TIIS TSOH SIKAAD — A series of public meetings about the draft environmental impact statement for the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine is underway.
The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on March 28 released the draft EIS, which evaluates potential environmental effects from continued operation of both the power plant and mine through the year 2041. That started a 60-day public comment period, which ends May 27.
As part of the public review, officials with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and other agencies are conducting an open house for the public to learn more about the draft EIS and to submit written or verbal comments about the statement and the project.
What: U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement s open house sessions for the draft environmental impact statement for the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine energy project
Monday, May 5: 5 to 8 p.m. at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St., Farmington
Tuesday, May 6: 5 to 8 p.m. at Shiprock High School, on U.S. Highway 64 West, Shiprock
Wednesday, May 7: 5 to 8 p.m. at the Nenahnezad Chapter House, County Road 6675, Navajo Route 365, Fruitland
Thursday, May 8: 5 to 8 p.m. at the Navajo Nation Museum, Ariz. Highway 264, Postal Loop Road, Window Rock, Ariz.
Friday, May 9: 5 to 8 p.m. at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque
During the open house on Friday at the Tiis Tsoh Sikaad Chapter house, attendees reviewed large displays, talked to experts involved with the draft EIS process and watched a video narrated in English, Hopi and Navajo about the process.
Rick Williamson, EIS project manager, said the open house style allows interaction between the public and the experts who worked on the draft EIS.
In previous public meetings, people signed up to speak and were limited to a certain amount of time to deliver comments. Under the open house style, people can take time to review the information or ask questions. If people want to submit a comment, they can fill out a comment form or have their comments recorded by a certified court recorder.
This method was used because in previous meetings, some individuals "commandeered" the meetings by making long speeches, prolonging the meeting or causing other people to leave before submitting their comments, Williamson said.
"We found this to be a much more successful way of giving everyone the opportunity to make their comments and to get information from experts on one-to-one bases for as long as they like," Williamson said.
Both Lori Goodman and Sarah Jane White, members of the environmental group Diné CARE, did not agree with the way the public meeting was conducted.
"This is not Diné friendly," Goodman said. "It is very upsetting. It is not welcoming."
White said the format creates an "uncomfortable feeling," adding that the accommodation to collect public comments was inadequate.
"It would have been better if it was open communication so other people can listen and understand what the conversation is about," White said.
Among the concerns White said she has about the draft EIS is that it lacks studies about the health effect and about climate change.
"We need health studies, which should be part of this EIS," she said. "When the climate is not right, people are getting sick."
Both women are concerned about the potential loss of plants used for ceremonies and wild vegetables like carrots, onions and parsley.
Goodman is also disappointed copies of the draft EIS were not printed in the Navajo language, which has been requested by a resolution approved by a local chapter.
On April 27, members of the Shiprock Chapter passed a chapter resolution — in a vote of 54 in favor and zero opposed — requesting the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement write the draft EIS in Navajo.
"The EIS should be translated into written Navajo as the environmental impacts are on Navajo land and the directly impacted are Navajo speakers, the Navajo public needs to fully understand the EIS," the resolution states.
The resolution also asks the federal agency to extend the public comment period for an additional 60 days to July 26.
"The brief time allotted is insufficient time to review the length document and to formulate comments," according to the resolution. The EIS is more than 800 pages and spans two volumes.
Williamson said there have been "several requests" made to extend the public comment period, but a decision will not be made until the nine open house sessions are completed.
When requests like translating the draft EIS into the Navajo language are made, the National Environmental Policy Act calls for "practicality and reasonableness" be used, he explained.
"The bottom line is, it is impractical to do so," Williamson said of translating the documents into Navajo.
The first open house was held on Wednesday in Hotevilla, Ariz., and the second one was on Thursday in Cortez, Colo.
Williamson said the Hopi Tribe was included in the open house meetings because a transmission line that requires right-of-way renewal under the EIS crosses the Hopi reservation as it travels from the power plant to the Moenkopi Substation.
The other transmission lines that also require rights-of-way renewals travel from the power plant to the San Juan Generating Station, to the West Mesa Switchyard near Albuquerque and to the Cholla Substation in Arizona.