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Hopi villages address EPA with uranium plume concerns

By S.J. Wilson
Upper Moenkopi, Arizona (NFIC)10-08

Members of the Hopi Tribe joined with Navajo allies to hear from federal and private agencies what they can expect as far as remediation efforts at the Tuba City open dump only two miles from an UMPTRA (Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action) site.

Governor Hubert Lewis welcomed the visitors, explaining that villagers were present to discuss clean closure of the Tuba City open dump. Studies support that the Rare Metals uranium mill used the dump to dispose of contaminated materials.

“Let us know what has happened in the past, in the present and what will happen in the future,” Lewis implored visitors from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). “Those of us who are not familiar with technical words hope that this information will be presented in basic words.”

John Krause, with the BIA’s Western Regional Office located in Phoenix, explained his agency’s efforts over the years – including $2.2 million spent on studies, cooperative work with the EPA, the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation. As time passed, the Department of Energy and Indian Health Services also joined the effort.

“We understand that clean closure is the preferred measure by Upper and Lower Moenkopi, which will be considered,” Krause said, explaining that that alternative would cost the U.S. Government an estimated $38 million.

This revelation earned no sympathy from the audience, which included Hopi Tribal Chairman Benjamin Nuvamsa.


“This is your responsibility,” Nuvamsa said. “Lives are at stake. It’s time for the federal government to do something to fix this, because the longer we wait, the bigger the problem will get.

“Where else will we get water if ours is contaminated?” Nuvamsa asked. “Maybe we can wait for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to bring in a pipeline – that may be a solution for now, but the wells will still be there. No more studies; let’s get remediation in place. If it takes $38 million to fix, so be it. Let’s appropriate the money and get started.”

“I ask representatives of the federal agencies here, what if this was in your back yard?” Nuvamsa questioned. “You will go home to your safe drinking water and you won’t be thinking about us.”
“The United States Government created this problem – the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – people involved in uranium production,” said Nat Nutongla, director of Water Resources for the Hopi Tribe “The U.S. Government has the ability to solve the problem. We are here tonight to say we must see something go forward now. Moving is not an option for us. We must begin closure of the landfill. Yes, it is expensive; but remember – the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe did not approve this action.”

Several people from the audience echoed that sentiment.

“The face I came here with has not been anger, it’s one of frustration,” another village member said. “It’s so easy to point fingers – to blame each other – let’s get something done.”

When Kevin Miskin (an engineer with Stantec) and other presenters spoke about identifying responsible parties so that funding and cost recovery could come into play, community members were quick to point out that their interests lay elsewhere.

One young father asked if the contamination was detected ten years ago, why hadn’t the BIA been named as the responsible party. He added that naming a responsible party to the cleanup could be done at a later date and that the clean up should go forward.

“I want to drink at that spring as an elder, and when my kids are older, I want to see them drinking at that spring,” he said.

Another man added his concurred, saying “He’s right, you can’t blame this on the companies. When the BIA opened the dump, I think they had a responsibility to monitor the activities there – now the BIA is trying to say it’s not responsible?”