Read the draft environmental impact statement and supporting documents on the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's website.

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NENAHNEZAD — Where the pavement meets the dirt road of Navajo Route 365 sits the Nenahnezad Chapter house.

The chapter house, which is located south of the San Juan River, was the site of the area's last open house on the draft environmental impact statement for the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine energy project.

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released the draft statement for public review on March 28, and the office will accept written comments until May 27.

The statement, which is more than 800 pages, analyzes the impacts of implementing four possible options for the power plant and the coal mine.

Arizona Public Service is proposing to continue operating the power plant until 2041 and has entered into a lease agreement with the Navajo Nation.

Transmission lines connected to the power plant and owned by APS and Public Service Company of New Mexico require rights-of-way renewals to continue operation.

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company is proposing to continue operation of the mine to supply fuel for the power plant and wants to develop a new area within the existing mine lease to supply coal for up to 25 years, starting in 2016.

The office hosted nine sessions on the draft statement, starting April 30 in Hotevilla, Ariz., and concluding on Friday in Albuquerque.

The meetings provided interaction between the public and the experts and consultants who worked on the draft statement.

Annie Walker traveled from Flagstaff, Ariz., to attend the Wednesday open house in Nenahnezad.

Walker, who is originally from Tolani Lake Chapter in Arizona, said she is concerned with the number of power plants that surround the reservation.

"I firmly believe the toxins, the smoke from burning the coal is not good for the Navajo population, and I believe it contaminates the ground and vegetation," she said.

Another area of concern for Walker is the toxic mercury air emissions and the fly ash coal-fired power plants produce.

"The EPA shouldn't push the power plants to run a clean power plant. A Supreme Court decision shouldn't be necessary to make a clean power plant," Walker said. "The owners should take the necessary steps or initiatives to make sure that public health is first priority."

On April 29, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants located in Midwestern and Appalachian states to the East Coast.

At the open house on Tuesday in Shiprock, Phil Benally flipped to the blue comment sheet he carried with the other pamphlets and handouts he received about the draft statement.

Yolanda Benally listens to a video presentation on May 2 at the Burnham Chapter House.
Yolanda Benally listens to a video presentation on May 2 at the Burnham Chapter House. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

"They're fair, they're answering," he said about the experts and consultants.

Benally worked for 28 years at the power plant and attended the session to learn about the new coal lease and how environmental issues, like pollution and water, will be addressed.

"It is good for the economy, not just the people who work there, but the vendors," Benally said.

Shiprock Chapter Vice President Tommie Yazzie said he sees both sides of the issue — the need to preserve jobs and the need to protect the environment — and he attended the meeting to learn more.

"There are people who want to work and keep that place open," he said. "People who live in that area want it shut down."

One of Yazzie's concerns is the draft statement lacks a health impact study, especially on mine and power plant workers.

"That should be somewhere in there," he said, adding the companies should carry some responsibilities for adverse health effects.

On Monday, 78 people attended the open house session at the Farmington Civic Center. All of the attendees approached for an interview declined to comment.

Rick Williamson, environmental impact statement project manager, said attendance at the sessions has varied. He said comments collected during the open house sessions will be reviewed and included in the record of decision, which is scheduled for summer 2015.

Each meeting offered attendees the chance to watch a video presentation outlining the draft statement and energy project. There were also large displays, tables where people could submit written comments and certified court recorders to record verbal comments.

Attendees had questions on a number of topics, including air and water quality, land leasing, endangered species and cultural resources and traditional cultural properties.

"Most people are walking around and trading comments with experts," Williamson said. "It takes a lot of people to do an EIS right. It takes a lot of input, too."

Several groups have requested extending the comment period for an additional 60 days, including resolutions approved by Shiprock and Teec Nos Pos chapters and letters by the City of Durango and the Diné Medicine Men's Association Inc.

Williamson said a decision about extending the comment period will be made after the open house sessions conclude.

"Until you got everyone's input at these meetings it would be unfair to make a decision on that," he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.