Peabody manager says Hopi tribal consultation was ongoing

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DENVER, Colo. – A Peabody Western Coal Co. manager at the Kayenta and Black Mesa Mine Complex in northern Arizona said he feels that adequate government-to-government consultation has been held with the Hopi Tribe, even though the chairman and vice chairman have resigned and the way to fill the positions remains an open question.

At the same time, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in Denver said any appeal from the permit it issued Dec. 22 to Peabody Western Coal Co. for the Black Mesa Complex must be filed within 30 days of that date, despite opposition from the outgoing chairman of the Hopi Tribe.

Al Klein, OSM’s western regional director, said appeals on the new permit would go to the Department of the Interior Board of Land Appeals or through the courts. A number of possible entities, including the Sierra Club, Black Mesa Trust, Black Mesa Water Coalition, or National Resource Defense Council, as well as others, may appeal the decision that expands a life-of-mine permit boundary.

“We continue to work with the (Navajo and Hopi) tribes on the project – we meet with them regularly,” said Randy Lehn, Peabody’s manager of mine engineering and services at the Kayenta and Black Mesa Mine Complex. “We work closely with the tribes on any of these (mine permit) issues.”

Tribal consultation is required under the National Environmental Policy Act process that, in this instance, led to an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Black Mesa Project, precursor to OSM’s issuing a revision to incorporate parts of the Black Mesa Mine area into adjacent Kayenta Mine’s life-of-mine permit.

The 19,000-acre boundary enlargement would enable Kayenta Mine to use joint facilities – an air strip, roads, a human resources office and others – that are in the Black Mesa Mine area.

Ben Nuvamsa, who resigned as Hopi tribal chairman effective Dec. 31, has charged that discord within the tribal council effectively ruled out federally mandated consultation between Peabody and the Hopi Tribe and that his resignation and that of the vice chairman will further undercut any unified tribal decision-making capability.

“I think one of the tribal council members will head up the meetings,” Lehn said by phone, and there will “still be a continuing government,” a contention Nuvamsa disputes.

The former tribal chairman said the Hopi constitution requires an election to fill the chairmanship and vice chairmanship and he ordered a special election within 90 days, urging BIA assistance in the meantime.

Over the last two years there has been a running battle between the chairman, vice chairman and tribal council supporters and detractors, with allegations of illegal meetings and actions, improper arrests, an unauthorized militia and, startlingly, tribal council suspension of the Hopi appellate court.

The Black Mesa coal mine has been part of the dissension, with Nuvamsa contending OSM coordinated with the advisory – only Hopi energy team and with a consultant to the Hopi Tribe rather than with the tribal chairman, as required by federal government-to-government protocol.

But Lehn, the Peabody manager at Black Mesa, said Jan. 5, “We’ve always dealt with the Hopi energy team and also with the mining department of the Hopi Tribe, who would set up our meetings.” Government-to-government consultation was adequate, he said.

Lehn reiterated that Peabody has no plans to reopen Mohave Generating Station, which was formerly supplied by Black Mesa Mine. Project opponents have expressed concern that reopening Mohave is still a possibility under the EIS and could involve greater use of the aquifers that are central to Hopi life.

The alternative had caused concern because of its potential for greater aquifer draw down and was eliminated as the preferred plan. It was retained as one option because the tribes wanted to use the C-aquifer to supply the Hopi and Navajo Nations with water for municipal, industrial and commercial uses by expanding system capacity, he said.

According to Lehn, the Black Mesa Complex includes Navajo land and Navajo-Hopi joint use areas for a total of about 670 million tons of coal. Some 400 million tons have been used to date, leaving 270 million tons under lease still to be used, only about half of which would be required to supply the Navajo Generating Station from Kayenta Mine until 2026, the end of the current lease period.

Lehn said the remaining coal could be used to operate the generating station past 2026 if that decision were made.

In a wide-ranging letter to the Hopi/Tewa community Jan. 5, Nuvamsa said his administration had “fought against the Black Mesa Project (EIS) because of potential, long-lasting impacts to our N-Aquifer and C-Aquifer, coal resources and our traditions.”

Because water is important to the Hopi, Nuvamsa said he had “consistently opposed any attempts” by Peabody Coal Company, the State of Arizona, the federally assisted Salt River and Central Arizona Projects and other groups “to have access to our water supplies.”