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Navajo Mine officials, employees welcome new locomotives
Both vehicles were delivered last month from GE factory in Pennsylvania
NENAHNEZAD — With its bell ringing, one of the new locomotives for the Navajo Mine exited a maintenance building today and was greeted by a crowd of people snapping photos on smartphones.
Officials from the Navajo Transitional Energy Co., the Navajo Nation and Bisti Fuels Co. joined mine employees for today's unveiling ceremony for the two locomotives bought this year from General Electric.
NTEC purchased the machines for a total of approximately $5 million as part of equipment upgrades for the mine. Both were delivered last month from a GE factory in Erie, Pa., and each will haul coal from the mine to the nearby Four Corners Power Plant.
Ernest Yazzie is one of five locomotive operators for Bisti Fuels, a subsidiary of the North American Coal Corp. that operates the mine, and he did not hold back his excitement about the new machines during the ceremony.
"It is awesome," Yazzie said.
As part of the transition from the electric locomotives the mine used to use, Yazzie is undergoing training for operating the diesel locomotives' computer systems.
"It didn't have the computer system, just the basic stuff," he said about the three electric locomotives, each of which was approximately 50 years old.
The new locomotives also offer more space, air conditioning and better insulation, he added.
"I love it," Yazzie said.
Throughout the event, various officials cited the benefits the locomotives will bring to the mine.
"These locomotives are a good replacement for us and for the future of Navajo Mine," Bisti Fuels President Rick Ziegler said.
Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said the machines serve as an investment for the mine's continued operation.
"You made a considerable investment in the Navajo people with those two engines, but the investment is for a purpose. It's for that stability that we see," Bates said.
The speaker also reflected on the challenges the coal industry faces from environmental regulations and renewable energy sources.
With the Navajo Nation having an estimated 100 years' worth of coal resources, tribal leaders are trying to balance the continued use of coal to generate electricity with the need to examine alternatives, and maintain revenue and jobs, he said.
"I've always been an advocate for the industry, but I also recognize the challenges. In recognizing those challenges, one has to find that balance and be able to continue to move forward," Bates said.
Steve Grey, governmental and external affairs director for NTEC, said the company has set goals for the mine. The purchase of the locomotives represents one of those goals coming to fruition, he said.
"We made a tremendous amount of capital investment, which is very important in order to have the mine continue to operate efficiently," Grey said.
He added that in the last 36 months, the mine has provided the tribe with more than $100 million in royalties and taxes.
"And we continue to move down that path," Grey said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.