SHPROCK— The public continued to ask questions and raise concerns about the purchase and future operation of Navajo Mine at a meeting the Navajo Transitional Energy Company hosted Friday at the Shiprock Chapter house.
NTEC is a limited liability company and a tribal enterprise located on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation Council and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly approved the entity in April 2013 to buy the Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton.
In December, NTEC executed the coal sale agreement with Arizona Public Service Company to continue supplying coal from Navajo Mine to the Four Corners Power Plant and signed an operating agreement with BHP Billiton, which will continue to manage the mine until the end of 2016.
Sam Woods, NTEC's interim CEO, spoke Friday about the creation of NTEC, its staff and activities.
As part of his presentation, he explained who serves on the company's management committee and management team and who the shareholder representatives are. The management committee consists of Steve Gundersen, Tim McLaughlin, Peter Denetclaw, Steve Grey, Grant Wood, Pete Jenkins and Rich Passamaneck. Wood attended the meeting and introduced himself to the audience, but he did not answer questions.
The management committee has a total of 175 years of experience in business management, business acquisitions and mergers, minerals understanding, and research and development, Woods said.
The shareholder representatives are council delegates LoRenzo Bates, Russell Begaye, Katherine Benally, Kenneth Maryboy and Roscoe Smith.
Shiprock resident Sammy Ahkeah voiced concern about the future service of the shareholders since there is an election this year.
Woods explained the shareholder representatives were selected from each of the tribal council's standing committees, which is similar to how other tribal boards and enterprises select representatives.
Ahkeah also said there is still opposition to continuing the mining operation, and the people want transparency from NTEC.
Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter member Victoria Gutierrez wanted to know why public meetings were not conducted prior to the mine purchase and why the deal was "rushed through."
"The Navajo people are stakeholders, why are there only four meetings throughout the whole reservation?" Gutierrez said. "They should be going to all 110 chapters, informing the Navajo people on what's going on."
Woods replied this was the first set of meetings, and additional meetings will take place. The idea, he said, is to hold a series of meetings each quarter. The first meetings were scheduled based on the availability of the chapter houses, he said.
Gutierrez also asked questions on the due diligence report completed in 2013. She asked how she could receive a copy of the report since the Navajo people are the shareholders of the mine.
Woods explained the negotiations of the mine purchase are under the Navajo Nation Privacy Act, and, to review a copy, a request would need to be submitted to the Navajo Nation Department of Justice. Later in the meeting, Gutierrez once again reminded Woods the due diligence report was not made public.
"My advice to you is to talk to Navajo Department of Justice, informing them in writing, let them know that you are interested in looking at the due diligence report," Woods said.
Gutierrez was not pleased with the response.
"As Navajo people owning this company, it should be opened to the Navajo people. It should not be held private," she said. "We shouldn't have to go to DOJ to see what we bought."
In the coming weeks, NTEC will announce a CEO, Woods said. The company advertised for the position from March 10 to March 31 in local and regional publications, as well as on national websites.
There were five applicants, and management committee members conducted candidate interviews and completed them last week, Woods said after the meeting.
Another activity NTEC will work on is transitioning from a limited liability company to a Section 17 corporation. Among the benefits of being a Section 17 company is NTEC would not have to pay federal taxes and would be "cloaked" with the tribe's sovereign immunity, Woods said.
One of the attendees, who declined to be identified, said 21 days is not enough time to find a CEO who is qualified, knowledgeable and an expert in mine management.
"That is ridiculous," he said.
Despite the short amount of time, the company received "good" candidates, Woods said.
Woods reminded the audience members NTEC is mandated to invest 10 percent of its net income in research and renewable energy projects, which should open partnerships with additional companies.
Tiis Tsoh Sikaad Chapter member Sarah White said she wished each of the 110 chapters were consulted before the tribe purchased the mine. She also voiced concern about the coal's grade quality, which she called "a very low grade."
"I have seen it. I have gotten some of those coals, and it's nothing but rocks," White said, adding she is concerned the Navajo people will end up with an "empty hand" if the mine does not produce the results its supporters claim it will generate.
She added: "I think the communities would have made a better decision in purchasing this mine than the few groups of council delegates who made the decision. That is why it bothers the people."