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Pending shutdowns may spell disaster for Hopi and Navajo economies

PHOENIX (AP) - As Black Mesa Mine sends layoff notices and the Mohave
Generating Station seeks workers to do mothball work, the stark reality is
setting in throughout the Hopi and Navajo reservations and the Bullhead
City area.

The region, representing a good chunk of northern Arizona, is on the verge
of a major economic hit beginning Dec. 31, with what is expected to be at
least the temporary closing of the huge power plant in Laughlin, Nev.

It will mean the loss of nearly a third of the Hopi's $21.5 million
operating budget and huge slashes in programs affecting the elderly and
young. It will mean the loss of more than 600 jobs - some directly tied to
the plant, some not - in the Bullhead City area, and the loss of about 500
jobs in the north-central Navajo region.

The Mohave Generating Station provides nearly 20 percent of the electricity
that Southern California Edison delivers to its customers, said Gloria
Quinn, an Edison spokesman.

The economic storm has been brewing for six years, since Southern
California Edison agreed to install more than $1 billion of equipment to
clean up emissions at its Mohave Generating Station by the end of this
year. It was the culmination of a lawsuit that claimed the plant, which
often blankets Bullhead City in soot, violated the Clean Air Act.

The anti-pollution devices the company agreed to put in take at least 1-1/2
years to install. Southern California Edison has done no work on them.

Unless the company violates the consent decree, wins an extension or works
out a compromise, Mohave will close as the rest of the world rings in the
New Year. The ripple effect will be huge.

Black Mesa Mine, which supplies the coal the generating station uses to
make electricity, will have no reason to operate. Peabody Energy Co., which
excavates and pulverizes Black Mesa Mine's coal, mixes it with water and
slurries it 273 miles to Laughlin, also will shut down. Both have exclusive
contracts with Mohave.

The effects of a shutdown would be most profound among the Hopi.

The northern Arizona tribe of about 10,000 - many living in high-desert,
mesa-top villages - has limited economic options since tribal members twice
rejected proposals to build casinos.

The reservation is located far from major transportation corridors and has
only a limited tourist industry centered around its finely carved kachina
dolls. It also owns a few businesses in Flagstaff and Sedona, and ranch
land in the Winslow area.

Much of the mine tax money has been funneled into the tribe's 12 villages
to propagate the traditional customs and combat the rapid loss of the Hopi
language among young people. But 18 percent across-the-board cutbacks go
into effect Jan. 1 to help deal with the revenue shortfall.

It's almost too much to bear for residents of Shungopavi village, where
adobe homes cling to the side of a mesa top 500 feet above the desert
floor.

When Delores Komaquaptewa, 77, walked into the community center for the
monthly meeting for the village on Second Mesa, her handmade shawl was
pulled tightly around her shoulders and her ire was up. She listened to the
big item on the agenda: why the budget was cut from $30,000 last year to
$20,000 this year to $6,000 next year for the Shungopavi elderly center.

"We'll be lucky if that even pays for the lunches next year; and forget
about socializing with other towns," Komaquaptewa said.

Carrie Watahomigie, a Hopi tribal member, said that each village should be
asking for "18 percent more" from the tribal government rather than
accepting the cutbacks for next year.

"We are just now getting our youth and elderly programs going across the
reservation, and this is the first thing the tribal leaders have decided to
cut out of the budget," she said. "This is creating unbelievable stress on
families."

But Perry Honani, leader of Sipaulovi village on First Mesa, said he would
just as soon see the coal money go away and Hopi society revert to its
foundations before World War II.

"We were self-supporting then, and today all you hear is bickering over
this coal money," Honani said. "The problem is that coal money should come
to the villages and not the tribal council because it just adds to all the
controversies. We need peace for our religious ceremonies."

After years of sending mixed messages about the future of the power plant,
including filing a request with the California Public Utilities Commission
last year to begin the process of shutting down Mohave, Edison now wants to
keep the plant open.

"The most appropriate Mohave scenario is the continued operations
scenario," wrote Russell Wordan, Edison's manager for regulatory policy and
affairs, in a filing with the commission in October.

Worden wrote that sharp price increases in natural gas and the lack of
reliability in other electricity producers in southern California "has
underscored 'the high importance and value of Mohave to fuel diversity."

In recent testimony before the commission, however, Edison official Harold
Ray said that there are no plans to keep the plant open in violation of the
consent decree. Miners at Black Mesa also have begun receiving layoff
notices effective Dec. 15.

Beth Sutton, a spokesman for Peabody Energy, said all the company's
employees received the notices, along with tribal leaders, and "we are
transitioning into at least a temporary closure of the mine at the end of
December."

Even if Southern California Edison pushes to keep the plant open or to
reopen after a temporary closure, another problem could force Mohave out of
business.

For years, water has been pumped from an aquifer beneath the Hopi and
Navajo reservations to move coal to Mohave. But that has been criticized as
causing the drying up of Hopi springs. It will cease by the end of the
year, along with the lease for the Black Mesa mine.

A proposal is being examined to build a water pipeline 120 miles across the
Navajo and Hopi reservations from pumps between Flagstaff and Winslow. But
Navajo and Hopi officials have had snags in recent negotiations on the
route of the pipeline, and intense negotiations continue concerning the
price paid for the coal.

Ultimately, environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Grand Canyon
Trust hold the future of the plant in their hands. They say that unless
there is an ironclad agreement to install the anti-pollution equipment,
there will be no deal.

"The only thing satisfactory is for them to install the scrubbers. That has
to be a concrete proposal," said Richard Mayol, a spokesman for Grand
Canyon Trust in Flagstaff.