Lawsuit opens door on Black Mesa

A lawsuit is trying to shed daylight on suspicious practices at the nearby Black Mesa Coal Complex. Native American and conservation groups have sued the U.S. Department of the Interior for withholding records related to coal mining in northeast Arizona.

To date, the department’s Office of Surface Mining has refused to publicly release records on mining operations conducted at the site by Peabody, the largest coal mine operator in the world. Among other records, the plaintiffs are seeking a copy of a current, valid operating permit for mining.

“For decades, the Office of Surface Mining has quietly issued permits to Peabody in a way that has thwarted meaningful public involvement and community understanding of Peabody’s mine operations,” said Nikke Alex, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. “The permitting actions have a direct and irreparable impact on our community. These records must be released to the public.”

Peabody runs the 40,000-acre Kayenta Mine and adjacent 18,000-acre Black Mesa Mine on Navajo Nation and Hopi tribal lands in northeastern Arizona. On April 9, the Black Mesa Water Coalition submitted a request for records related to the agency’s renewal of Peabody’s Kayenta Mine operating permit. However, OSM ended the public comment period two months later without ever releasing the requested records.

“These records should be readily available for public release by the agency,” said Brad Bartlett, an attorney with the Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center. “Instead, citizens are forced to take legal action to acquire Peabody’s permitting records.”  

Between 1970 - 2005, Black Mesa coal was sent via a 273-mile pipeline to the Mohave Generating Station. During that time, Peabody tapped the sole source of drinking water for the adjacent Navajo and Hopi communities, pumping an average of 4,600 acre feet of water annually from the aquifer. The company’s Kayenta mine continues to supply coal to the Navajo Generating Station, located near Page, Ariz., and has done so since 1973.

“Peabody’s coal-mining operations will contribute to global warming-related droughts and exacerbate the drying effects of groundwater depletion on wells, springs and creeks,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the case. “OSM’s inability to produce a valid operating permit for Peabody raises a whole host of questions. This lawsuit will force full disclosure.”

On the flip side, environmental activists and organizations continue to be blacklisted as the biggest threats to the Hopi and Navajo tribes. The Hopi Tribe passed a resolution on Sept. 28, 2009, barring conservationists from traveling on reservation lands, and Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. threw his support behind the move.

The Hopi Council cited the closure of the Mohave Generating Station, which used coal exclusively from Black Mesa, as one example of an objectionable action by environmental groups. Located in Laughlin, Nev., the Mohave Generating Station was shuttered in 2005 following a lawsuit that alleged numerous air quality violations at the plant. This closure resulted in the loss of as much as $8.5 million in tribal revenues per year, according to the Hopi Council. The Navajo Nation said there were parallels with opposition to the Desert Rock Power Plant and the Environmental Protection Agency’s repeal of the permit for the plant.


SI profiles Fort Lewis College athlete

A local athlete scored major national limelight last week. Fort Lewis College women’s soccer player Hayley Hollenga landed among the “Faces in the Crowd,” a popular Sports Illustrated feature that lists top amateur athletes.

Hollenga, a 5-foot-8 junior from Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs, was honored for scoring four game-winning goals in a five-game span — including “golden goals” that ended three overtime contests. Already one of the most decorated women’s soccer players in the history of the program, Hollenga was also a Preseason All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selection this fall and won RMAC Offensive Player of the Week honors on Sept. 14.

Hollenga appeared in the issue ofSports Illustrated that hit newsstands on Sept. 30. Since it debuted in 1956, more than 16,000 athletes have appeared in “Faces in the Crowd” and read like a veritable “Who’s Who” of professional sports. Such icons as Jack Nicklaus, Billie Jean King, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Terry Bradshaw, Carl Lewis and Tiger Woods have made the cut.

Hollenga is the first Fort Lewis College student-athlete to receive the honor, although former cyclist Todd Wells appeared as an Old Spice Athlete of the Month in Sports Illustrated in the 1990s.

Lake Nighthorse stocked with rainbows

Lake Nighthorse came alive last week. The Bureau of Reclamation stocked 50,000 rainbow trout in the new reservoir filling just southwest of downtown Durango. The introduction satisfies environmental commitments made by the Animas-La Plata Project, and the Bureau has committed to stocking the new, whirling disease resistant trout on an annual basis.

The Colorado River rainbow Hofer-Harrison cross strain originated in Germany. The trout eggs are produced at a Colorado Division of Wildlife brood hatchery and then raised at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Hatchery in Hotchkiss. The trout stocked in Lake Nighthorse were 10 inches long.

But don’t count on hooking up a Hofer-Harrison trout anytime in the immediate future. The area in and around Lake Nighthorse remains closed to public use due to construction and will remain closed until a recreation manager and appropriate recreation facilities are in place. The Bureau is currently working with the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District and other entities to develop a recreation plan.


9-R marks Walk to School Day

Durango area students got out and hoofed it on Oct. 6. On Wednesday morning, dozens of students from Durango-area schools braved the rain and walked or rode their bikes to school. These walkers join approximately 5,000 schools in 50 states and as well as parents, teachers and others from 40 countries worldwide.

The event was organized in part by Healthy Lifestyles La Plata. “This annual event serves as an excellent way to remind students, as well as the general public, of the importance of remaining active to improve overall health,” said Jeanine Justice, project coordinator for Healthy Lifestyles. “In addition, it creates a great way to remind neighbors, commuters and others to watch out for children on their way to and from school as we enter another school year.”

– 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