A Web site where area residents can submit electronic comments on a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant may look similar to one run by the developers but in fact, it is run by a third party under contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
Confusion could stem from the similar address — the BIA's www.desertrockenergy.com hosted by URS Corporation, a contractor working on the EIS, versus Sithe Global's www.desertrockenergyproject.com. But BIA officials said residents can have full confidence their comments will not be screened.
"All that information is going to be on URS and their database. Sithe will not be reviewing, nor will DPA, nor will the Navajo Nation be reviewing those comments or filtering them," said Harilene Yazzie, NEPA coordinator for the BIA, Navajo Regional Office.
Houston-based developer Sithe Global and the Diné Power Authority, a Navajo Nation enterprise, have partnered on the 1,500-megawatt Desert Rock Power Plant. The third coal-fired power plant in Northwest New Mexico, it would create 400 jobs and provide the Navajo economy with an infusion of money through taxes and a lease agreement.
Though described by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the cleanest power plants on the table, opponents argue the Four Corners region cannot handle any more pollution.
Every BIA office across the U.S. has been forbidden to use the Internet for the past five years because of a judge's order. The case, Cobell v. Kempthorne, deals with alleged accounting errors made by the government in managing American Indian trust assets. Nedra Darling, BIA spokeswoman, said a judge ordered the bureau off-line after finding security holes.
In order to deal with the situation, the BIA frequently has partnered with other companies to post information online, she said. "It is definitely a process that has worked very well."
Omar Bradley, regional director of the BIA Navajo Regional Office, pointed to another similar local example, the draft EIS released for the Peabody's Black Mesa Project, a coal mine project.
The judge's order has made life a bit difficult for the BIA, said Bradley. It must send and receive information by fax or, for large documents, Fed-Ex them.
"It's just created another layer of paperwork we have to go through. It's just a general overall burden," he said.
While the draft EIS for the Desert Rock Power Plant can only be accessed online, the BIA has ordered hard copies to be printed up and will make them available in Farmington, Durango, Colo., Shiprock and Gallup. The 60-day comment period will not begin until a notice of availability is posted in the Federal Register, which should happen on June 8.
During the comment period, the BIA plans to hold public hearings the week of June 18 in Window Rock, Shiprock, Sanostee, Burnham, Nenahnezad, Farmington, Durango, and Towaoc, Colo. Dates and locations have not been confirmed. While the draft EIS will not be translated into Navajo, translators will be available at the public hearings.
Written comments can be mailed to Harilene Yazzie, regional NEPA coordinator, Desert Rock Energy Project EIS, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Navajo Regional Office, P.O. Box 1060, Gallup, NM 87305. Comments can be e-mailed to www.desertrockenergy.com. Oral testimony will be taken at public hearings.