Navajo Generating Station town hall meeting reveals support, opposition and uncertainty
KAYENTA, Ariz. — Growing up here, Valencia Blackhorse-Gonzalez said she has seen the worthiness of a nearby coal mine to the local economy, including jobs and financial support to schools.
But Blackhorse-Gonzalez, who described herself as a coal miner's daughter, struggles to form an opinion about whether the Navajo Transitional Energy Company should acquire the Navajo Generating Station and the Kayenta Mine.
"I'm in between, honestly to say. I do care for Mother Earth, that's a part of our tradition, our culture but I also do care about the economy," Blackhorse-Gonzalez said to Navajo Nation Council delegates on Sunday.
"My questions is, if the coal mine gets shut down, what's going to happen to our tribe? To our economy? What's going to happen to Kayenta?" she said.
Her uncertainty and worry were among several remarks conveyed delegates during the town hall meeting that focused on collecting input about NTEC possibly acquiring the power plant and mine.
NTEC is a tribal enterprise. It was tasked with evaluating the potential acquisition and had been in discussion with Salt River Project, the plant's majority owner.
Talks stalled between the parties on Feb. 27 and SRP continues its move to decommission and close the plant in December.
Despite the impasse, the Office of the Speaker continued to collect input in Kayenta, which followed a town hall meeting on Friday in Hardrock, Arizona.
The meetings were originally scheduled for Feb. 23 and Feb. 24 but were pushed back due to inclement weather.
Speaker Seth Damon explained his office proceeded with the forum because it was requested by the delegates and to provide further information to them.
"We're not only giving them information from the executive branch and from the outside entities, but also we wanted to hear directly from the people that are impacted. That's why we are having these town halls," Damon said.
The speaker sat alongside delegates Edison Wauneka, Charlaine Tso, Nelson BeGaye, Jimmy Yellowhair, Pernell Halona, Kee Allen Begay Jr., Paul Begay and Nathaniel Brown.
Several plant and mine supporters wore blue baseball caps that stated, "Yes to NGS," while some mine workers wore fluorescent yellow T-shirts with the words, "coal miner," and the image of a dragline.
Davis Yazzie worked at mines in Montana and Colorado before landing a job at Kayenta Mine.
"For me, I say yes to NGS and I say yes to Kayenta Mine because this is home," Yazzie said.
Mine workers talked about how the mine has impacted their lives by providing good paying jobs that kept them close to home, and how the much-needed revenue helps the community and local schools.
Nadine Narindrankura, a member of the community organization, Tó Nizhóni Ání, reminded council delegates that NGS owners decided in 2017 to close NGS due to the availability of cheaper energy sources.
With the ongoing shift in economics for energy produced by coal, the plant cannot compete in the larger energy markets, she said.
"Based on economics of the situation, we cannot make this work," Narindrankura said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.