Tag Archives: Teddy Nez

10/4/2011 Gallup Independent: Northeast Churchrock Mine cleanup plan set

10/4/2011 Northeast Churchrock Mine cleanup plan set By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: CHURCHROCK – After more than two years of debate and a dozen public meetings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has chosen to move approximately 1.4 million tons of radioactive soil from Northeast Churchrock Mine to a lined disposal cell on top of an unlined cell at a nearby Superfund site. EPA evaluated 14 disposal sites before choosing the same “preferred alternative” cleanup plan announced in May 2009. By disposing of the radium- and uranium-contaminated waste at the nearby United Nuclear Corp. uranium mill now owned by General Electric, the entities averted the lengthy process of siting and licensing a new disposal facility, which can take decades.

“They’ve just been playing around with us, and just to butter us up they’ve been having those stakeholder meetings, that’s what I found out,” Teddy Nez, president of the Red Water Pond Road Community Association, said Monday.

Cleanup could be accomplished in 2018 at a cost of $44.3 million, compared to the $293.6 million it would take to transport the waste to a licensed disposal facility. By moving the contaminated soils next door to Churchrock Chapter on private land owned by UNC/GE, it also satisfies the Navajo Nation’s requirement that the waste be transported off tribal lands.

“All they’re going to do, the way I understand it, is scrape the cap off, put it to the side, line it, and then put the other stuff on top. It’s basically going to be a new mountain,” Nez said.

EPA Region 9 found there was not enough room at the mill site to construct a new cell for the mine waste, as previously discussed, without impacting ongoing groundwater remediation efforts by Region 6. The major factor influencing the ultimate height of the cells is whether the waste is placed on all three existing cells, or is limited to one or two cells. EPA estimates the cells could grow by up to 10 feet in height but would be designed to blend into the landscape.

“Our position is move the stuff over there but dig out the contaminated trash, go to the bottom, then line it, put the old waste back in there and then put the other waste on top – both wastes, UNC and Kerr-McGee,” Nez said. In addition to Northeast Churchrock, EPA also is addressing two sites at the adjacent Quivira Mine formerly owned by Kerr-McGee.

Both U.S. EPA and Navajo EPA representatives held informal community meetings with Red Water Pond Road residents in April and May to explain the work going on in relationship to the two mines. They also held an informal meeting with residents a week prior to Thursday’s announcement. Nez said they were told not to invite the media.

Clancy Tenley of EPA Region 9 said they just wanted to meet with the Red Water Pond Road residents. “That was the first time we were telling anybody how we were going to clean it up, so we did intend to have it just them and not to be a big public meeting,” he said.

Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director of Navajo EPA, said every time U.S. EPA came out to meet with residents, they also were there. “We’ve heard the concerns from the Red Water Pond Road Community Association, we’ve had our own meetings with EPA directly, and we were able to brief the president at least three different occasions.” he said.

Residents were reassured they would have an opportunity to provide input during the three-year design phase. Nez said EPA will pay for the community association to hire Southwest Research Information Center as its technical consultant to aid the community in its understanding of the project as it develops and facilitate local input into the design process.

Transportation of “principal threat waste,” or the most highly contaminated soils, to an off-site disposal facility is another factor in the cleanup, Etsitty said.

“That volume of soil is yet to be determined. If it looks like the soils might be reprocessed and there is some economic gain possible, they’ll be taken to a reprocessing facility. I believe that’s in Utah,” he said. If it’s not possible, the soils will be transported 650 miles to the U.S. Ecology facility in Grand View, Idaho.

GE has offered to provide one scholarship per year for a Navajo student to attend either the University of New Mexico or Arizona State University, according to Nez, as well as improve Pipeline Canyon Road near the mine and mill sites, and provide building materials for four ceremonial hogans as requested by community residents. GE also will exercise Navajo hiring preference.

“Those are things that GE conveyed to EPA in a letter and that letter will be made part of the administrative record, but those things cannot be put into the administrative order of consent as enforceable items,” Etsitty said. “So we’re going to have to find a way to make sure that those promises are binding somehow.”

The UNC Mill, or final burial ground for the mine wastes, ceased operations in 1982 and was listed on U.S. EPA Superfund’s National Priorities List in 1983. EPA Region 6 has been actively trying to clean up contaminated groundwater at the site, but the plume has been steadily migrating closer to Navajo Nation boundaries.

Etsitty said they are concerned about groundwater contamination. “We want to know if there’s going to be any potential groundwater impacts underneath the mine site as well as what we know already about the mill site.”

Churchrock residents Scotty Begay and Larry King brought up concerns during public meetings about adding extra weight on top of the existing cell. Tenley said they received documents from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then did an evaluation of the compressibility of the material as to whether there would be any impact on the cell or to the groundwater.

“There is groundwater contamination north of the cells. The question is, is there water still in the cells that would be squished out from putting additional waste on it,” he said. “We determined that the material could be safely placed there without affecting the stability or the groundwater.”

Disposal of the waste is contingent on UNC receiving a license amendment from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and approval by EPA Region 6.

Tenley said Region 9’s next step will be to meet with residents who were temporarily relocated during the last cleanup to discuss lodging arrangements for the next phase. They have one of two options.

“One is they could take a temporary move-out of their house during the cleanup, but that would be in a hotel for potentially years, and that’s not a very attractive alternative,” he said. The other option allows EPA to offer a “cash-out” for a permanent residence in the area that would be of comparable value in lieu of staying in a hotel, he said.

Prior to the big move, an emergency removal action will be conducted next summer near the home of Grace Cowboy, east of Red Water Pond Road, where a significant amount of contamination was found as a result of mine site runoff. An estimated 30,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste material will be removed and stockpiled at the mine site along with other waste removed during the previous interim cleanup. Estimated cleanup cost is $2 million.

Northeast Churchrock Mine operated from around 1967 to 1982 and included an 1,800-foot deep shaft, waste piles and several surface ponds. GE has conduced two previous cleanups, one during 2010 in which more than 40,000 tons of contaminated soils were moved and stockpiled at the mine site to await final cleanup.

7/1/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo energy vision 'a beginning,' But is it short-sighted? First in a two-part series

7/1/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo energy vision ‘a beginning,’ But is it short-sighted? First in a two-part series By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: GALLUP – The Navajo Nation’s draft energy policy, or “vision statement,” does not dwell on past mistakes. The forward-looking document focuses on a balanced, multi-pronged approach to shape the Nation’s energy future, according to President Ben Shelly’s energy team, which presented the draft Wednesday evening at a public meeting in Gallup. While audience members hailed the policy was “a beginning” and commended the team for its hard work, they also were quick to point out where the policy appeared to be short-sighted. For starters, the grassroots Navajo people were not consulted, according to Teddy Nez of Churchrock. “Also, as a matrilineal society, it’s shocking that there’s no women” on the Energy Advisory Committee, Nikki Alex of Dilkon, an independent researcher and policy analyst, said. The committee is made up of division directors and program managers from within the Executive Branch.

“The Navajo people have the right to incorporate Dine Fundamental Law into the Navajo Nation’s Energy Policy, yet in all documentation there is no mention of it. This is an outrage since our elected officials use the Dine Fundamental Law as a defense for their decisions that are often detrimental to our Navajo Life Way or to undermine our laws for their own gain or defense,” Mervyn Tilden of Gallup said.

Audience members were given three minutes each to present their remarks and were cautioned to address what was in the policy, not events of the past, as they could spend days talking about past wrongs. Many members of the audience disagreed, however, including George Arthur, former Navajo Nation Council delegate.

“I think we need to keep an open mind about what happened in the past. The past is what develops the future. I’ve been at the negotiating table with Mr. (Louis) Denetsosie and others here. It’s very difficult to be at the negotiation table when the rules are already developed by your counterparts that are sitting across from you,” he said.

“There was a statement made early on about looking to the future. … Ladies and gentlemen, the only thing that’s in the future that’s on the table that can be talked about is Peabody and Navajo Generating Station. Everything else has been negotiated.”

Former Navajo Nation President Milton Bluehouse Sr. said the Indian Mineral Leasing Act allows Navajo to name its price, rather than settling for the 12.5 percent coal royalty discussed in the Peabody Energy Co. lease reopener which is expected to come up during Council’s summer session.

“It’s got to be a lot more,” he said. “People that are affected out there, like Black Mesa, they were promised roads, houses, water, electricity and all of this. At the onset they were lied to. … Let’s do something about it and let’s put something in this policy so people get advantage of it.”

Ed Becenti of St. Michaels agreed. “The act of 1938, the Indian Minerals Leasing Act, gave Indian tribes the ability and power to negotiate their own lease. Why not go back and ask for retro payments from all of these energy companies. We have some leases that are coming up for renewal. This is the time for the energy policy task team to address them – not to rush into them and make some bad choices again.”

Others such as Alex noted the lack of language in regard to transitioning from finite resources such as fossil fuels to a green economy. “I really want to emphasize that nuclear is not the future. Clean coal is not the future. Why are we going to put ourselves as guinea pigs again for this new industry? … I understand the importance of economic development, but social aspects, economic aspects, health aspects and environmental aspects are important as well. It’s not just about money.”

Anna Rondon, chair of the Green Economy Commission, disagree with Attorney General Harrison Tsosie that the policy did not need to go out for a formal public hearing as is done in rulemaking hearings.

“I believe any public policy that impacts people, especially Dine people, should be given out as a public hearing campaign to be recorded by a court reporter because this might come back in the future and there may be lawsuits because it wasn’t adhered to. If this policy is going to the Navajo Nation Council, it goes into the Legislative Branch, so the play on the words kind of gets to me. Is this another ploy?”

Rondon said she also would like to dispel the myth that they are environmentalists who want to shut down the coal-fired power plants. “We want to help balance the dirty-based economy that we have with a green, clean economy for future generations. I would like to know what are your guiding principles? Ours, as a commission, is the Dine Fundamental Law. We just had a prayer talking about our sacred elements. There is a lack of sacredness, there’s an absence of holiness” in the policy, she said.

Amber Crotty of Sheepsprings, a policy analyst at Dine Policy Institute, said, “Now that we know that some of these leases are far into the future, how do we get this equal or greater fair market value when a majority of the leases now are in the hopper for the next 25 years?”

Dana Eldridge of Cornfields, also a researcher at Dine Policy Institute, said she believes it is very critical for the Navajo Nation to transition its energy economy.

“We need to be diversifying our energy sources. Part of the transitioning needs to support the coal mine workers we care so much about. We hear that as a justification to continue coal mining, but I really, firmly believe that we need to be transitioning to renewable sources and in that process have a support system for those workers. We need to be moving at a rate faster than the U.S., because they’re not moving fast enough and their scientists predict catastrophic energy issues for the U.S. as a whole, so we really should be at the forefront of a transitioning economy.”

Eldridge said the commitment to renewables within the energy policy is very weak when compared to the economic goals, and if the Nation is moving toward energy sovereignty, it needs to take out the middle man. In addition, there needs to be a holistic analysis on the cost of coal.

“What are the health care costs that our communities are facing? What are the environmental costs going to be? What are the cost of tourism dollars that we’re losing from people who don’t want to visit our states any more because they’re so hazy?

“I was in Shiprock just yesterday, and it’s such a big indicator of the environmental racism that we have put on our own people. These people don’t benefit from the energy development; they just suffer from the environmental consequences. Let’s not continue this legacy of environmental racism in our own lands.”