been saying for years,” said Amy Atwood, of the Center for Biological Diversity. “As a result of this huge victory, business-as-usual at Black Mesa has come to an end, and a transition toward a green energy economy in the Four Corners region can truly begin.”

The case was argued by Atwood, and Brad Bartlett and Travis Stills of the Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center.

Grand Canyon flood gets high marks

Flooding has a strong future in the Grand Canyon. This week, the U.S. Geological Survey gave high marks to a high-flow experiment conducted on the Colorado River in early 2008.

The 2008 experiment was designed to mimic natural pre-Glen Canyon Dam flooding on the world’s most famous stretch of whitewater. The flush tested the ability of high flows to rebuild eroded Grand Canyon sandbars, create habitat for the endangered humpback chub, and benefit other resources such as archaeological sites, rainbow trout, aquatic food for fish, and riverside vegetation. In addition to succeeding on these counts, the flood stemmed the spread of invasive weeds and facilitated the transport of sand to archaeological sites, where it aided in preservation.

In the Lees Ferry rainbow trout fishery, high flows also reduced the population of the New Zealand mud snail, a nuisance species, by about 80 percent. In contrast, midges and black flies, high-quality food items for fish, increased. These overwhelming successes point to additional flushes in the future, according to John Hamill, chief of the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center.

“Insights gained about the effects of the 2008 experiment will be invaluable in helping decision makers determine the best frequency, timing, duration and magnitude for future high flows to benefit resources in Glen Canyon National Recreational Area and Grand Canyon National Park,” he said.

The Bureau of Reclamation began the 60-hour high-flow experiment on March 5, 2008. Water was released through the dam’s powerplant and bypass tubes to a peak of about 41,500 cubic feet per second.


Resort real estate on the rebound

High-end real estate may have been the gift of choice in mountain towns this holiday season. Vacation home seekers have been snatching up bargains all over the Rocky Mountains, according to a report in Sunday’s New York Times.

The paper noted that many embraced the buyer’s market and the highest inventory since 2001 and were ready to pay in cash. Resort towns are greeting these bargain hunters with open arms.

Patti Brave, a broker in the Vail office of Slifer, Smith & Frampton, told the Times that the rising stock market started driving stimulating the market late in 2009 but added that prices in Vail and Beaver Creek are still off by 10 percent or more.

Nearby Telluride remains “a bright spot for sellers,” according to the report. Element 52, a 32-unit luxury condo project overlooking town, is already 60 percent sold despite having yet to break ground.

Tom Peek, of Prudential Utah Real Estate in Park City, noted “a lot of pent-up demand” for the first time since the major real estate downturn. “Normally we don’t see a lot of activity until Christmas time,” Peek told the paper, “but our market started picking up around Thanksgiving, before the slopes were even open.”


Poacher shoots and kills another lynx

One of the first lynx introduced into the San Juan Mountains suffered an untimely death recently. The cat was shot by a poacher in northern Summit County near Green Mountain Reservoir.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife kicked off its ambitious reintroduction effort in 1997, releasing lynx from Canada into the San Juans. The 13-year-old female killed in mid-January was one of the first released into the region and regularly moved between the Vail Pass area and Rocky Mountain National Park, according to information retrieved from her radio collar. The DOW received a mortality signal from the radio collar Jan. 18 and was able to recover the collar. However the body of the lynx is still missing.

The DOW is currently trying to unravel the shooting, and anyone with information is encouraged to call Operation Game Thief at (877) 265-6648.

Since the lynx reintroduction program began in 1999, 218 lynx have been reintroduced into the southern Rockies, and a total of 126 lynx kittens are known to have been born in Colorado.

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

March 17, 2022
Critical condition

Lake Powell drops below threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it

March 17, 2022
Uphill climb

Purgatory Resort set for expansion but still faces hurdles

March 10, 2022
Mind, body & soul (... and not so much El Rancho)

New health care studio takes integrated approach to healing