Category Archives: Skyline Mine

Earthworks: Nuclear Power's Other Tragedy: Communities Living With Uranium Mining

Please check out this link to Earthworks: Nuclear Power’s Other Tragedy: Communities Living With Uranium Mining: From: Gordon Edwards Sent: Sat, Jul 9, 2011 1:38 am Friends: Here is an excellent resource on uranium mining and its environmental impacts, from Earthworks. “Nuclear Power’s Other Tragedy: Communities Living With Uranium Mining” Thanks to Sarah Fields of Uranium Watch and Gordon Edwards.

7/1/2011 Navajo Nation Public Hearing on Energy Policy

Public comments on the Navajo Nation Energy policy are welcome through July 31st, and should be sent in writing to Michelle — Navajo Nation Public Hearing on Energy Policy By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative: The location for last night’s public hearing on the Navajo Nation’s proposed energy policy was fitting for political theatrics – held at the UNM Student Union Building’s theater, the stage was set for Navajo Nation officials to make their case for the energy policy as currently drafted. The document at the center of discussion was the draft of the Navajo Nation Energy Policy, completed June 20th, 2011 (see copy of draft here). The UNM meeting was the last of the public hearings on the policy, meetings meant to gather public input on the draft. The Attorney General for the Navajo Nation, Harrison Tsosie, reminded the audience that this document was not a law, regulation or statute. “Instead, this policy is to serve as a vision statement for Navajo leaders and for the outside world, to then guide future decisions and laws and to ensure that in the future the Federal Government is not deciding the direction of our Dine’ people.”

There have been four prior attempts to develop such an energy policy by the Navajo Nation, with the only document that made it past draft stage being the 1980 policy. The current administration, under President Ben Shelly has made energy policy a priority.

The document supports development of renewable energy, with Navajo Nation officials admitting that in the past years there has been no clear direction, and therefore, no significant strides in this realm.

Coal and uranium appear to be the biggest points of contention in the draft policy, judging from the audience members who spoke during the public response section of the hearing.

In terms of coal, the current draft supports a coal-driven energy future for the Navajo Nation, stating, “The Nation will plan for a future that includes coal as a key component of the Nation’s energy mix…[and] will seek to shape federal fossil fuel regulation.” (Section 7)

Mario Atencio of Dine’ CARE (Coalition Against Ruining our Environment) stated that coal has no place in the energy future of the Navajo Nation, adding that he was concerned that the Navajo Green Energy Commission was not included in the drafting of the policy.

Juan Reynosa of the Sierra Club, following Mario to the microphone, seconded the opinion. “This is our opportunity to transition away from coal, switching to renewable resources. Juan talked about his work to push for tighter regulations on the Four Corners Power Plant, pointing out the un-tapped potential that wind and solar energy have in this region.

Nuclear energy and uranium is also addressed in the document with a recognition of the current ban on uranium mining that the Navajo Nation has adopted. “The Navajo Nation, nonetheless will continue to monitor uranium mining technologies and techniques…to assess the safety, viability, and potential of these activities for the future.” (Section 9).

Norman Patrick Brown of the Dine’ Bidziil (The People’s Strength) stated simply, “I don’t trust this policy. Our past shows us that energy infrastructure has been devastating to our land, our health and our way of life.” He said that from a traditional perspective, talking to Medicine Men, “I have yet to meet one person who supports any extraction from our Mother Earth of these materials.”

Additionally, there was obvious concern about those who spoke from the audience about the transparency of the process to create the draft, and at this point, the process of allowing public input to affect the final version of the document. A writer from the Navajo Times asked a pointed question to this later point – “How do you plan to share the public’s thoughts from these meetings that have been held?” Translating the answer from politico speak, it appears that the comments and written testimony will be compiled and made available on the Navajo Nation website. I could not find the policy or comments on the Navajo Nation website at the time of this article.

Public comments on the policy are welcome through July 31st, and should be sent in writing to Michelle —

6/28/2011 Navajo Boy moves Congress and Mountains

Dear Forgotten Navajo People, Check out our latest Navajo video dispatch from Monument Valley. It shows the US EPA’s cleanup in full swing. Groundswell correspondent Mary Begay follows US EPA project manager Jason Musante behind the scenes. “”This example and this project show that someone in Congress learned of the problem here and said go do that,” Musante says. “Now what’s been a really good way to bring that message forward is the documentary Navajo Boy.” Groundswell continues to publicize the story through: Webisodes, shot on flip cameras by Navajo participants and edited by Groundswell — view the whole series at Generating media coverage for the issue (see headlines below) And creating opportunities to screen the film and for Navajos to tell their story. “>

In August, Mary Begay, who shot this webisode, and Jeff Spitz, producer of The Return of Navajo Boy will keynote The Tribal Lands Forum, a national conference for tribal environmental professionals. Their keynote will focus on cross-cultural media, advocacy and environmental justice. Check our website for a listing of other presentations or to book a screening of your own.

— Jeff & Jennifer
Groundswell Co-Founders

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5/17/2011 Gallup Independent: Recreating the 'skyline'

5/17/2011 Gallup Independent: Recreating the ‘skyline’ By Kathy Helms Dine Bureau:: MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – Cleanup of radioactive waste piles at the 1940s-era Skyline Mine, an abandoned uranium mine high atop Oljato Mesa near Gouldings in Monument Valley, is proof that a small group of committed citizens crying out for environmental justice can make a difference. Without community residents coming forward and making their voices heard through the award-winning documentary, “The Return of Navajo Boy,” by Chicago director Jeff Spitz and Bernie Klain, it is highly likely that the exposed radioactive waste piles would continue to pose a hazard for years to come.

“The more people speak up, the more people make their voices heard, the more responsible government becomes – and that starts here at the local level,” Jason Musante, federal on-scene coordinator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, said during a recent tour. The documentary has been good in bringing their message forward, he said.

Local resident Elsie Begay has been trying for years to get the mine cleaned up and a steel cable removed from her back yard. In 2001, EPA’s Emergency Response Section demolished one hogan constructed of radioactive stone. Begay and her family lived three years in the hogan. She later lost two sons to radiation-related illnesses. Her story is told in “Navajo Boy.”

Cleanup of the mine itself is a challenge. Oljato Mesa climbs to 5,794 feet above sea level. During the late 1990s, portions of the mine were closed by the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Land program, which focused on removing immediate physical hazards, sealing the entrance to the mine, and consolidating and capping easily accessible radioactive waste.

But due to the steep terrain, a waste pile lying about 700 feet below the former mine and several hundred feet above the valley floor on the eastern edge of the mesa was not addressed. A “talus pile” of loose material near the base of Oljato Mesa is comprised of radioactive waste rock and ore that was either pushed over the upper slope or fell from the top of the mesa. A visible gray-green stain extends down the face of the cliff beneath the waste, denoting years of mining activity and runoff from monsoon rains.

Drainage from the talus pile has carried contaminated materials from the base of the mesa outward toward the road leading to Oljato Chapter. High levels of radiation have been detected.

When the mine was operating, a gondola was used to transport ore from the mine atop the mesa to the “transloading area” below, where it was placed in trucks and transported to a mill for processing. Ironically, that same concept will be used to clean up contamination on the valley floor. “We’re basically re-creating the ‘skyline’ to clean up Skyline Mine,” Musante said.

“The skyline would run up to the mine and back and forth and they would load the trucks out with the ore” at the transloading area near Elsie’s house and other nearby residences, he said. “There’s a few hunks of ore right there that have reasonable high activity counts, but as you move farther out, the activity decreases.”

To remove the waste from the face of the cliff, workers will cut into the hillside and use an excavator with a 75-foot reach to bring the material up, Musante said. “The high-line system, once it’s in, will operate kind of like a drag line to scrape up the face and collect the material.” Initially, EPA was just going to do the areas on the valley floor, but Musante said when he looked at it, he realized that all of the material on the cliff was going to come down eventually, so it was decided that it had to be removed.

“Basically, we have to ‘wipe off the table before we sweep the floor.’ That’s going to be very challenging. That’s also the area where dust control is going to be the hardest. Just the access alone is very, very difficult. The slopes are approximately 60 degrees, which is pretty nuts, and then, of course, the fall to the valley floor would be hundreds and hundreds of feet.

We’re going to have to work very, very carefully, take our time and go slow.” An estimated 5,000 cubic yards of material is on the upper slope. The majority of material to be removed is in the wash area. They plan to pre-wet it to control dust.

Workers first will tackle the top slope. “Since they’re going to knock some of that stuff down, we’re going to wait to move that over to the stockpile until after they’ve worked up above,” Musante said. Then contaminated soils from the drainage area will be removed and stockpiled at the transloading area where the “high-line yarder,” or skyline with a bucket capable of holding 4 yards of material, will be located.

“We’ll load the bucket, and then it will run it up to the top and drop it into a truck, and the truck will take it over to the repository. It will drop it into the repository, and then they’ll just be doing cycling. It’s all about production,” he said. “They basically will be moving 4 yards of contaminated material every six minutes.”

Approximately five home sites are located within 1,800 feet of the site. During the emergency removal action, about 30 residents living within a half mile will have to be relocated temporarily – no easy feat given the Navajo Nation’s shortage of housing, and especially during tourist season. In addition, a quarter-mile buffer zone will be created to ensure that residents living near the high-line yarder are not affected by any dust that might be created. Those residents will need to be housed through July.

Once consolidated, an estimated 40,000 cubic yards of waste will be placed in a newly created “interim” repository, or landfill, on top of Oljato Mesa. The high-line yarder is being used because the road to the actual mine and repository is a one-lane nightmare put in by Navajo AML and recently improved by EPA. The only way to navigate one steep section of the road several hundred feet above the valley floor is by driving in reverse. Transporting the waste by truck would have been far too risky for workers, local residents and tourists.

Scientists from EPA’s Superfund Technical Assistance and Response Team and laborers from the Emergency Rapid Removal Services are working together to construct the giant “Tupperware” repository where the contaminated material will be buried. Total cost of the cleanup is just under $6 million.

EPA has purchased 2 million gallons of water from the Navajo Nation at the corporate rate of over $4 per 1,000 gallons to use for the project. The water comes from unused U.S. Geologic Survey study wells. A temporary water supply pipeline of high-density polyethylene and pumps were installed to push water from a 20,000 gallon storage tank at the bottom of the mesa up to three storage tanks near the top. “We can’t haul water up this road, so the water moving system gets it up the elevation to where we can come grab it and then use it up top,” Musante said.

There was a lot of excavation of some very hard rock that had to occur to create the 3:1 compacted slope of the repository, he said. An all-terrain, 5,000 gallon water wagon with a cannon on top that can shoot water over 100 feet is used along with bulldozers to compact the soil hauled from a nearby “borrow area” by 30-ton haul trucks. “We had to hammer, hammer, hammer, with bulldozers ripping and grinding,” Musante said. “There has been some obvious logistic improvements that had to go on just to get this thing prepped.”

An 18-inch layer of fine soil from the borrow area will be placed in the repository, which has been dug out along the natural contours of the cliff. A 60-millimeter-thick, high-density polyethylene liner is then placed on top of the soil, followed by another 18 inches of the same bedding material so that when the contaminated materials are deposited, they won’t puncture the liner. A “bio-barrier” of 2-1/2 inch to 6 inch rock is then put down to prevent burrowing animals from creating an erosional hazard, followed by a soil cap to absorb any gamma radiation that might be emitted. Finally, a lined drainage channel will be installed to channel water away from the sides of the repository.

“You shouldn’t be able to tell any difference in activity measurements from being right on top of the repository or being just a small distance away on the mesa,” Musante said. Once disturbed areas are reseeded, “the cows can go ahead and graze.”

Musante is working with the Navajo Nation EPA Superfund Program to design an operation and maintenance program, which will involve annual inspections of the cap to ensure it’s not being eroded, and taking radiation measurements to make sure the activity levels are still protective of human health.

EPA’s Emergency Response Section for which Musante works solves imminent problems right away to prevent health threats in the near term. What happens with the Skyline waste in the long term – whether it is left in place in the “interim” repository or eventually dug up and transported outside reservation boundaries – is something the Navajo Nation will have to decide.

5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting a great success

The Saturday, 5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites was a great success. The room was filled to capacity. Debbie Schechter, Linda Reeves, Svetlana Zenkin and Brian Davidson, US EPA Superfund and Alex Grubb, Weston Associates, Contractor for US EPA Superfund presented. Frank Nez, Hathalie (Medicine Man) gave an invocation. James Peshlakai and the former governor of the Village of Upper Moenkopi presented opening remarks. Frank Nez, Lucy Knorr, Ethel Nez provided translation. People had a chance to speak and ask questions and US EPA Superfund conducted break out groups on water, abandoned uranium mines and contaminated structures.